6 Ways to Make Events ‘Wow’

Event planners manage a deep checklist of things to do, many of which their attendees will likely never notice, much less appreciate. In fact, you can almost count on one hand the aspects of events that leave a lasting impression on participants.

wow your peeps with your eventsIf you want to wow your audience, work your checklist but also strive to go above and beyond in the six components that can elevate events from the mundane to the memorable. These core elements of events stimulate the brain, senses or emotions – or all – to impress attendees and likely win their repeat business.

1. Content is king
You know the essential value of content, but we don’t want to look stupid leaving it off a list like this. Plus, maybe some of our elaboration will tickle your fancy.

What happens at the event – what is shared, what is taught, what is presented – answers the question “why” people are there in the first place. If your content answers that “why” in a manner that inspires, informs, motivates and moves, you’re cruising the fast lane to Wowsville.

Something a judge once famously said about a different type of content applies to what constitutes good event content: “You will know it when you see it.”

What content appeals to you? And how is it best presented (click for ideas)? We don’t all respond alike to various forms of content, but certain aspects – such as content that is informative, entertaining, anecdotal, research-based, presented by storytelling, etc. – strike a chord with most of us.

It’s your program – review the content and see if it moves you. If it doesn’t, what might make it more compelling?

2. Venue is queen
When a pro athlete is traded, the inevitable cliché soon to follow is that “the change of address” might be just what the player needed to again excel. A “fresh” site can have the same impact on events.

Regardless of whether you are switching or choosing for the first time, the venue ranks up at the top of the list with content when it comes to elements that impact events. Attendees bring a baseline expectation of the meeting space, though it certainly varies by type of event (e.g., workshop versus an annual conference). Exceeding that expectation creates a positive visual and physical reference forever linked with your function.

So, how do you score with the venue? Pick something new or unique or non-traditional. Rent a suite at a sports facility in the off-season. Find space at a local museum or art center. Set up in a parking garage or airport hangar. Schedule your late October program at a location rumored to be haunted.

Upgrading or being creative with the venue might prove challenging due to budget constraints, technology needs, and even accessibility, but finding hip or interesting or stimulating or unusual environs is a tried and true method of elevating an event’s impact.

3. Technology is a dual-edged sword
Technology often creates the most memorable aspect of events, just not always in the fashion intended (e.g., those pesky audio-visual hiccups). When done correctly, technology can be an event highlight.

Sometimes the lighting or visuals or audio or special effects outshine the content and venue, and often they create a positive physical experience associated with the event. Work with a good AV team and you might realize the latter. AV pros are always seeking the next best thing, and always looking for an event where they can showcase it.

AV isn’t the only technology that can lift events. A complete registration software solution can market the event online, seamlessly sign up participants and send confirmations and reminders, track participants and payments, and facilitate evaluations of the event. That level of professionalism in just the registration process can improve your event.

In addition, mobile sites tied to the events build interest, allow for pre-event preparation, supplement event content and basically help attendees get the most out of the program. Some offer engaging features like social media and gamification to further enhance the event experience. And some of the tools used to create these mobile sites (e.g., MeetingZilla) are free!

4. Food&Beverage adds spice
In querying friends about an event, think about how early in their response they mention the quality of the food, good or bad. The food and beverage component of an event may constitute just a fraction of the itinerary, but our taste buds and stomachs carry disproportionate sway in our assessment of the function.

This is a challenge probably better left in the hands of the caterers or on-site professionals. Rely on their expertise to determine things like buffet, box or plated; portion size; balance; healthiness; and special dietary requirements. Your due diligence might involve making sure their food looks and tastes good.

Your goal first and foremost is to deliver quality food and beverage. The “above and beyond” might be in the presentation (e.g., live “chef stations” or even celebrity chefs), unique or “themed” food items (e.g., ethnic, organic, street foods), or even the cool arrangement lined up with a local food bank to make use of any extra f&b. A comprehensive guide on the topic can be found at meetingsnet.com (free registration required).

