Event Planning Timelines. . .What’s the New Normal?

Live events require the same amount of planning as they always have – only now, event teams are given much less time to do it!

There is no question that COVID-19 changed the entire live event industry. From sweeping cancellations to the rise of virtual, and later hybrid, events, the live event industry looks vastly different than it did a few years ago.

One of the things that changed significantly was the planning timeline for live events. Where events used to be planned over several months (if not several years), many events are now being planned in several weeks or less!

Keep reading to learn all about these shorter event planning timelines – how they’ve changed, benefits and drawbacks of shorter timelines, and what the future holds.

What did pre-pandemic event timelines look like?

Prior to the COVID-19 disruption, event timelines were much longer, with production companies and venues being booked several months (even years) in advance. 

Event spaces typically booked up quickly during peak event times, such as the first quarter sales meeting rush. This required organizations to book space well in advance … especially if they had specific meeting requirements.

Once event space was booked, organizations would issue a request for proposal or engage their preferred production partner to begin event planning.

Pro Tip: Organizations should engage a production partner prior to securing event space. Many technical production companies have extensive knowledge of venues in the event location, allowing them to make informed recommendations, based on the needs of your event. They’ll help you to consider important factors, such as rigging needs and labor requirements that can have a large impact on the event timeline and overall budget.

Why have event timelines shortened?

Most organizations had to cancel or postpone events taking place anytime beginning in March of 2020 and may still be experiencing uncertainty around in-person meetings. This wave of cancellations lead to many venues issuing credits that can be used to host an event at the location at a later date.

Because of this, many organizations are waiting to book event space, and instead are securing venues at the last-minute (based on availability) to utilize credits from these pandemic bookings. Event space being secured with short notice means the entire event timeline is compressed from months to weeks!

Additionally, with pandemic related restrictions and guidelines frequently changing, many organizations are hesitant to plan in-person events too far in advance, and risk further cancellations down the line.

The drawbacks of producing events on a compressed timeline

While the reasoning behind shortened event planning timelines is sound, planning an event in a few short weeks certainly has some drawbacks.

First, it shortens the timeline for creative development and designs. When events are planned in a matter of weeks, instead of months, decisions need to be made much more quickly, and some content (videos, motion graphics, and event signage) may need to be simplified. There are certainly shortcuts (such as template-based designs for presentations) that can be utilized, but more extensive creative and design work may require more time than is available.

Technical planning can also be a lengthy process, and the options available for the meeting may be limited as planning timelines are reduced. No matter how quickly your production partner is able to move, there are some components of an event that just take time (like submission and acceptance of rigging plans and approval from the venue or fire marshal on the space layout).

Another challenge is booking quality labor. While some of the most skilled technicians may be willing to hold tentative dates for trusted clients or partners, most are booked on a first come, first served basis. This means that the most experienced technicians will be booked early and last-minute events may be working with a less experienced staff.

Similarly, event talent, such as keynote speakers, event emcees, music performance, and more, can be hard to secure if the event is being planned on a shorter timeline. Talent is busier than ever. Events that are booked far in advance will have the most options available while those planned with a shorter timeline may have trouble getting their top choices.

Finally, a shorter timeline to plan for your event means less time to promote your event. Not only does event promotion increase participation in the actual event, it builds anticipation and excitement, while increasing brand awareness. Less time planning your event means less time is available to promote the event – which may make a big difference in the meeting’s impact.

The benefits of a compressed timeline

It may seem as though shortening the event planning timeline is all negative but there are some benefits!

When organizations know there is a great deal of time before an event, the decision making process can get significantly drawn out … especially when an entire committee is making each decision. Shortened timelines inspire organizations to make quick decisions and limit changes, making the pre-production process easier to navigate.

Similarly, “like-kind” substitution is frequently implemented which can have a positive impact on the event budget. Because most technical production companies are very busy, cross-renting for specific equipment needs may be more difficult. However, this means that inventory that is going unused may be available at a lower rate which creates a win-win situation for everyone involved!

The future of event planning timelines

Are shortened event planning timelines a temporary situation, or are they here to stay. The answer is… yes!

Many events need a significant amount of time to prepare. From a promotional standpoint, these events may need to garner attention and create interest, ensuring a large event turn out. From a production standpoint, they may have extensive technical requirements, a large number of media or creative deliverables, or specific talent requests.

However, other events may not need as much planning time, and meeting planners will appreciate the flexibility of last-minute planning. In these cases, it’s best for production partners to adapt their timelines to fit the needs of the organization, rather than persuade them to utilize a longer pre-production timeline than they’d prefer.

Providing high-end services with very little notice is often possible – it’s just important to understand how to best serve quick-turn events, and when a longer timeline is absolutely necessary.

Conclusion

While compressed event planning timelines may seem scary for production partners and organizations alike, there are ways to successfully navigate them. It’s important that everybody understands what the drawbacks and benefits are to different timelines – and is on the same page about the event goals and expectations.

Rather than push for longer timelines when a shorter timeline may do the trick, work with your event planning team to identify when a shorter planning timeline is appropriate, and what situations would require a longer, more traditional event planning timeline.


At Encompass, we have unique backgrounds that situate us perfectly to produce high end and complex offerings. We’ve worked in broadcast television, touring entertainment, live sporting events, and countless convention facilities across the country.

We have technical design experience and a disciplined process in place that allows us to easily scale events and shift from in-person to virtual without angst. There isn’t much that’s beyond our scope and we love the intensity of putting on events!

If you’re a planner working to create an event, seeking help with virtual event technology, or simply want to learn more … we can help! Sign up for our newsletter (we promise to keep your contact information secure and won’t “overshare”).

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