The core formula for planning an event always stays the same

Planning a three year old’s birthday party requires the same steps as planning a large scale event like Lollapalooza or Taste of Chicago.  Certainly a large scale event like Lolla or Taste requires the efforts of many more people, time and resources, but an event is an event. The same guiding principles apply.  Below is my list of comparable event functions that prove if you can produce a successful three year old’s birthday party, I’m confident in your ability to plan a large scale public event.

Birthday party


Three year old birthday party:  Go to CVS and purchase a 30 pack of invites that require you to fill in the event specific information.  Perhaps inner creativity is ready to burst and creating an invite on Vista Print is more up your alley.  Either way there needs to be an invite sent out for the mini-you birthday bash.

Large scale public event:  Purchase ads in the Red Eye, the Chicago Reader, the CTA and over promote the event via social media.


Three year old birthday party:  Head over to Party City and find all sorts of Chinese manufactured items that will allow you take whatever kiddie theme “de jour” to the 10th degree.

Large scale public event:  Look for repurposed, re-imagined, interesting, clever pieces of overly sized props to make the event space look fun, inviting and different from the “thousands” of other festivals and events in the City this weekend.

Food & Beverage

Three year old birthday party:  Find the tastiest kid-friendly cater and pay slightly more money than you should for hot dogs, pizza bites, chicken nuggets and sugary punch.

Large scale public event:  Post restaurant/catering applications on your event website, encourage restaurants to propose items that are tasty but clever. Create buzz about the event by selecting food items that are relatively easy to make en masse but detailed enough that people will talk about them. People love to discuss and eat good food, so work hard to impress in this area.


Three year old birthday party:  Face painter? Clown? Indie band that now sings children’s songs (ok let’s not get carried away) however, coming up with some sort of engaging activity is critical to keep the birthday boys and girls from ripping the wallpaper off the walls.

Large scale public event:  The lynch pin of every event…good talent.  Is it possible to find the next big act before they truly make it big and charge exorbitant prices? Is the music cutting edge or a favorite local cover band? Either way, talent is critical to the success of a large scale festival.


Three year old birthday party:

#1 – Set a limit

#2 - Reach into the wallet

#3 - Pull out the credit card

#4 -  Exceed the limit

#5 - Hope that Grandma and Grandpa throw a little “extra” in the envelope.

Large scale public event:  Consider multiple revenue streams and always continue to develop new funding strategies outside of ticket sales, sponsorship and food/beverage revenue.


Three year old birthday party:  Make it easy for your guests to contact you with their attendance intentions.  If you put “regrets only” on the invite then guests are only supposed to call you if they are not coming.  If you put “RSVP to So and So” then your guests need to contact that person to let them know they are coming to the party.

Large scale public event:  Attendees purchase tickets to reserve their spot.  It’s essential to have a system in place that allows attendees to do this quick and easily.


Three year old birthday party:  Make sure the birthday boy/girl says thank you when opening gifts. Drawing some sort of cute, crazy looking picture that gets mailed out letting all of the guests know how much their attendance was appreciated is always a big hit.

Large scale public event:  Take out full page ads in the Chicago Sun Times and the Chicago Tribune telling everyone how much the festival appreciated Chicago.  Send out finale Tweets and Facebook posts at the end of the event.  Give the media all the usual reports they ask for:  Attendance numbers, ticket sales, arrest numbers as well as any other mundane incident that they can likely turn into a front page story.

While much of this information is over simplified to avoid writing a book, I’m hopeful the point is clear.  An event is an event.  While the details of the event vary drastically from one to another, the core formula is always the same.

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