5. Activities engage
Events with exhibitors will often arrange “scavenger hunts” that encourage attendees to visit the exhibit space. It’s a simple activity that provides exhibitors with the face time they seek, but it probably won’t create any buzz from attendees.

Activities that immerse participants deeper into the content of the event engage attendees and often produce a more favorable imprint. Table activities spark group interaction and even competition. Crowd polling elicits further interaction. Graffiti boards allow for thought-provoking posts. And hands-on activities – such as building something – might reinforce the content or promote team-building

Resources abound for event planners interested in making their events more interesting with activities. You’ll find several books and articles on the subject online.

6. Customer service ices the cake
Your program or event, at its core, is a service being provided to customers. The care, convenience and comfort in the delivery of that service are typically the first and last impression your event will make.

Extraordinary customer service can push an ordinary event into a more exalted status. Make registration as convenient and effortless as possible. Keep attendees informed, and always be responsive and accessible from sign up to sign out.

At the event itself, attend the details, from aligning name tags to directing participants to their destination, break rooms, bathrooms and so on. Anticipate the unexpected (pack an event supply kit). Look for opportunities to assist. Be as enthusiastic with your thanks as you are with your welcome.

And once the event ends, pour over the feedback you’ve received and respond accordingly. If you implement some sort of change based on attendee input, let folks know. You’ll impress them even more with your desire to continually improve your offering.

The great thing about the list above is that you don’t have to absolutely ace all six to “wow” your attendees. Do several well and hit one out of the park and you’ll win a few hearts and minds.

As you plan your event and consider tactics to go the extra mile, keep in mind some very simple concepts – such as fun, surprise and spontaneity – that can serve as an undercurrent to the content, venue, technology and so on. Cleverly incorporate those concepts into the key event elements and you’ll produce events that wow – and have long wait lists.

Have some thoughts on this article? Please share them below in the Comments section.

Posted in event management, event materials Tagged with: ,

When Murphy’s Law Strikes Your Events

image of a custodian slippingWith events, anything that can go wrong will. It’s the nature of the business and part of life, from that misspelled name on the first birthday cake to the funeral programs that arrive a day late.

You can fight Murphy’s Law with over-preparation – but realize your efforts won’t always suffice. Below are a few ideas for dealing with the inevitable.

Lesson one: Plan a backup plan.

On the night of an annual meeting with 1,200 attendees a few years ago, the spotlight guy called in sick and another key person had a family emergency. No sweat. Each person with a role at the meeting also had a backup assignment, because our good event planners had set up contingencies that anticipated hiccups. In this case, Murphy’s Law was overruled.

Lesson two: Go with the flow.

I once crafted what I thought was a Ted-level speech for the board chairman at our organization’s planning conference. The speech, as written, opened with a flourish, revealed our challenges, and went a bit “Knute Rockne” while explaining how we would ultimately overcome. The chair complimented the speech before explaining that her participation in the previous evening’s social events left her “under the weather” and made it impossible to give the speech its proper due. Her version, perhaps to everyone’s satisfaction, was much shorter and softer.

Lesson three: Improvise.

Another time, I managed media and financial communications around a huge company event 2,000 miles from our corporate offices. This involved crafting the press release and managing its dissemination (at the company’s only facility still using dial-up Internet), setting up the live press conference and webcast, and preparing remarks and Q&A. The sound system, successfully tested the day before, failed at connecting the online reporters and analysts. No one in the room could hear their questions. We had to relay the online questions to the CEO, which he repeated for everyone else. In hindsight, that extra step gave him a little more time to consider each response.

Lesson four: Know your equipment.

Anyone have a laptop battery die in mid-presentation? How about struggling to get the laptop to work with the conference room projector? Connect cables, hit fn + F# (depends on laptop model) to toggle to your screen, switch the projector to the right setting… Years ago, while presenting at a conference, a certain registration software company’s founder assisted a competitor who couldn’t work the technology to set up and give his presentation. Guess who won a bunch of business that day?

