How to Plan a Community Event

Every day, there’s a city, county, state or non-profit organization hosting a special event. These are events like groundbreakings, ribbon cuttings, open houses, workshops and outdoor festivals. Many of these public events—particularly the successful ones—become anticipated festivities and sometimes a point of pride.

While there are aspects of event planning and execution that are shared across all types of events from weddings to corporate conferences, public events tend to have their own needs and challenges.

Whether it’s your first event or your hundredth, event planning is stressful. Luckily, when you need to make sure nothing slips through the cracks, you can refer to this event checklist.

Use it at any point of your next event planning process to reduce stress and make sure no detail is forgotten.

Download Interactive Checklist


Set a date

As soon as you get the green light on your event, you need to get to work. The sooner you can pick the date, the better!

Event planning team

While you may be able to plan the event, and with great success, it’s important to understand the value of a team. Event planning projects are often done in teams because it’s the most efficient, stress-free and collaborative way of working. Consider identifying key individuals for subcommittees to share the work load.


Set a budget and develop a plan for all financial reporting procedures.


Here are a few things you should consider when selecting a venue/location:

  • The number of guests attending. This is critical when choosing a venue/location to make certain that everyone can fit comfortably
  • Accessible to all people, specifically those with disabilities. Be sure to consider Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards
  • If held at a park or other public space, confirm if you need to reserve and/or pay for the space
  • Parking for attendees, consider attendees with disabilities—ADA standards
  • Contact city to determine what permits may be needed for your event. Keep a copy of all the permits and licenses to prevent any last-minute problems that may pop-up (i.e. if you set-up a canopy/tent for shelter you may need a permit to stake in ground)
  • Look for electrical hook-ups for computers, projector, microphones, music, etc.
  • Check aesthetics to make sure the photos/videos are well-represented at the event
Allen Park
SEH hosted a groundbreaking for their new downtown Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, office at Allen Park, a leisure area adjacent to the new building was to be built. The existing pavilion and cement wall provided shelter and backdrop for the event.


  • Prepare for the unexpected (i.e. weather–provide shelter to keep guests out of the elements like sun, heat, rain, etc.)
  • Event theme. Will it just be government officials and shovels or will it be a celebration. Consider music that fits with event, performances by children’s groups, etc.
  • Photographer, video, cable
    • Hire a photographer or appoint a staff person to take photographs
    • Hire a videographer
    • Create a list of photos/videos you want captured (i.e. elected officials, presenters and presentations, groundbreaking, ribbon cutting, interviews, number of candid shots, etc.)
    • Use available public access television resources
  • Rentals: chairs, tables, tents, staging, podium, platform/stage, portable toilets, garbage and recycling receptacles, etc.
  • Rent electrical/generators, amplifiers, projectors/screens, microphones (wireless preferred so you can move around the event area)
  • Items to be taken care of before the event (i.e. lawn mowing, garbage removal, painting, cleaning, etc.)
  • Special security considerations
  • Signage for visitors to find the venue/location, parking, ADA standards, etc.
  • Notify local city and law enforcement in advance about the event

Event set-up

  • Develop an event set-up layout
    • Do you need a small platform for speaker(s) and podium or will everyone be on same level
    • Where do you want the podium  
    • Where will speakers be located (i.e. up front or in the audience)
    • Where will you put chairs and where can people stand
  • Determine if you want backdrop(s)
    • Project rendering(s)
    • Make it festive with balloons, banner(s) or make use of the natural backdrop such as a lake, river, park, etc.
  • Make sure the set-up arrangement has access to electrical feed or generator
  • Consider an amplification system if you anticipate a larger crowd
  • Determine number of table(s) needed for news packets, name tags, etc.
  • Determine number of table(s) needed for food and beverages
  • Determine number of chairs needed for event
  • Determine number of garbage and recycling receptacles to keep the site clean


  • Develop the “dance” to get the speakers to and from the podium during presentation
  • Develop/print name tags, bring extra blank ones and a marker
  • Develop/print boards of project rendering(s)
  • Consider a multimedia or self-running PowerPoint of the drawings, etc.
  • Develop/print a podium sign
  • Graphic elements to include at the event (i.e. conference banners, photos, etc.)
  • Develop/print signage necessary to get to the site and where to park
  • Consider social media opportunities (i.e. Facebook Live, capture photos and post during event, etc.)

