Program Planning

So, you're going to plan a big event, but you don't know where to start. Don't panic. This page is designed to help you through this process and smooth out the rough spots of planning and preparing for a successful and memorable event. The first step is to determine why you are putting on the event. Some questions that may help you clarify what you are doing and why include:

  • What do you want to achieve by having this program?
  • What are your organizational goals and how will this event help you meet them?
  • What do you, as the planners, want to get out of this experience?
  • Is there a current need or an interest in this program area?
  • Are other similar programs being offered?
  • Has a similar event been held in the past?
  • What was the response?
  • Are your members enthusiastic about organizing this event?
  • Is organizing this program worth your members’ time?
  • Is there enough time to thoroughly organize, publicize and promote the program so that it will be successful?

Once you have satisfactorily answered these questions, planning the program is really quite easy if you follow these five simple steps:

  1. Identify Needs
  2. Develop Program Goals and Objectives
  3. Organize Program Plans
  4. Implement Plans
  5. Evaluate the Event
Who is the audience and what does the audience want to see or experience with this kind of program? What are the audience's needs? What method of assessment will you use to determine this (e.g., word-of mouth, surveys, or a suggestion box)? How big do you want this program to be? Does the type of event you're planning limit the audience size? If so, how will you determine who can attend?

After you have identified your program's audience and needs, decide which ones do you want to have your event address? Define specifically what you want the participants to learn or experience from the program. This will be the goal of your program or event. Be clear about the kind of program you are planning, i.e., social, cultural, educational or a fundraiser. Identify other resources to help you when and where necessary.


What do you specifically need to do to accomplish your objectives? When do you want to hold this event? Be sure to consider whether or not you have enough time to make all the necessary arrangements and whether or not your members will be able to complete all of their tasks. Many program planners find it helpful to make a time line working in reverse; start at the day of the event and fill in publicity deadlines, facility agreements, etc. This can help you see if you are being realistic or if you are setting yourself up to be unable to meet your obligations. Getting everything down on paper is an arduous process but it can be very rewarding and a great learning experience. It will give you a tremendous sense of accomplishment. For many, this process is as rewarding as the program itself. A Student Life and Leadership (Student Services West, room 1661) staff member can assist you with the process.


Where you hold your program is very important. Facilities can determine audience size, date, and time. It can set the mood for formal, informal, workshop or auditorium style. Work with the facility to achieve the desired atmosphere.


How much money do you have to work with? Will revenues need to be generated? What kind of resources do you have at your disposal to raise money and/or cover costs? If you plan on charging admission, it is important to consider what costs you anticipate this fee will cover as well as how much you can reasonably expect participants to pay. Other questions to address are: Will there be a reduced rate for early registration? Will students be charged less than faculty, staff and community participants? Will tickets/registration be taken at the event or beforehand?


Another thing to consider is that oftentimes speakers and entertainers will want you to sign a contract. Be sure to read it thoroughly and have your advisor review the contract. If you have questions, make a notation and ask for clarification. (Check with a staff member in the Student Life and Leadership office if you have any questions or concerns about a contract. They will refer you to the appropriate person.)


There are many different ways to publicize an event - posters, flyers, banners, sandwich boards, newspaper display ads, direct mailings, etc. Posters/flyers can be posted on the bulletin board adjacent to the Food Court in the Aztec Center Walkway. Banners can be hung in the Aztec Center Walkway, with prior approval. Signs in holders can be placed in the Aztec Center Walkway using provided holders on a first-come first served basis. Handbills and flyers can be distributed in open areas of the campus, provided pedestrian and vehicular traffic and building access are not obstructed. Posting large signs and banners is permitted only on the retaining wall at Aztec Center Food Court around the dining area just east of the Administration Building and extending to the southwest corner of the front of the building. See the SDSU Student Organizations Handbook for the complete publicity policy.


Be sure to make a list of what needs to be done before, during and after the event. What are your equipment needs? Do you need registration tables? Special power hook-ups for speakers, computers, telephones? Be sure to ask your speakers what materials or equipment they need in order to do their part.


Be very clear in the beginning who will perform what tasks and what roles and expectations everyone has of each other. Be realistic when delegating tasks and responsibilities. Give people enough time to complete their work and assign to them things that are within their capabilities--set people up to succeed.


The evaluation process is three fold:
1) the audience's feedback,
2) the presenter's experience and recommendations, and
3) the planner's thoughts and recommendations.

Each group should be asked whether they feel the program accomplished what it was intended to. What went well? What could have been better? There are several different methods of obtaining this information, but the most often used one is a written evaluation distributed following the program. When the program planners evaluate the event, be sure to find out whether there was sufficient time allowed for planning and implementation. Did the program reach the goals and objectives? What should be done next time that wasn't this time? Did the anticipated audience attend?

A well thought out and thorough evaluation is an educational aspect of programming. It allows you to learn from your successes and learn what is to be improved. Evaluations can also serve in a historical file for the organization and can be a useful reference for future programmers.


Some General Tips on Program Planning

  • Begin planning early.  Planning programs a semester in advance will help you reserve space and navigate the event approval process quickly.
  • In the ideal program, everything runs so smoothly that the participants may see little evidence of pre-planning or behind the scenes work.
  • Don't compromise on details or settle for second best.
  • Don't assume anything or allow situations to continue that make you uncertain or nervous. Meet all problems head-on, sensitively and firmly.
  • People support what they help create-so involve as many people as meaningfully as possible in the planning process.
  • Usually something goes wrong-but if you're properly prepared and avoid panicking, almost any problem can be solved.