Overall Timeline for Meetings and Events [PDF & Excel]

If you will be involved in all aspects of the planning process for an upcoming event, the Overall Event Timeline will be very important to you … your guiding light.  Without it, you can easily become lost.  All other timelines for individual areas of responsibility will stem from the Overall.  You will use most of the steps from the Overall Timeline when creating others for individual projects such as Lodging, Food & Beverage, Audio Visual, and so on, but the dates and details will be very different.

Overall Event Timeline.PDF
Overall Event Timeline.XLS

The timeline is your guiding light

Start dates will vary based on size and complexity of the meeting or event – 
The first step to creating an Overall Event Timeline is to consider how far in advance you are at this moment from the start date of your conference or event.  If your meeting or event will require a very large venue or exhibit hall, you may need to begin your search years in advance instead of months.  If you are only weeks away from the start of your functions when you begin planning, your timeline will have to be compressed significantly and each task prioritized differently than if you have three, six or 12 months to prepare.  Similarly, if you are planning a small meeting with simple set-up requirements and no planned meal function, the planning steps will be simplified and easier to accomplish in a shorter period of time.  However, small meetings can be more complex than large ones if the guests are VIPs or dignitaries, in which case the timeline will need to be expanded to allow time for the unique arrangements that will be required.

A work in progress – 
The timeline will be work in progress throughout the entire planning process.  As one task is completed, it can be hidden from view in your spreadsheet but not deleted.  You may need to refer back to it to check your notes.  New tasks will become necessary as changes in your program occur and you will have to adjust your timeline to accommodate them.  The timeline is a flexible tool and a very necessary one if all tasks are to be completed before deadlines.

To set up your Overall Event Timeline – 

Step 1Create a checklist of all Major Tasks required (this list will be a work in progress)
 Step 2Using the tasks from your checklist, set up an Excel spreadsheet to be sorted
 Step 3Enter the major tasks as Main Categories in a horizontal heading across the top
 Step 4Break down the major tasks into smaller tasks titled Sub-Categories
 Step 5Enter the Sub-Categories in another horizontal heading below the Main Categories (see sub-category note below)
 Step 6Column A    Start Date
 Step 7Column B    Main Category – to differentiate the major projects
 Step 8Column C    Sub-Category – to group related tasks together under a major project
 Step 9Column D    Completion Deadline
 Step 10Column E    Tasks – to describe briefly what needs to be done
 Step 11Column F     Notes – for items you need to remember or document
 Step 12Column G    Assigned – to document who will oversee the task to completion 
 Step 13Column H    Status – for quick review of current situation
 Step 14Add rows for each task and add a brief description in the Task column 
 Step 15Enter the Completion Deadline dates for each task
 Step 16Work backwards from the Completion Deadlines to set start dates that allow ample time to meet deadlines.
 Step 17Enter the Start Dates, and you’re done!

Sorting timelines – 
The Overall Event Time Line has been created in an Excel spreadsheet using a few of the categories and tasks to demonstrate how the spreadsheet can be sorted to focus on one particular area over another. Each of the sample pages have been sorted differently such as –

 Step 1 Sorted by Main Category then Start Date
 Step 2 Sorted by Sub-Category then Start Date
 Step 3 Sorted by Start Date then Main Category the Sub-Category
 Step 4 Sorted by Assignments then Deadline Date

Sub-categories – 
Not all components of the planning and coordination of a meeting or event will be large enough in scope to justify identifying sub-categories for assignment and sorting purposes.  The sub-category headings and column should be deleted if that is the case.  

Timelines for assigned areas of responsibility – 
Sample timelines that apply only to a specific area of responsibility, such as Lodging, will be provided in other Planning Topic sections if appropriate.

The checklist and timeline samples provided by Planning Helper are incomplete and meant for use as guidelines to help you create checklists of your own with content that applies to the unique needs of your meeting, event or function.

About the Author

Susan has managed high-profile events for IBM, GE, and other Fortune 500 companies. She has organized fundraisers, large festivals, and promotional events. Now, she is a blogger and speaks about event planning topics

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