Event planning questions to ask your clients

Event planning is a notoriously stressful business. 

The profession attracts well-organized people, but for even moderately sized events, planners have to rely on an array of subcontractors to do their jobs well. And the number of variables they have to negotiate can be maddening. What happens if traffic is at a standstill, the weather is bad, or a family emergency causes a key contractor to cancel?

Even in those circumstances, a professional event planner can likely salvage the event — or at least people can’t reasonably blame them for disruptions clearly beyond their control. The issue most likely to damage an event planning business is poor communication with clients. 

To ensure a successful event, an event planner has to ask the client what they want and listen carefully to their answers in order to get all the details right. This is especially important when dealing with private clients who might be planning a once-in-a-lifetime event but really don’t have any specific wishes beyond wanting everyone to have a good time.

A good event planner is a good listener. They provide important information the client hasn’t taken into consideration, and they ask questions to help the client sharpen their vision. Through a careful process that builds rapport with the client, a successful event planner learns the size and scope of the event, what the client expects, and the client’s budget.

A Jotform event planning questionnaire is a good way to start a planning conversation with your client. Jotform’s event planning guide and event planning PDF templates are invaluable resources for event planning professionals, but let’s also go over some fundamental questions to ask event clients.

Pro Tip

Make sure your next event goes off without a hitch with Jotform’s free event planning forms.

What’s your event?

We can separate events into two broad categories: private and professional. Private events include weddings, birthday parties, and family reunions. Professional events range from product trade shows and corporate events to community group meetings, community festivals, and fundraisers. 

While there’s some overlap in what’s required for any type of large event to succeed — enough space, tables and chairs, restroom facilities, etc. — there are obviously significant differences between planning a 75th wedding anniversary party and a car show. Make sure you’re clear from the start whether the event is in your area of expertise.

What are you trying to achieve with the event?

This question is important with private events, such as birthday parties or family reunions. Whether the event is a surprise birthday party for someone turning 90 or a “reunion” of branches of the family who’ve only recently discovered their shared heritage, an event planner will want to know those details from the start.

The question is just as important for planning a successful public event. Product shows, for instance, are typically as much about making contacts for future business as they are about making sales on the spot. 

Annual gatherings of organizations — whether clubs or sororities and fraternities, community service organizations, and so forth — often have a formal business component as well as plenty of socializing. 

The event planner needs to know what the client intends to achieve to be sure they have the proper facilities and resources.

Does this event have a name?

Some events — such as the annual Consumer Electronics Show and any number of product trade shows — are famous. The names of those events are integral to marketing and branding efforts. 

But some private events, particularly family reunions, also have a name, even if it’s only “Smith Family Reunion 2021.” The client might want that name emblazoned on a banner and souvenir T-shirts, so be sure to ask about that. 

What’s your approximate budget for the event?

Obviously, this is a question you need to ask early on because it’s a crucial point to consider. It should come as no surprise that clients often underestimate what the various aspects of an event — like the facility rental, catering, event insurance, swag, etc. — cost individually, so they’re often startled when they see the estimated total. 

If you want to be successful as an event planner, you have to help clients close the gap between their expectations and their budget. Very often, they either have to shrink their expectations or increase their budget.

Who’s responsible for paying for the event?

It’s essential to establish who’ll be signing the checks before you put much effort into planning and scheduling, so get this straight as soon as your client gets over the sticker shock.

What amenities do you consider “must haves”?

Note that with this question, you’re asking your client for their nonnegotiables — not simply what’s essential for the event to take place. 

You can’t just assume that every client will be satisfied with any room large enough to accommodate the anticipated number of people attending the event. 

If the CEO of the organization sponsoring a trade show recently attended a trade show at a fancy hotel, they’re more likely to insist on an upscale location for their trade show as well. And if that trade show served free coffee and dessert all day long, don’t be surprised if your client insists that you plan for coffee and dessert all day at their event as well. 

How many people do you expect to attend the event?

The number of people expected to attend any sort of event — whether it’s a private birthday party or a national political convention — is the main variable in how much an event will cost. 

Nailing down a number is tough enough if the event is invitation only, and it’s naturally much more difficult to estimate if the event is open to the public. 

Get the client to give an estimate, and then determine if the number they offer is informed or aspirational. The client might simply have no better way to estimate attendance than you do, particularly if this is the first time they’ve held the event.

Will you host the event for more than one day?

An event that will last for two or more days means you’ll have to consider where attendees will eat and stay, and that will influence what sort of facilities you’ll need. The duration of the event is as important a factor as the number of attendees.

How often will the event occur?

If this is an annual — or otherwise recurring — event, regardless of the frequency, it will almost certainly include marketing for the next event. If, for instance, this is an annual product trade show or a monthly professional gathering, the clients will want to tell attendees where and when they’ll hold the next event.

Clear communication between the event planner and the client is the key factor that will determine if an event succeeds or fails. Asking insightful questions — and keeping a good record of the client’s answers — is how event planners turn a client’s aspirations into a memorable event.

Photo by Samantha Gades on Unsplash

Peter Page is a professional writer whose career began in print. He has worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs and business leaders as an editor at Entrepreneur.com and Green Entrepreneur. He is now editor for contributed content at Grit Daily News.

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