There’s a lot of planning and attention to detail that goes into making sure you’ve planned a successful outdoor event.
If you do everything right, chances are no one will notice, but if you get something wrong then it’s all people will talk about.
“If people don’t have a good experience, they’re not going to come back to your event,” says Liz Goshert, the marketing, events, and promotions director for Federated Media. “You only have one chance to really impress them.”
The biggest factor in having a successful outdoor event is making sure you have the right venue. Scouting event sites is about finding a spot that can handle all of your needs in the right location with the right amount of parking.
In order to know a venue is the right place, you have to plan ahead and know exactly what you’re going to need for your event.
Let’s take a look at what you need to plan for in order to have a successful outdoor event and find the right venue for you.
BUILD THE RIGHT INFRASTRUCTURE
Putting together an outdoor event is like building an entire outdoor venue. Each event and each venue are going to have different infrastructure requirements. But, if it’s outdoors, you’re almost guaranteed to have to build some infrastructure.
“Outdoor events are tricky, because you literally have to build an infrastructure outside,” Goshert says. “You need everyday things that people are used to using, like bathrooms.”
Here are a few of the things you may need to take into consideration when putting together the infrastructure of your event.
Electricity: People often take electricity for granted because we’re used to being surrounded by it in our daily lives. But not all venues are set up well for running a lot of electricity. That can hamper things like putting on a concert or having proper lighting if your event runs into the night.
Lights: You may need to bring in additional lighting if your event is going to take place into the night. Pathways and parking lots should be lit for safety. If you’re running a concert, you’ll also need to think about stage lighting.
Porta-Potties: If you don’t have bathrooms at your venue, you’re going to need to bring in porta-potties. There’s a formula for the number of porta-potties that you need at an event, so you’re going to need to do some estimating on attendance. Seriously, don’t skimp on the porta-potties.
Sound: Sound is important whether you’re running a concert or just need to make sure that you can make announcements. Test sound equipment ahead of time to ensure that everything is in working order and that it covers the area you need.
Signage: Don’t just think about signs on the ground, think vertically, too. It will be tough to see banners among a crowd of people, so something like Monster Message can reach above the crowd and help you with your messaging. Video boards are also great if you have a large event so that people in the back can see what’s happening on stage.
Tents: You’ve got to be a high-stakes gambler to run an outdoor event without tents in the Midwest. Tents can provide respite from rain, but they can also provide shade from oppressive heat and sun in the summer. Don’t forget that you’ll have to call 811 before a tent can be erected.
Space: You’re going to need enough room for all of the activities and vendors who will be participating in your event. That’s on top of making sure that there’s room for your attendees to walk around and find places to sit and enjoy your event.
Parking: This is a large part of every outdoor event. The rise of ride-sharing apps has decreased the demands of parking for some events. But the more rural your event is, the less likely that people will take an Uber or Lyft.
PLAN FOR THE WEATHER
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the biggest variable in the success of an outdoor event is the weather.
“It’s really stressful to put on an outdoor event simply because of the weather,” Goshert says. “If your revenue is relying on a lot of people being there and showing up and it rains or snows or all of the above, you could really lose out.”
Large, visible signage like Monster Message can help get word out to your attendees if you have to change plans. Position your signage near the entrance to your event and use it to let your visitors know about changes even before they park and get out of their vehicles.
“You need to think of worst-case scenarios when planning your outdoor event,” Goshert says. “That way if something happens with the weather you’re comfortable making decisions quickly without having to think.”
You need to think through your contingency plans and have several back-up plans depending on what the weather does. Before your event even happens, decide if you’re able to move it indoors because of the weather (or other factors) or if you’ll have to move it to another date, push the event back, or so on.
MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THE RIGHT STAFF
Staff are the lifeblood of an event.
It eases a lot of stress if you have a crew that can think on their feet, take control of a situation, and know exactly what they’re doing.
“Make sure you have a crew that can handle any mistakes or any issues someone has,” Goshert says. “That way people leave with a positive experience and want to come back next year.”
It can sometimes be difficult to find people on your team to staff an event. But you should always prepare your materials for them ahead of time. When you get your team, you want them to know exactly what they’re doing.
Train your staff as far in advance as you can (and have a refresher before the event) and set clear expectations of what their roles are supposed to be.
Don’t hoard information about your event, either. If your staff can answer questions your attendees have, it improves the entire event.
Consider hiring a security team as part of your event, too.
“It’s better to be over prepared instead of underprepared,” Goshert says. “It’s not something you want to think about, but it’s something you need to think about as a responsible events coordinator.”
No one wants to think that trouble will happen at their event, but to have a successful outdoor event you need to plan for it occurring.
BRUSH UP ON CITY LAWS AND GUIDELINES
Counties and towns all have different rules and regulations when it comes to outdoor events.
There are setbacks for signs, rules on having inflatable mascots, rules on parking, and more.
Once you’ve picked out your venue, get in contact with the city government in the town it's located and make sure you’re in compliance with local ordinances and laws. You don’t want law enforcement showing up and ordering you to move things or take them down while you’re in the middle of your event. Especially if it’s critical to your infrastructure!