How much time do you need to plan an event? It’s a good question. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a simple answer. BUT we can give you some good guidelines.

Thinking about planning an event?  

Woo-hoo! Exciting times.

Maybe it’s even your first time and you feel a bit nervous about it all.

Where do you even start? How much lead time do you need to plan an event?

It’s a good question. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a simple answer.

BUT what we can do is give you some good guidelines.

How long do you need to plan an event?

The short answer is … it varies.

But it’s not in the least depending on the type of event you’re organising.

Of course, that in itself hinges on the event’s purpose (Why do you want to run the event? What do you want to achieve?) and your target audience (Who do you want to attend? Who is your event aimed at?).

Before you can even embark on any planning, this needs to be pinned down. Get clear on those basic questions and it will pave the way for every step of your decision making.

In a nutshell, these are the key type of events you’re likely to consider within a corporate or organisational context:

  • Business Event (e.g. in-person or hybrid conference): allow 6-12 months. Registrations should open about 6-8 weeks out.
  • Virtual Event: allow 3-4 months. Registrations open 3 weeks out.
  • Webinar: allow 30 days. Registrations open 10-14 days.
  • Award Function including the award submission, judging plus the actual award evening: allow a 12-18 month runway
  • Roadshow: allow 3-6 months

It’ll be no surprise to hear that an event planning timeline is essential to make sure every task is accounted for and completed when it needs to be.

Or even better, bring in an event management tool to help you stay on track. They truly are a little miracle.

What factors could influence the lead time for event planning?

Even with the best possible planning, there are bound to be hick-ups and delays.

So… you just calculate them in, right?

Event Planning ‘interrupters’ and ‘obstacles’

Sometimes events have a recurring date year upon year. But even then, it pays to check certain factors that can make your date less than ideal. Potentially, it may even mean you should shuffle the date around.

  • Especially when your event is going to be held early in the year, you’re going to have to allow for delays caused by the Christmas break and summer holidays. Also, people may work part-time around kids.
  • As a matter of fact, you’ll want to avoid school holiday time periods (winter, spring and summer holidays) in general.
  • On that same note, you need to be aware of statutory and religious holidays.
  • If you have your mind set on a certain speaker or a particular venue, you may want to get in quick or potentially even set your date based on availability.

Allow for extra time as a first-timer

If this is your first event, you’re in for a treat. As event planners, we all have clear as day memories of our first event.

But as with everything, it takes time to get your head around a new challenge. There is no denying event planning is a lot of work, but with the right attitude, tools, and team, the reward is high.

The best advice we could give a first-timer is to allow plenty of ‘buffer time’.

How much time to plan an event will depend on the size and scope of the event and could be anywhere from a few weeks to an extra month or two.

What if I’m overrunning on the event timeframes?

Some people get a sparkle in their eye as soon as you present them with a challenge to sink their teeth in. A short-lead time may just fit the bill. Admittedly, some people thrive on pressure. Sometimes it can even trigger impromptu plans that can lead to the best events.

But more often than not, it means you risk missing key deadlines and rush through tasks. Like it or not, but a (too) short lead time for event planning usually equates to compromise, fewer options and budget blow-outs (because there is less opportunity for negotiation and discounts).

So if you are overrunning the recommended timeframe, the smart thing to do is to push back the event date if it’s possible. If that’s not an option, we recommend looking at simplifying the event. Explore whether certain tools could help with communication and time management or call in some extra hands.

And of course, you pick up the phone and check for help from a professional event organiser.

After all, event planning is what we live and breathe.

How much time to plan an event now that we’re in a COVID-19 environment?

I know… we had to breach the dreaded subject.

Whether or not we like it, planning with Covid-19 in mind will be a part of event management for the foreseeable future. And if there’s anything we learned recently, it’s that you can’t afford to lull yourself into a false sense of certainty.

So… part of the plan it needs to be.

On the one hand,  you need to at least meet (but preferably exceed) event management COVID-19 guidelines, which unavoidably will add to the lead time for event planning. But you also shouldn’t dismiss the option of a hybrid event that allows you to pivot quickly if the situation asks for it.

3 Final Nuggets Of Wisdom

All the contemplations and considerations aside, we want to leave you with three final nuggets of wisdom:

  • Last-minute changes are expensive.
  • Add in “buffer time” to deal with the unexpected. Something always pops up.
  • Call in the experts for industry know-how, spot-on planning and peace of mind. It’s the perfect way to familiarise yourself with the world of event planning.

Do you have your own gems of wisdom on the lead time for event planning? Let us know!