When planning an outdoor event, there are many unique factors that must be taken into consideration.
Everything from potential weather to shelter options to permits and curfews must play a role in the planning process.
Here’s what you need to know to plan an outdoor event that will become a truly memorable experience:
Find the Right Venue
One of the first things you need to do when planning an outdoor event is to find the right venue.
Space will be an obvious consideration. Some outdoor events will require a lot of space, while others, not as much. A beer festival, for example, may require room for dozens of vendors/exhibitors, room for a stage for entertainment, and room for people to mill about and enjoy. An outdoor wedding, on the other hand, will require a more intimate space.
It is a bit of a Goldilocks situation. A venue that is too small for your event will make guests, as well as vendors, feel uncomfortable and cramped. A venue that is too large for your event can make it look and feel as though it is underattended.
If possible, try to find a venue that offers a little indoor space as well. This will give people a place to take shelter if it starts to rain or provide them with a place to get out of the sun for a little bit.
Take practical considerations into account as well. Is there ample parking? Is the space accessible for all people?
Once you have chosen the venue, spend a little time learning more about it. Where does the sun hit during the day? Is there any natural shade? Is the area prone to high winds? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you set up your event in a way that makes the most sense. You don’t want to set up your stages or your wedding altar in a spot where the sun will be shining in your guests’ eyes!
You may have to visit lots of venues and weigh lots of factors before you find the perfect spot. Start this part of your planning early and you will have the time you need to choose a location that checks all the boxes on your “must have” list.
Check Ordinances and Permits
Before you go any further in planning your event, make sure that you will be following the rules.
Don’t book your venue before checking local ordinances. The last thing you need your event being shut down due to a noise violation or because you broke some sort of curfew. Look into noise bylaws as well as fire safety codes to make sure that all of your plans fit.
Find out what sort of permits you will need to hold your event. Sometimes need permits to use the outdoor space, especially if you’ll require any road closures or sidewalk use. You are very likely to need permits to sell alcohol and food.
Permits can often take time to acquire so fill out an application form as soon as possible to get the ball rolling. The sooner you apply, the sooner you can have the permits and the less you will have to worry about as the event date approaches.
Look into getting insurance for your event so that you have coverage should something do dramatically wrong. It isn’t likely going to be necessary but it is better to be safe than sorry.
Plan for Logistics
Planning an outdoor event takes a lot of thought and consideration for logistics. Not only does everything have to run the way it should, but it also needs to all be set up in a way that makes sense.
One of the best ways to sort out your logistics is to make a sketch or map of the venue and use that to guide your event planning.
For festivals, carefully consider the stage and vendor locations. Can everyone that needs access to electricity get it? How will you supply it to them? For something smaller, like a wedding, consider how people will move through the space. Are the tables too far away from the kitchen? Are they too close to one another?
Consider how long it will take you to load in and load out. Plan a meeting with all the vendors in advance of the event and see exactly what it will take for set up.
Think of Guest Comfort
Whenever you are planning an outdoor event, you keep your audience in mind. If your guests and attendees are uncomfortable or significantly inconvenienced, it will have a negative impact on their overall experience.
For warm-weather events, make sure you have plenty of water available. Bring in water fountains and water trucks if necessary. Use your social media and other marketing channels to let guests know to bring a refillable water bottle.
Depending on the scale of the event and the size of your budget, it might also be worthwhile to invest in some cooling tents, especially if your event is taking place in a sun-soaked area during a particularly warm time of year.
On a smaller scale, you could have hand fans available to your guests when they arrive or make them available for purchase at the front gate.
It is also important to make sure that if you need to bring in portable toilets that they are located conveniently throughout the venue. Inadequate bathrooms can ruin your event in a hurry.
For large-scale, multiday festivals and events make sure that you have a waste management team on hand to keep the venue and the toilets tidy.
If you are hosting your venue in an open space like the community fairgrounds or a park, consider bringing in some seating. Even if the event itself doesn’t have any type of reserved or arranged seating, bringing in special “rest stops” for those in attendance is a good idea.
Standing all day or walking from vendor to vendor can be difficult for many people, especially if the weather is warm. These little comforts will go a long way to creating an event experience that guests will remember.
While you can’t predict the weather entirely, you will have a pretty decent idea of what to expect on the day of your festival. After you have branded your event and built your event website, make sure you include (and distribute!) a list of items attendees should bring with them to make themselves more comfortable.
Depending on the timing of your event, you might recommend bringing sunscreen, a hat, a rain jacket, or a sweater.
Think Safety First
You will want to take measures to make sure everyone and everything involved in your festival is safe.
For a big event, hire security staff. This is particularly important if alcohol will be served. Having security guards present at the main entrance and scattered throughout the venue will cut down on misbehavior and help ensure that everyone from vendors to entertainers to attendees stay safe.
Make sure you have a visible first aid tent or station. For large venues, it is a good idea to hand out maps at check-in or at the front gate. Make sure these stations are clearly marked. For smaller events like weddings, ask the venue what you should do in the case of cuts and scuffs. Sometimes accidents happen and it is always a good idea to know how to address them in advance.
If your outdoor event is happening in a remote area, have paramedics on standby have a list of the nearest hospitals on had as well as directions on how to get there.
Even if the forecast calls for nothing but bright, sunny skies, it is a good idea to weatherproof any technology or electronic equipment you’ll be using. Have tarps and tents available for DJs or sound engineers.
Any stages you are using for performances should have a cover to protect against the rain but they should also be windproofed as much as possible. In 2011, a freak storm caused a stage to collapse during a performance at the Ottawa Blues Festival. While nothing like that had happened before in the nearly 20-year history of the festival, but the festival organizers take special care to prevent it from happening again.
Make sure that crews putting together these structures have the time they need to do it properly and make sure that you are monitoring the weather radar and any weather watches or warnings in the area. In Ottawa, time was the deciding factor. The stage’s wind walls were up, meaning that it could sustain winds of 50mph (80km/h) but if the walls were removed, it can sustain 75mph (120km/h). If warnings are received in enough time, steps can be made to keep people safer.
Any structures you erect for your outdoor event should be inspected by engineers to ensure that they are erected properly.
Finally, make sure you have adequate lighting at your event. No matter the size, you will want to make sure that pathways, parking lots, and any areas where guests or attendees will be present after dark should have proper lighting. The last thing you or anyone else needs after a successful event is for someone to fall and injure themselves on the way out.
Have a Backup Plan
As mentioned above, inclement weather happens. And because of this, you will have some choices to make.
Is your event rain or shine? If so, make sure you have indoor space to shelter people should things take a turn. At the very least, have some tented areas where people can stay dry in the rain.
If your event is not rain or shine, make sure that your rain date is clearly identified so that all participants know when it is. Have a space on your website and social media channels to announce the change in date. It is also a good idea to send an email blast to all ticket holders as soon as you know the change will happen so they don’t show up to an empty venue.
It is a good idea, given situations like what happened at the Ottawa Blues Festival to make sure you have an evacuation plan or a disaster plan, in place.
You never know when a severe thunderstorm, tornado or some other natural disaster may roll right through your event. Time will be of the essence. Make sure you have access to the latest and best weather information and that you have a way to warn people.
Planning outdoor events require a lot of extra considerations from renting toilets to obtaining the proper permits. But, these additional considerations are more than worth it as outdoor events like music festivals, craft fairs, fundraisers, and weddings bring people together in a way that other events simply cannot.
Follow the tips laid out in this post and your outdoor event will be a resounding success. For more information on planning outdoor events, check out our post Your Complete Festival Planning Guide.