No matter how large or small, every event needs to be properly planned – and that means allowing enough lead-in time. For example:

  • a major event with an expected audience of 200+ people should be planned up to a year in advance 
  • a one-day event organised for around 100 people should be planned at least four months in advance 
  • a seminar for 30 people may need just three months, depending on delegate and speaker diaries.

We have included a typical timetable for planning a one-day event attracting around 100 people. If your event is bigger, you will need to alter the timescales accordingly.

Setting objectives

The first step in organising your event is to set out your objectives. Begin by asking yourself why you are running the event at all. Key questions you should be able to answer are:

  • What do you want from the event?
  • What do you want the event to say?
  • Is the event primarily about giving information? If so, can you achieve the same objective by sending out a publication or by referring potential delegates to a website instead? 
  • Is the event primarily about the new ideas that can emerge from the interaction? (If so, the sessions will need to be highly participative.) 
  • Who is your audience? 
  • What do you want your audience to do at the event? 
  • What do you want your audience to do after the event?

Allocating resources

Set the budget for the event at the outset. If you are organising a large-scale event, consider employing a professional conference organising company to handle the bulk of the administration for you. Although this can be expensive, it can save on 'hidden' costs such as staff time.

The ESRC does not recommend charging for the majority of events because of the administrative costs involved. However, the overall decision on whether to charge will need to be made in line with your event objectives.

We have created a model financial planning form at the end of this guide, to help you set out the income and expenses for a typical one-day event. This can be modified to suit your needs.


If your event is large, it is advisable to insure it. The premium for an average conference of 200 delegates is around £75.

In simple terms, most insurance policies will cover abandonment, cancellation or curtailment of a conference for any reason out of your control, for example:

  • non-appearance of speakers
  • train strikes
  • failure of power supplies
  • extreme bad weather making it difficult for delegates to attend.