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Everything You Need to Know About Event Planning Software: Top Features, Expert Tips, and Case Studies

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Buying event planning software without doing your research can be detrimental to your budget, event, and career. With all the features currently available in a single solution, picking the right product for your needs can be more challenging than actually throwing the event. How do you know which features are the most important? What do you absolutely need on the day of the event? And what don’t you need?

To help you find the best event planning software, we’ve consulted expert event planners across several verticals to identify the top features you need in a product. We’ve also explored every event planning capability you may need to help ensure you choose the best tool. While you may not need full-blown event planning software, it’s good to know which features are offered.

 

10 KEY FEATURES TO LOOK FOR WHEN PICKING EVENT PLANNING SOFTWARE

10 Key Features to Look for When Picking Event Planning Software

Before picking an event planning software, take some time to think about all the aspects of the events you’re planning.

Josh Culley-Foster, director of partnership development at Public Good

“For event software, you need to know what your goals are and what's important during the event."

Josh Culley-Foster, director of partnership development at Public Good.

Next, outline your goals for the event and ask yourself some questions: Does the software need to handle registration and transactions? Will you be using it to handle booth planning? Do people inside and outside of your organization need to access your materials? Taking the time to ask yourself these initial questions will help you prioritize your list of “must have” and “nice to have” features.

Finally, consider your industry. There are event planning software options designed specifically for people in verticals like government, non-profit, academic, trade shows, and more. Each industry may have slightly different needs, but valuable event planning software will offer a healthy amount of customization.

To help you with the process, we’ve created a list of features to look for when choosing event planning software:

 

1. Collect Information with Customizable Registration Forms

Registration features should be one of the first things to consider. After all, what’s an event without attendees?

“Always make sure that the person attending the event has an easy registration process with appropriate information shared with them after they have registered,” says Public Good’s Culley-Foster.

Look for a solution that offers robust online registration. You should be able to customize the type of data you collect and provide a registration code or unique ID for each attendee. If you’re doing an event that has multi-sessions, the event planning software should let attendees sign up for different tracks and then automatically generate session attendee rosters.

Registration is one of the first encounters potential attendees will have at your event, so branding and ease of use is imperative. Consider a product that has registration page templates that you can easily customize. If you do the same type of event multiple times a year, be sure you can duplicate and update a past event registration page to save you time in the long run.

 

2. External Collaboration and Communication Tools

You're going to work with many external collaborators when planning your event --  photographers, caterers, A/V equipment experts, on-site staff, guest speakers, talent, and more.

Stay organized by keeping track of all vendor and speaker information in one central location. Look for a solution where you can easily add contact information, assign tasks, create automatic reminders, and track emails and messages. Having all of that in one place will keep everyone on schedule.

You and external team members also be able to upload files like invoices, scope of work, maps, and diagrams to your event planning software regardless of the device you’re using. This creates a single spot for everything regarding that person.

If you plan on having a speaker, your event planning software should also help with scheduling them to speak at the event. Speakers will also have their own collateral information that you may need to manage, so look for a tool that can easily store and organize all documents. If you don’t want to be responsible for creating this information, choose event planning software that allows the speakers to upload their data themselves.

3. Automate Event Planning Workflow with Online Tools

When planning a large event, there are a lot of tasks that need to be completed by multiple departments. Your event planning software should simplify the process and keep you organized.

Look for a solution that allows you to schedule meetings, create, track and designate tasks, automatically send event emails, assign approval rights, and send automatic alerts to you if tasks fall behind. Extra collaboration features like comments and discussions help expedite communication.

 

4. Create and Monitor the Event Budget

One of the first things event planners do is determine a budget. Many event planning software products include a variety of budgeting tools and financial reports. More robust features include the ability to track revenue and the cost of items, and provide tools to help determine ROI.

For example, some tools let you build budgets based on fixed costs and variable costs per attendee so you can analyze the average cost per person. If there are multiple business units involved, pick an event planning software that lets you calculate each unit’s costs individually.

Christine Franz, director of events at Kendall College

“If someone is new to event planning, they typically don’t have a strong understanding of managing a budget and the value of an event services team, so we prepare our students for all of these factors."

Christine Franz, director of events at Kendall College

New event planners should look for software that has templates with pre-created calculations. The templates should be customizable and provide an overview of the target budget, actual cost, paid to date, and balance due.

 

5. Generate Buzz with Incorporated Event Marketing Features

When it comes to marketing features, you definitely want something that offers more than traditional email campaigns. Many event planning software packages include the tools needed to create an event website and registration page. If you don’t have access to design resources, this option could be a great way to get started with little stress. Just be sure the editing tools will let you make the changes you want.

For events with multiple sponsors, ensure that there are plenty of customizable ways to highlight them when needed. For example, you might be using the event planning software to create polls. If that’s the case, that could be a chance to sell more sponsorship opportunities.

Another way to build awareness is to use social media. Choose a tool that lets people easily follow and share your event site content on sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+. Some software will even let you boost some of your social shares. The software should also have the ability to generate a QR code, so people using their mobile phones can quickly access your site without having to type in a URL.

And the marketing doesn’t stop there.

“Planning an event is like climbing a mountain; getting to the peak is actually the halfway point, you still have to climb down the mountain afterwards. Events are the same way, a lot of preparation goes into the event, there's a celebration during it, but what you do after it can make all the difference,” says Culley-Foster.

With that in mind, the event planning software you choose should also be able to generate lists of people who attended as well as create and send out follow-up surveys. Once the surveys are complete, use the software to run reports to help judge things like session engagement and overall success.

