Even with all the ways we interact online, meeting and interacting in person fosters positive shared experiences that devices can’t match. Those positive shared experiences create the context for trusted relationships, whether that’s with business partners, current or prospective customers, organization members, constituents, or donors to your nonprofit. One approach to creating an environment for these shared experiences is hosting or sponsoring events.
At Smith & Howard, the development and execution of seminars and networking events is a key marketing and business development strategy in our organization. We stage multiple events each year and these serve as the cornerstone of our client and business associate community.
If you stage events yourself – or are considering launching an event – we offer these tips for planning an event that will not only create a return on your investment but do so with as little stress as possible.
First, Know the “Why”
Starting with why has a way of focusing your efforts on activities that will best contribute to your goals for the event.
It’s tempting to begin planning by jumping into a list of tactics, but spend some time considering what you want to achieve: Are you looking to promote your organization as a thought leader? Or do you want to differentiate your firm from the competition? Maybe you’re looking to expand your presence in an industry or to promote goodwill among your organization’s members.
Stepping back to consider the big picture helps clarify goals and the ways you’ll measure success. Is your goal tangible (draw 800 attendees) or intangible (strengthen relationships with donors)? You may find it helpful to use the SMART acronym to formulate achievable goals, writing them to be Specific, Measurable (even for intangible goals, creating some way to measure is important), Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.
Knowing the why also provides the foundation for determining your “who”. Who do you need at your event in order to reach your goals? What is this group interested in or concerned about? Your event needs to give them something they value if you want them to take time out of their day to attend.
Get the Word Out
Your target audience also determines how you’ll communicate about the event. Organize your list by any appropriate demographics and segment the list so you can speak to each group’s interests and needs. Some groups will be very interested in an event held at certain venues (i.e. SunTrust Park, Mercedes-Benz Stadium), while others will be motivated to attend by the chance to meet other movers and shakers.
Understand where your audience is and meet them there. Social media is a good option for younger audiences, while older audiences usually respond better to more traditional channels like email or even snail mail when it comes to event invitations.
Create a plan to market your event and consider segmenting your outreach to highlight these different motivators to different groups. For example, if you’re using email to promote your event, the subject line and opening paragraph can be used to emphasize different attendance motivators, depending on which subset of your target audience you’re contacting.
According to Constant Contact, 60% of declined RSVPs are due to an inconvenient time, date or location. In our experience, we have found that there is a growing preference for events to start later in the morning. For this reason, you may want to consider a location that is convenient to majority of your audience and is easily accessible for those who have to travel to the selected venue.
Invest in a Good Venue
Perhaps the most important thing you can spend your event budget on is an attractive venue with an excellent staff. In fact, an experienced, detail-oriented staff at the venue may be the most important arrow in your venue quiver (you don’t have an arrow in a selection, you have an arrow in a quiver. Feel free to change the approach here if you like). When you trust the venue personnel to manage the details, your stress is reduced substantially and you have more time to focus on big-picture goals for the event.
Do your homework and assess not just the physical aspects of the venue, but the people who will be responsible for making sure the event is a success: the catering manager, conference manager and/or the executive chef. What is their experience and tenure? During your research and time spent with them in person and on the phone, make sure you watch for clues that indicate whether or not venue management will treat your event as one worthy of their focus.
Also take time to vet the staff they’ll employ to serve your event. Speak with some of these staff members to learn about their experience and any areas of expertise, and note how accommodating they are and whether they have good social skills. How many servers will the venue provide? What will they wear during your event? Does the ratio of servers to guests seem sufficient? Are they available for overtime if the need arises? Will you have any responsibilities for decorating, set-up or break-down? Or will venue staff take care of that work?
Be ready for the unexpected – the blizzard, power outage or scheduling snafu. Last minute changes seem to be one thing you can absolutely count on in event planning, so think through all the worst-case scenarios, and establish back-up plans.
This is an area where excellent customer service skills will serve you well. Most people can understand that problems will arise, but they’ll be much less understanding about a failure to remedy a mistake. If something goes wrong, be ready to get all hands on deck to resolve it.
The earlier you can start planning, the easier it will be to anticipate these sorts of problems. For large events, give yourself at least four to six months to ensure all your bases are covered. As you begin, establish a master plan that encompasses all aspects of the event in one document. This will help you stay on top of the details.
Wrap Up and Follow Up
After the event you have valuable opportunities to reinforce relationships and learn how your next event can be even better. Be sure to get back in touch with attendees, non-attendees, internal team members and other organizers. For non-attendees, an overview of valuable information shared during the event builds goodwill and keeps you on their radar for future events. For others, survey them to find out what aspects of your event were a hit and what areas could be improved.
If your event has sponsors, send an event recap that includes information demonstrating the value they received from sponsoring: attendance numbers, popular social media posts, survey results, etc.
Also, spend some time with your internal team debriefing to reflect and capture learnings. Was there a moment during the event when you looked up from all the details and saw that attendees were genuinely enjoying themselves? If so, you’ve staged a successful event.
If you have any questions please contact, Misty Olive, by either email or phone at 404-874-6244.