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  • Writer's pictureRoger Harrison

How To Plan A Successful Corporate Event (Tips by Debi Lilly)

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

People gathered in themed dressing

As a jazz band performing in the Tampa Fl area, we play at lots of corporate events. Some are extremely well run and some... well let's just say that sometimes it's a bit obvious that there was a distinct lack of planning. I recently came across this article and felt it summarized some of the aspects that I've seen need to be addressed to have a real successful event, so I'm republishing it here in full.

Feel free to comment and leave your successes or things to watch out for. I'll use these in future blogs. Also check back as I'll be updating this blog with other ideas. It's more fun for everyone when the event is planned right!

Interview with Debi Lilly, Corporate Event Planner

As CEO and founder of Chicago's A Perfect Event, corporate event planner Debi Lilly has created memorable moments for companies as diverse as McDonalds and Tiffany's. Also working in the celebrity world, perhaps her most famous client is Oprah Winfrey. Debi's party planning excellence has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show for seven years, including Oprah's televised 50th birthday party. She is also a contributing editor to several style and bridal magazines.

Debi Lily, CEO and founder of A Perfect Event Ads by Google

Debi talked to LoveToKnow recently, sharing her tips for making any event a success while also letting us know a little more about the business of a corporate event planner.

Party Planning Tips for Any Occasion

LoveToKnow: If a company or a celebrity decided today, "I want to host a big event," what would be the first step you suggest they take?

Debi Lilly: Well, definitely the first step would be talking about the purpose or the occasion. Because obviously, whether it's a baby shower, or a summer picnic for a corporate client, the details and the timing necessary and the budget, all those things really vary party to party. I would say the first step would be talking about the type of event that they're going to have. So that somehow we're making every event unique and different and special, based on whatever the group is celebrating or honoring.

LTK: Are there any things that can help guarantee the success of an event?

DL: I would say that you would want to make sure that you are thinking through all the various pieces. Meaning for any given event:

•Do you have an occasion?

•Do you have a guest of honor?

•Do you have a location?

•Do you have a venue?

•Do you have some type of entertainment?

•Do you have some type of décor?

Looking through all the different pieces that comprise any successful event, you can then translate those to your own, and follow the steps needed to make sure that you aren't going to forget any special details or be stuck the day of the event scrambling around trying to get something completed.

LTK: What are the most important things to remember on the day of the event?

DL: On the day of, I would say that you want to make sure that you have, first and foremost, given yourself enough time to do whatever the pieces are that fall onto your lap. Meaning, if you're doing the food yourself, or if you're doing the flowers yourself, you really want to make sure that you give yourself a nice long window of time to set up and prepare. Because there's nothing worse, as I'm sure you know, than underestimating the time it takes such that the hour before the party you're scrambling, and you're not able to relax and get dressed and be fresh and ready to receive all of your guests. So I think it's really important to give yourself ample time.

We always try and have everything we can completed the day before. Anything that you can have set, like having your tables set, or having your furniture arranged, or whatever it may be, so that on the day of the event, you're really only focused on things that have to be done day of, that have to be done last-minute, like the food and the ice.

And then I think it's always important to figure out the flow of your event and of your guests. Meaning that you want to think through, "They're arriving here. Where should I set up the bar? Where should I set up the food?" So that people really are moving through wherever it is, whether it be your home or a backyard or a restaurant, and you really have thought that through and set it up so it works really well.

I think it's always important to keep the weather in mind. Let's say you're planning a big outdoor party. It's always important to make sure that you have a backup plan, just in case of foul weather. Being in Chicago, we have a 50/50 chance of good weather, and obviously in other climates maybe that's not as important, but it's very, very important here in our market.

The Business of a Corporate Event Planner

LTK: If someone else were interested in becoming a corporate event planner, what steps would you recommend they take to get started?

DL: Find a great company in their local market, and start working for them on a part-time basis, or whatever that position or company might allow. Because you just need to get your feet wet and get your feet into the industry. And there are so many positions, whether it be just project-by-project or on weekends or on evenings. It seems like a lot of people have gotten into it almost by chance because they're just looking for something part-time on the side, or some extra money, or they know they love it, and how can they get into it? That would be the first suggestion that I would make.

LTK: Do you ever get to attend a party and just enjoy it, or are you always thinking about it from a planner's perspective?

DL: Yes, I do. Over the holidays, I attended many parties that I had no responsibility for. And it's funny, you can't really break out of your mold. I would be saying to people, and they're not in my home, I'm at a neighbor's, "Can I get you something to drink?" "Can I take your coat for you?" And everyone was laughing at me, because they're like, "Deb…stop, stop." So it is kind of hard to turn it off, I guess. But I definitely do get to go to functions here and there. I wouldn't say often because 99% of the time it's something that's business-related. But I do, and when I do it's really fun, and also hard sometimes to sit back and just be a guest.

LTK: Looking at your website, I'm intrigued by the idea of The Event Library. Is it exactly what it sounds like, one-stop shopping for event planning?

DL: It is. It's both on our website and also an actual library or physical part of our boutique. And what we've tried to do is take the best of the best of Chicago's vendors; it's definitely a local resource. We found that it makes it really easy for people, no matter what kind of party they're throwing, because you're hiring pre-qualified vendors. You know, great caterers with a great reputation, bands, photographers, etc.

LTK: Is this unique among event planners?

DL: It's really unique. Some people try and hold those recommended vendors kind of close in their pocket. And we just thought it seemed like a really fun way to pick our preferred partners who we know do such a great job and are so professional, and you can rely on, and just help them build their business while also helping make it easier for people. Again, no matter what their occasion

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Tommie Marshall
Tommie Marshall
29 jan. 2023

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