 

6. Create Customizable Reports from Event Data

Reports are an effective way to determine the ultimate success of your event. Pick event planning software that can automatically run the reports that you need. Many offer hundreds of reports, but you may only need a few. Some of the more common types of reports are financial summaries, inventory status, attendee or exhibitor tracker, multiple event comparisons, email marketing, and survey stats.

You should also have the option to create branded custom reports where you define specific categories (event type, region, etc.) so you can determine things like ROI. Be sure to choose a solution that lets you export reports in your preferred format (Excel, PDF, CSV, TIFF, PowerPoint, or Web).

 

7. Store Event Planning Documentation and Communication in a Central Location

There are dozens of documents, reports, images, emails, and more that get created when planning an event. To streamline communication and organization, store all these files in one central location for people to access at any time.

Look for a solution that lets you set sharing permissions and that provides free access to the documents to outside vendors. It should also have the ability to attach documents and other materials from Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, and other apps. A web-based event planning solution would also allow you to access all of your event planning data on multiple platforms, thereby eliminating compatibility issues.

 

8. Automatically Create Gantt Charts

A great way to visually track your event is with a Gantt chart.

Christine Courtney-Myers, CEO and founder of C3 Agency

“We often are challenged to produce completely bespoke experiences in compressed timelines so the Gantt chart system is really the only thing that works to keep event clients, producers, staff and vendors all in the loop."

Christine Courtney-Myers, CEO and founder of C3 Agency

Another benefit of Gantt charts is that it gets you thinking about all the tasks that need to be accomplished. By creating the initial task list, you can use the Gantt chart to clearly see which tasks are dependent on others.

Some popular Gantt chart features include using predecessor tasks to create dependencies, labeling and defining bar colors, adding milestones, and the ability to share it with collaborators and team members.

 

9. Leverage Built-in Mobile Support for You and Your Event Site

Your event planning software must be compatible on mobile. Some tools even include a way to easily create a registration and event site on mobile. To ensure the site will work seamlessly on a mobile browser, check to see that it’s using responsive design. In addition to a mobile site, some providers include mobile apps for attendees as an option.

Mobile support isn’t just for the attendees; it’s also an important feature for you. Planning an event will take you out of the office and you will likely need access to your files. Be sure the software you pick will work on the smartphones and tablets that you and your team use regularly.

 

10. Research Pricing and Know What’s Available

Pricing for event planning software can vary, based on the offering.

Tracie Hovey, president and CEO of Ovation Public Relations and Advertising

“We look for cost first and then capabilities. We don’t want to spend too much on management of the event because we like to give back to charities. It is important for us to save as much money as possible."

Tracie Hovey, president and CEO of Ovation Public Relations and Advertising, who runs the Maryland International Film Festival. 

Some companies offer packages that cost a monthly fee and pricing goes up based on the amount of events you’re planning. If you do opt for cloud-based event planning software, be sure to find out how much storage you’ll receive. Always ask if there is a limit to the amount of people who can use the software.

Registration volume is also a method some companies use to determine pricing. This can be billed as a monthly or annual fee depending on the company. If you pick an option with this pricing structure, ask if there are discounts when you hit a specific number of registrants. You should also ask about software discounts if you’re planning a non-profit event.

Don’t forget to find out what type of support is included (webinars, 24-hour online support, forms, online videos, etc.) and take advantage of free trials. Before you commit to any event planning tools, be sure to take them for a test drive first.

Use Smartsheet to Plan Your Next Event

 

Powerful Event Planning Software Success Stories

Organizing the 2014 NCAA Final Four

When you’re responsible for pulling off one of the biggest sporting events of the year, organization is essential. Populous, the company responsible for the 2014 NCAA Final Four, used Smartsheet to coordinate hundreds of people and thousands of details to successfully pull off the popular sporting event.

Populous case study Smartsheet

To help coordinate 272 vendors and manage dozens of workflows, the company needed a powerful collaboration tool that could be accessed by anyone, anywhere from virtually any device.

“We relied on over 200 vendors. Making sure others did their job was the only way we could succeed,” says Hailee Damp, Event Coordinator at Populous.

To learn more about how Populous used Smartsheet to organize the 2014 Final Four, read the case study here.

Planning Cross-Country Tours

To honor the 20th anniversary of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2012, the internal event team was tasked with organizing and managing a tour that included more than 20 events. The teams would need to develop hundreds of new pieces of collateral, signage, sets, and staging for the events. Their existing tools just weren’t up to the task.

Christine Sonnabend, lead project manager, explains. “Our project management process was anything but streamlined. All departments were requesting assets from the marketing team via every channel imaginable.  It was nearly impossible to get an accurate status update. We simply weren’t in a position to pull off the 20th Anniversary Tour unless we found a better way to manage deliverables – from intake to finish."

Former President Bill Clinton and Museum Founding Chairman Elie Wiesel keynoted on the final day of the national tour.

 

The Museum turned to Smartsheet to provide a centralized location to store all documents, tasks, and marketing assets for the multiple events. The online collaboration tools were instrumental in ensuring no details fell through the cracks.

Increase Event Success with Real-Time Planning in Smartsheet

With hundreds of details and moving parts to manage when planning an event, and comprehensive software that houses all details in one centralized locations helps eliminate confusion and improve visibility. To plan an event and carry it out successfully, you need a tool that helps you manage essential information and perform all tasks on time and on budget.

Smartsheet is a work execution platform that enables enterprises and teams to get from idea to impact - fast. Extraordinary marketers rely on Smartsheet for campaign management, initiative tracking, content calendars, event management, and more.

Use Smartsheet to boost planning efficiency across all aspects of your event, from development to execution. Seamlessly connect efforts with ROI, accelerate delivery of initiatives, and improve alignment with all involved parties, like internal and external stakeholders.

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