Your trade shows, conferences or events are key components for engaging with customers and prospects. While it may not be possible to have 100% flawless execution, things happen.  It’s critical to have a stellar event plan. Use this checklist to avoid last minute stress.

Event plan checklist

Checklist help make sure nothing falls into a black hole. This is especially important for events.

Events are one of the best opportunities to have face time with customers, prospects, and partners. Events provide opportunities to grow your data, increase brand awareness, build brand affinity, serve as a thought leader, and establish and grow relationships.  A study by the Exhibit and Event Marketers Association and the CMO Council found that trade shows and events are used for that exact purpose: 64% of respondents used events for new prospects and business opportunities, and 63% used them for lead sourcing.  According to a study by The Content Marketing Institute 56% of respondents use in-person events as a top marketing tactic, even above digital advertising and email marketing. A report by Event Marketing found that 80% of marketers believe live events are critical to their company’s success. Over 20% of the Marketing budget is allocated to events

Event marketing can be an extremely effective tactics. The key is in execution. How well you plan and execute the plan for your events impacts the success of the event. Most events consist of a large number of moving parts.  How well you synchronize these parts determines whether you derive the expected ROI.

Event planning checklist

Organize your event planning into three phases.

Your Event Plan Should Reflect These Phases

Parse our event planning into three phases:

  1. The Pre-Event phase
  2. Showtime or the event itself, and
  3. The Post-Event phase.

Far too many companies skimp on the pre- and post event phases. To garner the true value from your investment, these phases deserve your attention. To ensure your event really pays off requires preparation weeks and maybe months before as well as weeks after. Think of planning your event as similar to the work it would take to plan a special party – say a wedding, an anniversary, shower or surprise birthday. To make sure the party is a success there’s plenty to do before, during and after. You can use the checklist for any event where you intend to bring people together for a positive experience.

Your Event Plan Checklist


  • Establish Your Metrics. Determine your goals for attending. Are you there to engage with a certain number of new prospective contacts, meet with a specific number of existing customers, connect with a particular group of partners? Have specific measurable objectives that will give you direction and focus.
  • Define Your Audience. It’s difficult to be all things to all people. Once you establish the objectives and metrics for your event, define the audience you want to engage. Use your personas to help with your communication initiatives. 
  • Location, location, location. Venues are important. People want to be in interesting places that are easy to get to and easy to maneuver. Food does matter. Research has found that “eating while deciding important matters offers profitable, measurable benefits through mutually productive discussions.” 
    • For trade shows determine the booth size and location and assess the at-show marketing opportunities. Invest in a quality booth and supporting materials. Remember your booth may be the first impression of your company for an important prospect. Select a location that will maximize traffic. Main aisles, major walkways, corner booths by the food booths or restroom tend to be good locations. 
    • For events being hosted by someone else, negotiate good visibility for your company.  Secure at-event marketing opportunities early so you aren’t left with well – the left over.  Stay within your budget and select opportunity that reflect your brand and value proposition.  
    • Sponsorships may be worth looking into because the price usually includes your floor space, some conference badges, publicity and opportunities to promote your brand to attendees more often. If you are using an event to support a major announcement (acquisition, new product/service, etc.) securing a sponsorship may make sense.
  • Create a Theme.  Anchor your event with a theme. Themes unify objectives and provides focus. Make sure your theme in some way connect with your story. Tie your theme  to your value proposition and positioning. The theme should help attendees quickly understand what makes your company different and why they should buy from you. Everything you create from signage, web site, pre-show postcards, booth attire, giveaways, literature, advertising, and post-show emails, should consistently reflect this theme and your brand promise. A creative, well-defined theme that makes an impact and creates curiosity will help you stand out.
  • Market Your Presence. People won’t show up to your party if they don’t you’re your having one. Inform clients and prospects about the event far enough in advance they can save the date. Send your invites early to secure time on their calendars.  Make sure you have a landing page that supports your email, direct mail, and social marketing efforts. Publicize the show on your Web site and send free exhibitor passes to your hottest prospects encouraging them to go to the show. 
    • Trinkets and Promos: Unless this is your own show, there’s a lot of “noise” at conferences and trade shows. Rather than buying “give aways” that anyone can have, invest in a content or prize that is only available to those that meet your criteria. If possible select a prize that matches both your brand and their persona.  Communicate the prize when you invite them to visit your booth or schedule and appointment.  Giveaways provide the opportunity for a personal touch – select and use them wisely. Take advantage of the concept of scarcity. Your prize will be perceived more valuable if it is only available to the “chosen.”
    • Schedule meetings in advance with your tier one prospects at the event if appropriate. Four to six weeks before the event, execute a multi-touch appointment setting campaign (postcard, letter, dimensional mail, call, email). Provide an incentive for them to meet- a free assessment, a discount on the pilot, etc. 
    • Meet the press. Find out if the show has a list of press and analysts that will be attending. Contact the appropriate ones and schedule interviews with them, especially if you have an updated strategy or are announcing something new at the show. This is a great opportunity to meet with key industry influencers in one location.
  • Craft and Work a Script. Establish the agreed upon behaviors that will identify which pipeline category a visitor/attendee is in once you meet them. Pre-determine and communicate to both sales and marketing staff the fit and behaviors you use to identify qualified opportunity. Train everyone who attends the show on the opportunity scoring schema.  Role play how to gather this information. Decide before the event what the follow up processes will be for each type of contact. Create a method to capture scores for each encounter that can be used at the event. Ideally this method is directly linked to your Marketing Automation or Customer Relationship Management systems. Document who will be responsible for each follow up effort.
  • Schedule a rehearsal. Hold and facilitate a dry run with everyone involved and supporting the event at least one week prior to the event. Use the dry run to review booth duty (staffing), the scripts, the scoring model and sheet, key announcements, the recon, and your prospect/customer target list.  Practice and if possible record any presentations. 
  • Plan your Follow Up. Deciding your post-event follow up after the event is too late.  Design your follow up in advance. Craft your copy, select your images, write your subject lines, create your post event content, and so on.


