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How to Create a Master Timeline for Your Event

The first step for every successful meeting is to establish a timeline. I work on a wide variety of events for my clients. Some of these are annual events so we are able to use the previous year's timeline as a starting point. However, many of the events are being held for the first time--which means that we need to create our timeline from scratch.

The master timeline for an event brings together the tasks and completion dates from a variety of areas such as marketing, speaker/program development, venue logistics, registration, sponsorship, etc. I recommend that the timeline for each of these areas is developed individually first, then merge the project timelines together.

For each project area, start from the end and work forward. Initially put down any firm deadlines (perhaps the cutoff date at the hotel) as well as any target dates (goal is to contact folks in early October.) First, identify all the steps involved in the task. Second, make some projections about how much time will be required for each step.

For example, if you want to send out a promotional brochure on October 1st your list might look like this:

Copy for brochure to graphic designer(needs 1 week)
Obtain mailing labels (3 days)
Approve design (allow 2 days)
Copy to printer (1 day printing but add 2 days)
Mail brochure - Goal is to send by Oct. 1st

Using this information, calculate target dates for each step: 

9/1      Copy to graphic designer
             Order mailing labels
9/8      Review brochure - send back for any changes
9/10    Second review
             Copy to printer
9/12    Mail brochure

It is very important to build some extra time into your schedule. People get sick, mistakes are made, and sometimes things just take longer than we expect them to. I would probably allow 3-4 weeks for this task in my timeline.

After you have developed a detailed timeline for each project area, merge these together into a master timeline for your event. In doing so, you may discover that some target dates will need to be adjusted when all aspects of the project are looked at as a whole.

Let me give you an example.Your initial marketing schedule might have an email blast targeted to go out 3 weeks before your event. However when we look at the big picture, we see that the cutoff date for the hotel is 4 weeks out. Since we want to notify attendees of this, we might revise the timeline to have the email blast go out before the hotel deadline. Or you might adjust the schedule so there are two weeks between emails, rather than just one. The Master Timeline is a tool to help you make these decisions.

Once these tweaks are made I like to refine the Master Timeline to just include the key action items and not list all the intermediate steps. Using our example above, that means that Mail Brochure would be the only step listed on the Master Timeline. The steps and deadlines required to make that happen are listed as part of the Marketing/Communications Timeline. This approach works well in situations where staff roles are clearly defined

However some clients prefer to keep all the action steps in their master timeline. For example, if volunteers are part of your event team, showing all the action steps is often very useful. Do whatever works best for your event and your staffing plan. Remember, every event will have a unique timeline. Good Luck!

Shelley E. Griffin, CMM, is the founder and president of Griffin Conference Group, which provides comprehensive meeting planning services. She is a respected industry leader who has over twenty years of experience. For more helpful tips see her web site at