How to Make an Event Schedule
Is there an ideal way to structure your conference? What about an evening networking event?
How long should speakers be on for? How many breaks should there be?
These are common questions, and while there is no one way to run an event, there are some scheduling best practices you should bear in mind when creating the programme.
Here we run through how to make an event schedule and five common scenarios, whether you’re planning a conference, event or exhibition. You can also download our common event schedule templates at the bottom of this post to help you along the way.
How to make an event schedule
- Choose your event duration
Before you begin to create your event or conference schedule, you’ll need to determine the event duration. This will tell you how long you have to fit in speaker sessions, networking, breakout sessions and so on. When you know your event duration, try to break this down into hours, or 30-minute slots, so that you can successfully allocate chunks of time to different activities.
- Write a list of activities
Here you should include everything you need to fit into your event. Think about all of your key stakeholders such as exhibition partners, keynote speakers, sponsors and your own sales team. How much “air time” does each group expect to have? You should also include “free space” for activities such as networking, visiting an exhibition and spending time with sponsors.
- Pick a time management system
A method to ensure your conference or event follows a structured schedule is to use a time management system such as time chunking. Business leaders such as Tony Robbins use this method as a way of breaking big tasks down into manageable chunks. The benefit of this for your event schedule is that you won’t overload your attendees with information.
You may decide to chunk all of your event activities into 30-minute sessions. Another system may be to ensure your attendees change room or area, every hour, to keep them engaged. Using a set time management system makes things fairer for all of your sponsors and speakers, as each will have the same amount of time to reach their audience.
- Determine schedule visibility
While creating your event schedule think about how this will be shared. Will you have an event website? An event app? Paper printouts of the conference activities? This will help you to visualise how you want your event schedule to look and whether it will work across a range of mediums.
- Plan for people
It’s very easy during the event planning process to pack everything in as tightly as possible. However, endless speaker sessions, panels and exhibitions can be quite tiring for your event attendees. Rather than seeing them as a number, think about their needs as if they are an individual. Most event attendees will need regular comfort breaks, a chance to grab coffee and maybe even time to let off steam outside or in a local town. The more you can think about the experience, the happier your attendees will be and the more chance they will come back next year. If you have the space and budget, create meditation rooms, pre-session yoga experiences “quiet” spaces to relax and recharge.
Common examples of event schedules
One Day Conference Schedule
For a one day conference, it’s generally okay to start at 9am. This allows you a full working day of content, without starting too early, and is a natural time for most people to be in ‘work engaged’ mode.
If people are travelling from abroad, they will likely be in the night before, so it’s a good time for them to start too.
Try and chunk the day up into no more than 90 minute segments before having some kind of break, and then within those segments keep things interesting by changing up formats, speakers etc., ideally at least every 30 minutes.
When you do provide for breaks in the schedule, make them a reasonable length in time – at least 30 minutes – otherwise it feels snatched and rushed. Remember people are there to network as well as learn; and they’ll also need time to catch-up on work emails too.
After the lunch break, you should try to put on an interactive session, as people will be sluggish and sleepy after a large meal. Re-engage their brains by getting them involved in the content conversation.
One common mistake with conferences is to try and stuff too many speaker sessions into the day, as they help to sell the conference. While there is an element of truth to this – having lots of big names on the agenda can be a draw – you have to balance it out with the experience on the day.
If the schedule is too packed and hectic, or has too many tracks, not enough breaks etc. then it will lead to a worse experience and may hurt your chances of getting repeat delegates for next year. Sometimes less can be more.
Finally, try to finish the day with a panel discussion. It’s hard to pack the room for a final session, so you have to anticipate lower numbers. It’s therefore always tough to give a single speaker the final slot as they may feel deflated and underappreciated. Better to share this with a panel of speakers (ideally those who have already enjoyed some premium stage time).
Two Day Conference Schedule
A two-day conference schedule won’t change much from the one day format, and all the same best practices apply.
However there will often be a party or drinks at the end of day one, so don’t start day two too early. 10am is much better than 9am for example.
Whether it’s day one or day two, it’s also a good idea to give a start time 10-15 minutes before the main speaker (or first formal session) begins, to give late-comers and stragglers time to settle in without disturbing the main session.
You should also finish the second day earlier than the first, as people hit ‘content overload’ and usually need to get back to wherever they travelled from in order to start back at 9 or 10am the next day.
In both one and two day conferences it’s also important to vary the different ways you deliver content to your audience, so consider having a mixture of shorter talks, longer talks, fireside chats, panels, workshops and roundtables.
Also, if you have a relatively large exhibition, you’ll need to extend your breaks in order to provide more networking time for your delegates to meet the exhibitors. If you keep them in sessions all day, your sponsors and exhibitors will not be pleased (and nor will your sales team!).
Speaking of exhibitions, the agenda for these types of events are relatively straightforward.
The emphasis has to be on keeping attendees on the show floor so they’re encouraged to meet and speak with your exhibitors. Although often, exhibitions also offer content and educational programmes as an added draw to get people through the door.
To balance out the need for content with the need to have plenty of exhibition meet-and-greet time, many exhibitions run multiple tracks, in order to appeal to different buyer personas.
There will also frequently be a heavy-hitter keynote presentation as the main draw. Some exhibitions will put them on early, in order to entice people to turn up in the morning and then hope they will stay the rest of the day.
Others will add a second big name speaker towards the end of the day as another way to encourage people to hang around. Then between content sessions there will be extended breaks without distractions.
Panel and Networking Evening Schedule or Lightning Talks and Networking Evening Schedule
These two kinds of events are really popular for small businesses looking to build brand awareness or generate leads.
They both contain similar elements, with the main difference being the type of educational content delivered.
If you’re looking to run an evening event, try not to start it too late, as many people won’t know what to do between finishing work and arriving at your event. In that case, they may simply choose to head home. Plus a later start means a later finish, which is again not good for those with families or anyone needing to travel that bit further back home.
For those reasons a 6.15/6.30pm start and 8.30pm or 9pm finish is ideal for midweek, with more latitude to finish later if it’s a Friday night and it is more of a social event than educational.
With lightning talks, you want to keep them fast! 15 minutes per talk is more than enough, but some events will do 10 or even 5 minutes per speaker.
Usually 3-5 speakers are enough to have a complete agenda.
Once they sessions are over (assuming they last a total of 45 minutes to an hour) you can then move onto dedicated drinking and networking time, potentially with some nibbles thrown in if your budget can stretch to that.
With panel sessions, you should have 3-4 panellists. You can run the panel, with set questions coming from the moderator, for the first 30-45 minutes; then ensure there is plenty of time to take questions from the audience too (15-20 minutes), so in total it will last about an hour.
Of course, you don’t have to have such a clearly demarcated structure to the panel, and you may want to allow audience questions throughout, and just make it a single 45 or 60-minute block of time.
There really is no single best way to run an event – that’s one of the things that makes events unique and fun to attend – but there are some good rules of thumb and example event schedules you can follow.
For a visual representation of the above advice – packaged into editable word docs with pre-set schedules – please fill out your details to download our 5 Common Event Schedule Templates.