The day-of timeline is vital to the smooth running of your event. But what makes a clearly defined event schedule? What details are other event planners including in their timelines? Let’s take a look.
The art of the impeccably planned event isn’t really in the structure of the timeline document itself but in the interplay of the many moving parts that make up an event. That’s where event professionals’ experience matters deeply. Only an expert understands how long the DJ needs to set up and juxtapose that perfectly with the photographer’s need to consider the dwindling daylight. Event planners are like orchestral conductors, but where no one is sitting down for very long, and the mother of the lead violinist if fretting about her dress. Or maybe I’m stretching that metaphor too far.
But before we get into the nitty-gritty of timelines, let’s make sure we’re all talking about the same thing. See, the word “timeline” often means different things, even within the same industry. In my discussions with hundreds of event professionals, I’ve realized that there are two areas of confusion to clear up. At least, if my article here is going to make any sense.
What Is The Day-Of Timeline?
Some planners consider a timeline to be the list of milestones during the planning process. Others think of it as a task list with due dates. And others call the event’s schedule the timeline. It’s created some confusion in my discussions, I can tell ya! So let’s thrash it all out.
What I’m talking about here is the sequence of activities that happen on the day of the event itself. The event’s agenda. The run-of-show. The day’s schedule. The critical context is day-of-the-event. In the interest of being as transparent as a Windexed window, I’m simply going to call it the day-of timeline.
And in case it’s not clear enough – no Gantt charts will be used! Got it?
Okay, now that’s out of the way, let’s look at what actually goes into a day-of timeline.
The Basics Of A Day-Of Timeline
It isn’t particularly challenging to get the basics right. Right? And yet, I currently have in front of me, at this very moment, ten different timelines, built by ten different event planners. And they’re all different. So in the interest of consensus, I’ll run through the basics that most (not all) event timelines include.
The Start Time Of Each Moment
Seems pretty obvious, right? You state the time that the photographer shows up. Who doesn’t include that? Well, not so fast. My brother-in-law’s wedding had the start time for the photographer and the first look shoot. But not the start time of the venue’s opening. So their first look photographs were done in the parking lot because the venue wasn’t opening for another hour.
I’ve heard horror stories from florists about wilting flowers because the start time of their load-in didn’t coincide with the table set up. Thus they ended up waiting outside on a hot day for linens to be draped before they could do their job. So “load-in” isn’t the right start time. It’s essential to get the minutiae right.
So while including the start times in the day-of timeline seem obvious, sometimes you want to make sure you’re covering every little start time.
End Time or Duration
Not every item on the day-of timeline needs an end time. Often, the start time of the next item informs the end time. But many event planners include the end time or duration. When asked about it, event planners told me it helps encourage more punctuality. Knowing that the toasts are only allotted ten minutes helps ensure a little less rambling (alcohol-inspired asides notwithstanding).
Location And A Little More
Adding a location feels obvious, and every timeline I’ve looked at included it, but not always in the same way. Some day-of timelines have the place as a one-off address at the top while others added the location at every item. There’s no universally agreed right way, but it’s vital to double-check and make sure the addresses are explicit. Let me share some stories.
I’ve heard several stories of vendors going to the right address, wrong party. And there are multiple reasons for this. There’s the confusion between street, avenue, place, or boulevard. Then there’s the problem of nearby towns using the same street names. Sometimes, the location is simply the venue name, but there might be several branches or places of similar names. And that’s not all.
When giving a location, it’s really appreciated when you add extra details like “use the side entrance on Frank street.” I see in one timeline right now, “balcony bar, on the 3rd floor, to the right out the elevators.” See, even within a venue, exactitude can mean the difference between a happy attendee and a 15-minute delay.
Even if the entire event is in one venue, consider including a location in each row. And while the address of the site isn’t necessary at every line-item, adding helpful pointers will ensure clarity amongst the vendors and key attendees.
People And Contacts In The Day-Of Timeline
There are two types of people you’d add to a moment in the day-of timeline. Event planners do this differently, but all agree in principle. You’ve got the point of contact and the “involved” people.
Point of Contact
The point of contact is the person that gets called if something goes awry. It’s often the event planner, but not always. The photographer, florist, caterer, and venue coordinator are commonly the point of contact at certain moments during the event. Of course, that depends on the planner’s style and scope of work.
When adding the point of contact, include their phone number, always. Email address is helpful, but amid an event, email is often ignored. I’ve heard from many event profs that a text message (or WhatsApp message) is ideal for alerting them.
The “involved” item is not universally included in day-of timelines, but I like it. To be candid, I don’t really know if “involved” is the best name for it, but it’s a working title. “Involved” refers to those people who need to be there at that exact time, or, at least, need to know about it.
For example, at a conference, the keynote item will involve the keynote speaker and the photographer, sponsors, videographer, and lighting team. At a wedding, certain moments will include the bridal party, videographer, and DJ. So while the point of contact might be the event planner, the need-to-know comprises everyone involved in that activity.
When it comes to actually adding both the point of contact and “involved” people to a day-of timeline, the design varies. Some planners use one column and cram everything in. Other planners use two columns, one for each type. My favorite is to include a column for the point of contact, but list the involved people in the description or notes area. I find it makes for maximum readability.
The Description Area in A Day-of Timeline
The description is where you can add, well, anything. Based on the varied timelines I’m looking at, it’s where the lists and order of sub-activities go. For example, if there’s an order by which the bridal party gets their hair done. Or the shot-list for the photographer.
