When planning a meeting, conference, or other corporate event, it’s easy to get caught up in the message you want to convey, the atmosphere you want to create, and the return on investment you want to secure. As a result, you could end up making your event all about you, instead of focusing on what attendees will get from the experience. When you do this, you might create an expensive spectacle that fails to impress your target demographic and tanks your industry credibility.
Says Lauren Turner, Associate Account Manager at AMI, “A good conference organizer or event planner knows that failing to focus on the attendee experience can lead to disastrous results. Ultimately, these are the people you need to impress if you want your event to be successful.”
How can you ensure that your event is tailored to the wants and needs of attendees? How can you create a unique and engaging experience that elicits praise and makes attendees want to return for subsequent events? Here are several ways to make your event all about your attendees and ensure an entirely positive response.
- Find the right conference organizer
When you partner with a reputable and experienced global meeting services organization like American Meetings, Inc. (AMI), you’ll get a lot more than just strategic planning and logistical services. You’ll gain access to a certified meeting planner/event expert offering a wealth of knowledge and experience that ensures you have the resources and guidance to make your attendees feel valued and catered to.
- Understand your community
Before you ever start brainstorming logistics with your conference organizer, you need to take the time to consider who is attending your meeting or event. What does this community value as a whole? What do they hope to gain from attending your event specifically? How can you work to provide them with the convenience and value that will elicit positive reactions and compel them to return for future events? Answering these questions is the first step toward planning an event that revolves around your attendees.
- Personalize communications
Event attendees want to feel like their community is well-represented, but each guest is also an individual, and doesn’t want to be treated like just another cog in the machine. The good news is that there are simple ways to make your event more personal and provide opportunities for guests to personalize their experience further.
For starters, you’ll find that it’s relatively easy to personalize communications, delivering generic information in a personal way electronically. Collecting pertinent information during the registration process can help you here. You can also create opportunities for attendees to personalize their own experience by setting up hashtags and encouraging users to post pics, videos, and comments from the event.
You could have your conference organizer set up photo ops throughout the event or even add photo booths that send pics to the cloud for easy digital access and reposting on social media. There are even easy, interactive apps like Gifyyy that create short videos and upload them to the cloud. Personalizing your event allows you to reach individual attendees, and innovative ideas can result not only in greater participation and enjoyment by guests, but also increased sharing that benefits your brand and your event.
- Have your certified meeting planner vet speakers
Speakers can make or break your event, so it’s important to choose the right ones. You naturally want to impart relevant and timely information, and you need industry authorities to add credence to the proceedings. However, you also need an element of entertainment to keep guests riveted. Don’t choose a guest speaker simply because he has a new bestseller or she’s a household name. Pick the speakers that are going to connect with your attendees and enhance their experience on multiple levels.
- Up the ante on technology
Technology is an essential component of any modern event, and your certified meeting planner can help you to select the equipment and applications that are going to make your event run smoothly and create an engaging and interactive experience for attendees. For example, certain technologies can add convenience by expediting registration and check-in.
The right technology can increase your ability to track user movement, activity, and participation at your event. It can create interactive and immersive experiences that wow guests and encourage sharing. In other words, you must carefully consider how you integrate technologies.
- Go to the source
Your certified meeting planner from AMI is not going to abandon you after your conference or event is over. Surveys and follow-ups designed to understand the attendee experience will give you clues as to how to improve future events. With help from the experts at AMI, you can focus on attendees and craft successful events every time.
Every meeting and event features a lot of moving pieces, but with a stellar event company to help manage the details, hosts can juggle concerns about the venue, lodgings, catering, staff, the schedule, event attendees, and more. It’s not like you’re reinventing the wheel, but you definitely don’t have the bandwidth to do everything on your own.
Unfortunately, snafus can occur, even if you think you’ve planned for everything. The weather might not cooperate at outdoor events. Keynote speakers might get stuck in traffic. A competitor might send a social media influencer to pan your event. None of these things are within your power to control, but you can put a backup plan in place to account for certain potential problems and you can control how you react to unexpected setbacks.
It’s also best to be aware of the most common problems so you can find ways to get out ahead of them instead of scrambling to play catch-up when your event is in full swing. Here are just a few common risks you and your event management team should consider well in advance.
Create a Realistic Budget
One of the most common issues hosts and event management partners come up against is a budget that balloons out of control. The good news is that this is also one of the easiest potential problems to account for early in the planning process.
It’s not always easy to know what an event will entail going in, but planners likely have a few ideas about the general theme and the number of attendees, two key factors in creating a workable budget. If there’s time, it’s best to round up some estimates for major costs like travel, venue, lodgings, and catering at your preferred event location so you can use that as a basis for creating a budget. If you’re stuck with a set budget from the get-go, you’ll simply have to work with what you’ve got and allow it to dictate certain factors like location.
What you don’t want to do is blow your whole budget on a must-have celebrity speaker or a lavish event destination that’s sure to impress, but that you can in no way afford. Start with a budget based on preliminary estimates and make sure to leave some wiggle room for overages, which are almost certain to occur. Setting aside 20% of your budget at the outset and keeping track of every expense means you could have a little extra at the end to upgrade catering, add wow factor to the décor, or hire additional support staff.
Have Your Event Management Company Perform Security Assessments
Of all the problems that could occur at an event, the one you most want to avoid is a security issue that puts guests in peril. The country music festival in Las Vegas is an extreme example, but it serves as a vital warning to every host and event company. Do not left any stone unturned when it comes to planning for adequate security, including asking professionals to assess risks and create a plan for potential disaster scenarios.