Props/promotional items

  • Hard Hats. Consider painting them with name of project or imprinting them
  • Shovels. Consider buying shovels and having them painted with the name and date of event; or partner with a local school and have the kids paint the shovels
  • Scissors. Check with your Chamber of Commerce to see if they have ceremonial scissors to use at event or consider purchasing
  • Consider a backhoe, firetruck, etc. on site for the event. Put balloons or banners on them
  • Promotional items. Do you want to have a give-away for guests
Fishing themed event
The SEH Brainerd, Minnesota, office hosted a kick-off to the Minnesota Governor's Fishing Opener. Fishing net, bobbers, goldfish crackers and Swedish fish candy set the tone for the themed event.

Food and beverages

  • If providing food and/or beverages work with your local Health Department to identify safe practices to serve food at your event
    • Be creative. Decorate a cake with the project rendering (i.e. cutting it can be somewhat ceremonial and provides a photo opportunity; or have cookies with project name or logo)
    • Type of event. If on the river, consider what might be riverfront type vendors (i.e. mini-donuts, hot dogs, lemonade, etc.)
  • Select caterer. Refer to Chamber of Commerce members for selections of catering companies
  • Will food be buffet style, finger food, etc.
    • Consider food warmers or coolers depending upon what you provide
  • Determine type of beverages will be provided
    • Consider coolers, depending upon what you provide (i.e. five-gallon spigot coolers work great for water, lemonade, etc.)
  • Order supplies such as cups, napkins, paper plates, plastic utensils, table coverings, office supplies, etc.
Two five-gallon coolers
Two five-gallon coolers—one with water and the other with lemonade along with coffee were provided at this event.


If hosting an event that requires payment, consider working directly with your accounting department to consider:

  • Cash – be sure to have cash available to make change
  • Credit – look into online payment options
  • Receipt – provide attendee with a receipt


When developing an invite list, consider all stakeholders:

  • Elected officials
    • Confirm attendance
    • Confirm any transportation logistics, special accommodations, food, etc.
    • Provide news packets (refer to media for further details) or other event related information in advance
    • Notify local city and law enforcement in advance
    • Confirm those who are speaking prior to the event
  • Government officials – local, county, state, federal
  • Business groups or nearby businesses
  • Resident groups
  • Historical preservation
  • Chamber of Commerce
  • Developers
  • Key community members
  • Participating vendors, contractors, consultants, etc.
ad for the Hoyt Lakes
This is an ad for the Hoyt Lakes, Minnesota, Emergency Services Building Grand Opening that was placed in two local newspapers


  • Follow ADA standards to ensure your invite is accessible to all stakeholders (multiple languages, etc.)
  • Identify which tool(s) is best for invitations – mail, email, social media or all of the above
  • If early enough, consider sending a “Save the Date” notice to attendees
  • Send invitation (print or email) 2 – 4 weeks before the event
  • If elected officials are confirmed, make sure to include on invite (i.e. Honorable Mayor invites you to attend…)
  • Include date, time, location
  • Include map to location
  • RSVP for event
  • Post invite on website
  • Post invite on social media
  • Place an ad in the local newspaper if you would like to include the community
  • Public service announcement to invite public
  • A follow-up email invitation (reminder)


  • Develop/print a program (handout or printed on a board) and include project information, who will speak and when
  • Consider an emcee to help the flow of presenters
  • Check with elected officials for the proper speaking protocol and for correct introductions
    • Start with highest ranking elected official to determine preference
  • Determine what each speaker will focus on to avoid duplication in speeches
  • Get speaker bio information and picture
  • Provide each speaker with key messages about the project/event
  • Determine if any speakers would prefer talking points be developed for them or will they develop their own
  • Determine the “dance” to get speakers from the podium to event area (i.e. have an emcee introduce each speaker or first speaker introduce second speaker, etc.)
  • Determine who will be involved in the ceremonial “dig” for a groundbreaking or “cut” for a ribbon cutting


