Writing Event Proposals

Continuing my series on event management, today I’ll share some thoughts about writing proposals for events. These types of proposals are typical when you have multiple events or event sites competing for limited organizational dollars. As with any proposal, your goal is to demonstrate that your content will provide the results and value that your end customers expect.

Read and Follow Directions

Your lead organization, whether it’s a private corporation, government agency, or nonprofit group, will likely issue some guidelines or even a formal Call for Proposals to meet a specific need. For example, they might be looking for a new type of event to get their message out to the public in an innovative way or they might be seeking a host city for the organization’s next annual convention. In any case, assuming the organization is reasonably established, they will have some requirements for the pitch you offer. These guidelines will most likely include:

  • Event description, including its location, theme, main features, and other special additions that make it attractive to the likely attendees
  • Management plan, which could include an organizational structure of your event (especially for larger events), brief biographies, or full resumes for your management team, highlighting experience relevant to the event
  • Letters of support
  • Cost estimate

If these contents look familiar, they should. While they are called other things in the technical, engineering, or scientific worlds, they amount to:

  • Technical approach – what you’re proposing
  • Management approach – how you’ll run it
  • Past performance – how well you’ve done similar things in the past and what nice things previous customers have said about the work you’ve done for them
  • Cost – how much the customer will have to pay

The call or request for proposals (RFP) will include basics like how your proposal should be organized, how long it should be, and what format it should be in. This last item should not be overlooked because some RFPs can get very detailed. Part of that is a test: can you follow directions and meet the customer’s expectations? Proposals to the U.S. Government worth millions of dollars have been lost because the proposer used the wrong font, included too many pages, or delivered it one minute past the due date and time. So if you are serious about winning the privilege of hosting your organization’s event, follow the directions! My best suggestion there is to identify your most meticulous team member and make him or her your quality control person before the proposal goes out. That nitpicking could mean the difference between winning and getting your proposal sent back unread.

Marketing Language

Proposal writing isn’t “straight” technical writing because you’re not just explaining what you will do, but persuading your reader(s) that you and your team should be allowed to do it. This will mean highlighting not just the reason your event will be enjoyable (be certain to include the emotions or reactions you’re trying to elicit from your participants), but also:

  • Why your team should be the ones to do the work
    • Past experience with successful events
    • Past great (quantifiable) results with similar personnel
    • Connections in the area/industry/community
  • The benefits of hosting the event in your city:
    • Climate/scenery
    • Friendly/accomplished people
    • Low cost of air fare/hotels/taxes/event space (or, if such things are fancy and more expensive at your location, focus on quality, atmosphere, and elegance)
    • Number of cultural or dining opportunities
    • Et cetera

The point of inserting your “marketing” language is to highlight your team’s or event’s or location’s strengths. You must believe you have them, or why would you bother proposing to host the event?

Laying the Groundwork

Depending on the size and cost of the event, it might be worth your while to start reaching out to potential partners, event site staff, local sponsors, and community leaders about your event. Get estimates and anticipated group discounts from local hotels and convention sites. Talk to local attractions that are well-known or of interest to your attendees about arranging tours or discounted tickets. Obtain letters of support from your local mayor or chamber of commerce. Get realistic prices and cost estimates for meals, event space, booth equipment, and basics like tables and chairs. All of this outreach beforehand helps give you a head start when you win: it’s not all wishful thinking because you’ve already talked to the people who can make your event happen.

Final Thoughts on Proposal Writing

You might have one or more people writing the proposal, but it helps to have multiple reread the final product and identify errors or gaps (spell check won’t catch everything). Then have your best writer go over everything again and have her/him make the whole document read like one person wrote it. The attention to detail will, at the very least, be appreciated; at best, it might be the difference between an average proposal and one that wows your readers so much that they can’t wait to attend!

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About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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