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Ottawa > Ottawa Event Planning > The Objective > Timelines and Critical Paths  

Timelines and Critical Paths

Once the location is determined, the next major step is to brainstorm and identify all possible tasks, resources required to complete the tasks, associated costs, and their order. From this, the event organizer can create a project timeline. This is the procedure used to manage and create the detailed schedule that will help the event be a well-managed, professional affair. The sequence of activities that must be finished on schedule (or otherwise delay other areas and, hence, the ultimate success of the event), are the critical path activities. There are dependencies between tasks, and identifying them early will help prioritize actions and the needed resources. This is called a ‘Critical Path’. It is vital to give an overall sense of the plan and show when and where more or less resources are required.

Time spent planning at this point will ultimately pay off in both time AND money savings. Create subset timelines for each part of the event that detail the linkage between other timelines, so that each area coordinator is aware of how failing to meet deadlines will impact on colleagues. Also, create detailed contact tracking lists, often called function sheets (we’ll include a sample blank sheet at this chapter’s end).

The act of creating the timelines and function sheets will help determine if the host company has the internal resources to carry out the event without bringing in an event planner. If key staff is already working sixty plus hours a week, it’s unlikely that a company has the time to successfully plan and execute a trade show without some professional help. Although the upfront cost may make seem high, everyone has attended a few poorly planned events. Do attendees walk away from such an event with a good impression of the organizing group? Sometimes, sacrificing the give-away pens or conference bags to hire an event planner can be a very good investment.

Most big events are planned and booked at least one year prior to the date. Even smaller events may need a long lead-time for booking, if the location is a popular one.

Sample Location Timeline for a Large Convention:
November 1st --Contact convention centers and/or conference hotels event managers for quotes
By December 1st --Decide on and book location (if possible, visit location and do walk-through of all facilities the event will use, check if any renovations or new construction are planned, who else has booked facility space at the same time, et cetera)
By January 15th --Receive and sign contract
By February 15th --Pay deposit and subsequent, agreed upon payments as they are due
By March 1st --Confirm receipt of deposit and booked dates for facilities
By March 1st --Reserve hotel room blocks at preferred rate. For very large conventions and conferences, it may be necessary to book blocks of rooms at nearby hotels, too
By March 15th --Notify potential attendees of rooms, along with cut-off date for the special rate. Send monthly reminders until two weeks before the agreed upon cut-off date, at which point send a special reminder
By September 15th –Walkthrough of venue with key coordinators and site manager to spot any previously unidentified problems (e.g. outlets not in location electronic equipment is planned for, loading bottlenecks for exhibitors, lack of parking, et cetera).
By October 15thEvent coordinator or trusted assistant onsite to confirm deliveries, set-up, et cetera
October 17th to 19thEvent is on. Make sure key organizing staff has a room booked in the hotel, even if they live in town, as they will probably spend at least eighteen hours a day onsite and will need to shower, change, and nap when possible.

There will be all sorts of other timelines: food and beverage, transport, technical requirements, accommodation (if separate from venue), registration, tourism and entertainment, marketing, silent auction items (for charity galas), promotional items (called swag), invitations, and more. It is important to identify all major functions and assign a committee member to them. It will be the main coordinator's responsibility to diplomatically ensure that committee members are meeting their deadlines and communicating any problems to the coordinator. Just one item going off a timeline can affect all the other areas that must come together in order to leave participants and sponsors with the impression that they have attended a professional, well-run event.

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