  • Appoint one spokesperson for the project. All media contacts should run through this person
  • Develop key messages—what do you want media/public to know or remember
  • Develop a media list of local, county, state publications, radio and TV
    • Consider specialty publications. Consider a wire or web service to help distribute your news release if not a current list
  • Determine if the local radio or TV station would consider broadcasting live from the event
  • Prepare a news advisory for the event and send at least two to three days in advance to allow for travel
  • Determine who might be key interviews post event and arrange for reporter to be in touch with that person
  • Write down any questions that may be asked—update your news release if pertinent information is missed
  • Determine beforehand who gets news packets so you have enough. Host information on USB flash drives and have a few printed packets as well
  • Digital or printed media packets, may include the following:
    • News release (project/event specifics)—include quotes from elected officials, developers, etc.
    • Program—if there is one; speaking order, etc.
    • Fact sheet on funding sources
    • Fact sheet for each consultant (developer, architect, engineer, planning)—they should each provide this
    • Color rendering(s) of the site
    • List of key stakeholders—all participating organizations
  • Develop a project website with a media page—include PDFs of all documents above. Include individual photographs of mayor or other key officials
  • Make key media calls to determine who is attending

Day of Event

Event set-up

  • Be prepared for the unexpected (i.e. check the weather elements like sun, heat, rain, etc., confirm all speakers are able to attend, etc.)
  • Provide event team with diagram of event layout that identifies
    • Where to set-up staging platform
    • Where the podium should be
    • Where the speakers will be seated (i.e. up front or in the audience)
    • Where to place chairs and standing area(s)
  • Set-up backdrop(s)
  • Set-up electrical feed or generator
  • Set-up and test amplification system
  • Set-up tables(s) for news packets, name tags, etc.
  • Set-up table(s) for food and beverages
  • Provide speakers with any materials needed for the event
  • Place garbage and recycling receptacles around the event site


  • Have name tags ready, extra blank ones and a marker
  • Set-up boards of project rendering(s)
  • Set-up projector for multimedia or self- running PowerPoint of the drawings, etc.
  • Set-up podium sign
  • Set-up banners or additional event graphics
  • Set-up signage to get to the site and where to park
  • Be prepared for social media opportunities (i.e. Facebook Live, charge phones, etc.)

Props/promotional items

  • Have hard hats ready for wear (make sure hard hat inserts are securely fastened, etc.)
  • Be shovel and/or scissor and ribbon ready for event
  • Have promotional items ready for distribution to selected key stakeholders


  • Provide a printed program with project information, who will speak and when to each speaker
  • Introduce emcee to speakers
  • Provide each speaker with key messages about the project/event
  • Provide speakers with talking points (if requested)
  • Provide each speaker with the “dance” and verify they understand their role
  • Notify those individuals who will be involved in the ceremonial “dig” for a groundbreaking or “cut” for a ribbon cutting


  • The assigned person in charge of news packets should greet each media person, introduce themselves as the contact, keep track of all media in attendance, and provide them with a packet (refer to media packets in previous section)
  • Connect with the individual(s) who are key interviews and make introduction to reporter
  • Provide individual(s) with questions that may be asked during the interview and update your news release if pertinent information is missed
  • Update the media page on your website. Send the link to key media unable to attend, most likely this would be metro area dailies, business publications, etc.
  • Conduct follow-up calls if there were notable media missing like the local newspaper, radio or television
commemorative spade shovels
These commemorative spade shovels are designed and given to elected officials and key stakeholders at groundbreaking events.
podium with event signage
The City of Sandstone, Minnesota, held a groundbreaking event for Lundorff Drive. Hard hats, shovels, podium with event signage, project and agenda boards provided an aesthetically pleasing backdrop for the event.
A rendering of the East Metro Public Safety Training Center was developed for the groundbreaking event. The Oakdale, Minnesota, fire truck was an innovative way to display the final project.


  • Designate someone to meet guests and to provide name tags, keep list of additional attendees/event information, etc.

Thank you

  • Thank everyone who participated in the planning of event


  • If your event is offering PDHs/CEUs, provide a certificate to attendees

Post event

  • Assign event team (or ask for volunteers) to be responsible for all aspects of the clean-up
  • Make sure rental places know when to pick up equipment
  • Follow proper tactics to follow-up with media
  • Post photos on website and social media
  • Send thank you cards to key participants
  • Determine opportunities for public access

Wrapping it up

Event planning is stressful. Luckily, our public event checklist is a tool you can use to make sure nothing slips through the cracks. It might help lower stress too. Use it at any point during your next public or community event such as groundbreakings, ribbon cuttings, open houses, workshops and outdoor festivals.

Download Interactive Checklist

About the Author

Debra Lee

Debra Lee works in the marketing department and leads public and community event planning efforts. She values organization and the smooth operation of marketing efforts, from planning to implementation. Contact Debra

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