Work with Your Event Company to Troubleshoot Logistics
Generally speaking, your events are not going to come up against catastrophic failure scenarios. You’re much more likely to end up dealing with a host of minor logistical issues like uncooperative weather, long lines at registration, malfunctioning technology, communication breakdowns with on-site event staff, ferrying out-of-town guests, and so on.
Says John Cotter, COO at American Meetings, “Having an experienced and forward-thinking event management partner to help you pinpoint potential problem areas, implement solutions, and create a backup plan in case things go south is absolutely invaluable. Managing the many logistics involved in a complex event is what these professionals are paid to do.”
Control the Narrative
The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, but you can recover from nearly any shortcoming if you spin the narrative in your favor. You have little control over what event attendees post on social media, which is why you go out of your way to create an impressive, engaging, and enjoyable event that prompts rave reviews.
Sadly, things don’t always go exactly as you planned, and problems at the event can lead to backlash on social media. You can turn this narrative to your advantage in a couple ways. Everyone knows that problems can occur, and when they do, your response is critical.
You must respond quickly to acknowledge and address the situation, and you have to offer impacted attendees something extra to turn their negative experience into a positive one. With the right response and customer service that goes above and beyond, you and your event company can shift the narrative and come out on top.
If you had an unlimited budget, you could host the most magnificent event the world has ever seen – and if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. Since you have to work within the confines of a budget, it behooves you to face the harsh realities and team up with a trusted global meeting planner to create the best event possible with the cash on hand.
This means making every dollar count, which requires innovation, negotiation, and careful planning. Frugality and creativity go hand-in-hand. The good news is, you’re not necessarily reinventing the wheel, and you’re bound to find that a little can go a long way when you and your corporate meeting planner put your heads together to come up with viable solutions.
How can you create a truly spectacular and memorable event when you’re working on a shoestring budget? Here are several ways to squeeze more out of your meager event budget.
1. Cultivate long-term relationships. Chances are you’re not simply hosting one event. Although you’re planning a single event right now, you know there are more in the pipeline, and you can use that to your advantage when it comes to cutting costs for your current event. All you have to do is consider booking venues and vendors for multiple events in order to negotiate for discounts.
Says Tessa Cameron, VP, Strategic Sourcing at AMI, “Vendors don’t have any real motivation to provide discounted rates to one-off clients. However, if they know there’s repeat business coming their way, they may be much more inclined to throw you a bone and offer a deal in order to ensure future business.”
Long-term relationships can net you major discounts and deals, especially if you make a vendor your first choice and even refer them to trusted contacts.
2. Negotiate like a pro. You may have to lean on your corporate meeting planner to handle negotiations early on, especially if you’re not entirely familiar with the ins and outs of venue and vendor contracts. When it comes to negotiating pricing, the devil is in the details, so you need a good understanding of what constitutes needed costs.
Could you get a better rate on a venue by shifting your dates? Do you have to use on-site catering or can you bring in outside vendors? Are there food and beverage minimums and are they in any way negotiable? Knowing what to ask about when it comes to contracts can help you to whittle down costs one service at a time.
3. Tap your corporate meeting planner to split events. Networking can be a great way to find quality goods and services at low costs, but you may also have the opportunity to split costs for your event if you can team up with another upcoming event. The best way to do this is probably to ask your corporate meeting planner to connect you with another client that’s also seeking cost-saving alternatives.
Perhaps you can split an event space and share services like catering and promotion in order to save on every front. It won’t be easy finding a compatible partner that’s working with a similar budget and has comparable requirements for catering, hospitality, and venue, but this is where a trusted event planner can really prove their worth.
4. Get creative with venues. Who says you have to host your event in a hotel or a convention center? Just because these are traditional venues for corporate events doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself and stress your budget to uphold outdated standards. Instead, speak with your global meeting planner about the potential for using alternative venues like parks, zoos, botanical gardens, museums, libraries, or historical buildings, just for example. There’s a good chance you’ll save some dough on booking fees and you have the opportunity to really wow guests with something they haven’t experienced before.
5. Reuse materials whenever possible. Big-picture thinking can help you to save in the long-term, as well as the here and now. Many event hosts get caught up in the idea of presenting something new and amazing, but the truth is that you can actually reuse a lot of materials from old events by just sprucing them up and adding a few new touches. Foundation materials like tents, booths, tables, chairs, displays, and more can simply be re-skinned, so to speak, to create an entirely new dynamic and suit your upcoming event theme.
6. Ask your global meeting planner for tips to do a lot with a little. Adopting a less-is-more mentality is essential when dealing with a limited budget, but it’s important to understand that the little has to offer major appeal. For example, you may not have the budget to cater an expensive dinner for guests.
What you can do instead is offer a cocktail hour or dessert bar so that guests still have a chance to socialize and grab a nibble, but you don’t have to pay full price for a five-course meal. Just make sure you go for quality so guests don’t feel like they’re missing out.
7. Offer exclusive merch. If you’ve exhausted avenues for cutting costs, it’s time to start thinking of ways to add more wiggle room to your budget with an influx of cash. One way to do this is to work with your global meeting planner on exclusive merchandise in limited quantities.
You’ll want to come up with a clever idea for items that match the theme and tenor of your event and that appeal to event attendees. Branded, reusable water bottles are a popular choice since attendees walking the event floor are bound to get thirsty.
Tote bags are also a smart option that add convenience as attendees can easily carry all the promotional materials they pick up at exhibit booths. Choosing the merchandise that makes sense for your particular event and speaks to your audience can definitely help to add some padding to your budget.
8. Boost registration. Getting the word out and encouraging attendance is the best way to bulk up your budget, so come up with a catchy name, a creative theme, and a sound marketing strategy early on to start seeing sign-up and get the dollars rolling in.