Some planners, and some timeline software, allow for indented timeline items, but in my opinion, that gets cluttered fast. Readability equals clarity and efficiency. It’s a matter of spacing, padding, borders, and margins – notes tend to take up less real-estate in a document.
Other information belongs in the description space too. Reminders, lists of items, and, if you agree with my above section, “involved” people.
Beware, however, of private notes. If you’re including something like, “the second speaker is the guy who looks like Danny Devito on a bad hair day,” well, don’t. Timelines get dropped, and people are apt to pick them up. Don’t put anything down in the description, even in your personal day-of timeline, that you wouldn’t want your client to see.
Adding Files And Images To The Timeline
If you’re using a digital day-of timeline, like ThymeBase’s cloud-based timeline maker, then you have extra possibilities. Because our schedules (and others’ too) are mobile-first and look great on a mobile, you can attach links, documents, and image files to any timeline items.
This comes in handy if you need reference images. For example, you can have a picture of the expected balloon arrangement on hand. Or you can attach example shots to give the photographer something to match. You might even want to append a contract or store a handy link to an invoice.
Or you can attach the floor plan to the load-in timeline item. That way, when they arrive to set up, they have every detail they need.
This isn’t common, but it’s there if you need it. So much of event planning is about planned redundancy and being ready for things to go sideways. So if you think you might need a document or link, why not add it to the timeline? Even if you don’t think you’ll need it.
An Appendix Is Often Handy
Event planners attach different additional details to their timelines, and I think it’s a great idea. Adding things below the day-of timeline feels like the sweet spot between detailed and readable.
Some add vendor worksheets and contact lists. Others include the floorplans, or catering menus, or even food preferences of specific guests. When it comes to outdoor events, adding in sunset times, and the expected temperature seems to be a common addition.
Basically, I’m saying that a great day-of timeline has every detail, but you don’t need to cram everything in-line. Adding reference materials as an appendix is a reasonable way to streamline the schedule itself.
Share Early And Share Often
Just last week, I chatted to an event planner who begins sharing her timeline with the vendors up to two months out from the event. Most event planners I spoke to prefer about two weeks, but the point stands. The earlier you can get feedback, the more likely you are to have a better event.
Sharing your event timeline during the planning stages allows you to build it out with the vendor’s needs in mind. Vendors have unique needs, and they often will have input to maximize their own performance. For example, the makeup artist needs natural light, as does the photographer. Florists and hairstylists both worry about wilting (petals and hair). All of these things can impact the event’s agenda, so solicit opinions while it’s still easy to make adjustments.
“But,” I can hear you say, “if I keep making changes, won’t that mean twenty different versions? That’s a lot of work.”
Ah, not if you use a digital timeline. That way, you can easily share a link with vendors and clients alike. Then, they can add their input, and you can make changes. Then, when they revisit that same link, they’re looking at the most up-to-the-minute version.
Once you’re confident that it’s all sorted, you can send everyone the printable version too.
What Software Builds The Best Day-of Timelines?
I love talking about event software, and I’m a proponent of using the best tools at hand. Even if it isn’t expressly for event professionals. And when it comes to day-of timeline makers, I’m somewhat torn.
See, there are pros and cons to consider. I’ll take it in turn, and list software options and their strengths and weaknesses. I’ve written extensively on this topic, so I’ll keep it brief here. But here are my other thoughts on the subject of event software.
- Why Use Event Planning Software?
- Awesome Non-Event Software For Event Planners
- What Are The Limits of Event Software?
- The Big Guide To Event Software And How To Use It
Let’s take a glance at some timeline building software:
Whether using Google Sheets or Google Docs, event planners often use the cloud-based giant for event timelines. The most common reason is that it’s easy to share, and most clients and vendors are familiar with the tools. The downside is that it’s not particularly mobile-friendly. It’s also not designed with event planner’s needs in mind – which means you’re often using brute force to get it to look like a timeline.
Like G Suite above, some planners use Excel, others prefer Word. And also like above Microsoft products are near-universal. But also like above, mobile functionality is a big downside. And while the formatting is a little more powerful, you’re still hacking it into columns and readability. I’d say its fine for internal use, but kinda sucks when it comes to sharing around.
Ah, well, you’ll forgive me for touting my own software, but it’s purpose-built for day-of timelines. The strengths are that it’s designed by event planners to be readable, contain all the possible information you’d need, and work on-the-go. Yup, you can build event timelines on your mobile, and it’s genuinely fun.
It’s also cloud-based, and shareable by link, and offers one-click PDF formatting. The downside is that you don’t have a blank canvas like a Word document.
When it comes to uber-featured timeline software, these folks are solid. The strength is also the downside, though. They’re so full-featured that there’s a significant learning curve, and it gets a bit overwhelming. Their cost is on the “premium” side, but don’t get me wrong. No one builds more powerful timeline software than them.
Aisle Planner, as the name implies, is wedding software. They offer good timeline software, amongst other things. The pros are that their timelines meet most of the points mentioned in the article. The downside is the cost, design, and cluttered interface.
AllSeated, Planning Pod, Zola, and many others also do timelines, but not as a primary feature. Take the time to find the tool that works for you and your clients. There are plenty of options out there.
Building A Day-of Timeline Is A Team Effort
When it comes to a timeline, it’s a team effort between you, your client, partners, and vendors. And that’s the fun of it all, right? But as the saying goes, no plan survives first contact. The thing is, a great timeline is, in fact, more robust than the unplanned accidents. An excellent timeline makes for a resilient event. When you get off the rails, it guides you, and everyone else back on track.