You never have a second chance to make a first impression. Your event may be the first and lasting impression of your company for many of your prospects. 

  • Be memorable. Be sure your exhibit/presentation is inviting; encouraging people to stop by your visit and to want to connect with you after your session.  Everything and everyone supporting the event needs to make a strong statement about your company, tell visitors/attendees why they should care, what makes you different, and what benefits you offer. Make your graphics eye-catching and succinct with a key message communicated with minimal words. Most attendees will not take the time to read a lot of content on your signage. Avoid putting a table between you and the person; these create non-verbal barriers.
  • Staff With Strength. Your event is not a boondoggle. It is not a reward. The people who staff the event will be one of the most important success factors for your event. Send qualified and knowledgeable people who are comfortable speaking with prospects, answering questions, and collecting information.. Send your front-line sales force, your product people, and executives such as the VP of Marketing, and the President of your company. Having your best people at the event sends the message that you are serious in their business, interested in meeting them and finding out what they want.
  • Do Recon. Use the event to gather market and competitive information. You can even do recon at your own events (technical recon at a User’s Conference, Competitive intelligence gathering at a customer advisory board meetings. Develop at least three key questions that can be gathered in person at the event. Practice capturing this information in your dry run. 
    • Make time to scout out competitors (attend their seminars, go by their booths, etc). Again, have 2-3 questions to ask every competitor so you can gather some consistent data.
  • Classify every encounter. Categorize every visitor or attendee based on your scoring model. Use the scoring method to capture critical information about everyone you meet. Identify at that moment what follow up is required. Using sheet that contains a place to staple the business card and write notes about this prospect. 


Don’t let the grass grow.  

  • Follow up. Follow up with people within two weeks to ensure they remember your company.Execute your follow-up tactics developed during the pre-event phase.
  • Thank everyone. At minimum, send a personalized thank you email to everyone who came by your booth, exhibit, presentation, event, etc. If you had a drawing, include the name of the winner in the email. Include an opt-in mechanism in the email so people can opt-in to receive future communication, invitations, and newsletters. This gives those who originally said no at the event an opportunity to change their mind and subscribe to your email list.  For more detailed conversation, summarize the conversation and next steps. 
  • Evaluate and Debrief. Hold a debriefing meeting to review what worked and didn’t work. Discuss what to repeat and what not to do.  Determine whether the objectives and performance targets were met. Report on your metrics and share your recommendations.

This is not an exhaustive checklist. It does cover the basics.  

Make Sure Your Event Pays Off

Planning for an event is hard work and events can be expensive. While maintaining presence in your industry and increasing exposure to prospects and customers are both good reasons to attend or host an event, the C-Suite is looking for more concrete value. The traditional approach to evaluating event ROI has been to track the number of contacts or appointments made or conversations held.  For a trade show or conference, this usually involves taking the total event cost and determining which of the contacts meet your buying profile and then tracking which of these actually result in deals. If the total cost of a show is $100,000 and results in 10 new deals with an average sale value of $20,000, the gross revenue from the show is $200,000 or a $100,000 gain over the show investment cost. As you’ve learned, it can take time for deals to be closed and it may not even be possible to match deals with events contacts. 

Consider using the following measures to prove event value.  

  1. Number of Impressions
    Review your quantity of exposure. This involves calculating the number of audience impressions achieved by a specific event and can help determine whether going makes sense. This calculation involves obtaining an accurate count for both total event attendees and those who meet your target market profile. This will allow you to calculate both gross impressions (the number of times your message, product, company message falls upon the eyes and ears of anyone at the event) and targeted impressions, the number of times your message, product or company falls upon the eyes and ears of attendees who fit your target market profile.Let’s use a trade show to illustrate this idea.  Based on your booth location, approximate the number of times an individual attendee will pass your exhibit over the course of the show. Take location and length of show into account. If you’re right at the entrance and the event is three days long, then you might use six impressions per attendee (2 per day — once going in and once going out, attending 3 days). You’ll have to decide whether you think they will only go in and out once and whether they will stay the entire show. This is why location, location, location is so important at a trade show.Next, analyze all aspects of the show in the same way. How many times will the perspective customer receive direct messages from you in advance of the show? What about banners or other signage or ads in the show program? Once you’ve identified the number of impressions for each element, multiply that number by the size of the total event audience and the targeted market to calculate your total number of gross impressions and targeted impressions.
  2. Impression Quality
    Now you can measure the value of impressions and compare it to other impression opportunities and investments and determine promotion tactics will likely give you the largest return on investment. To determine the quality of impressions, do some research using a pre- and post-event process. Use a blind pre-event survey to measure current perceptions and awareness of your message, product, and company and then do the same survey after the event. This will allow you to learn how effective you were in connecting with the target.

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