Lesson five: Mother Nature’s events often take precedence over yours.

Churchill Downs, in its quest to inexpensively add expensive seats for its Kentucky Derby weekend, merged two gigantic tents in the center of its infield area about a decade ago. Hundreds, dressed to the nines, enjoyed their semi-private party in the center of it all – until the thunderstorms came. One section of the tents – where the downpour pooled – collapsed, drenching a few tables of patrons (and racking up a huge dry cleaning bill in the process). As most of the former tent-guests decided to seek more secure shelter, some of the regulars in the non-sheltered Infield targeted them with mud. And when the head of security and general manager (also in suits) went out to put an end to the shenanigans, they, too, were greeted with mud.

Lesson six: Know when to shut it down.

I once worked a press event about a waterway cleanup effort that toward the end got hi-jacked by a reporter with an unfriendly agenda about an unrelated topic. That was my cue to end the event. Yours might be when attendees start slipping out, your watch says you are 30 minutes over or your presenter sits down after no one asks any questions.

Lesson seven: Don’t leave eggnog in your refrigerator past New Year’s. And don’t let ex-employees back in the building.

In the early years of “Thunder Over Louisville” – billed as North America’s largest fireworks show that annually kicks off the Kentucky Derby Festival – the family responsible for the pyrotechnics dined on the eve of the event in the first floor atrium area of a five-story building. In the late 1990s, an ex-employee of a building tenant happened to get to the fifth floor, find old eggnog in a refrigerator (in April), and mindlessly pour it over the balcony. Some of it reached those dining below, who thought they had been vomited upon. The Thunder event went on without a hitch the next evening, but some say the real fireworks occurred the night before, in what was informally dubbed “Chunder Over Louisville.”

Most of this collection of anecdotal event stories is meant to enforce lessons related to event planning and management. We’d also like you to view this article as an invite to share some of your “favorite” event experiences (removing names to protect the innocent, of course), lessons or not. The Comments section below is just waiting to become an awesome repository of Murphy’s Law/events lore.


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Like us on Facebook and Win!

We know this social media thing is just a fad, but we’re playing along anyway. The new age Marketing handbook told us to get our name out on the Facebook, so we’ve been occasionally posting goofy pictures, typing silly messages, linking to some pretty cool sites and what-not on our MeetingZilla page.

While no doubt we’ve entertained the heck out of our first 28 “friends,” the goal of this social media foray is to grow our audience. We set a modest goal of getting 100 friends lickity-split, but apparently it doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

screen capture of MeetingZilla page on FacebookSo, we want to entice more people to like our MeetingZilla Facebook page, which is located at www.facebook.com/mtgzilla. We decided to give a prize to one of our friends when we hit the magic 100-friend mark. So, for cripes sake, please “friend” us already (can you believe the social media turned that noun into a verb?). Oh, and if you are the person who has the url “www.facebook.com/meetingzilla,” please friend us and give us our url back.

PS: Once we get to 100 friends, we will hold more frequent contests and drawings. As for the prize in this particular contest, just rest assured that you will look good in it. 

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MeetingZilla Software Places Event Content at Participants’ Digital Fingertips

[Figured we’d post our press release here until we make enough news to need to add a news/press release tab]

Just about any kind of event content can be made mobile-ready in minutes with MeetingZilla, the newest software solution from the gurus that simplified online registration with ABC Signup.

With MeetingZilla, event administrators publish their event content in a mobile format that’s simple to navigate, online 24/7 and free. Seriously, it’s free.

MeetingZilla’s web-based, content management tools allow users to place all of the pertinent content – such as the event agenda, venue information, maps and directions, speaker bios, evaluation forms and more – at participants’ digital fingertips anytime, anywhere.

“Event participants have gone mobile, and so should your event,” said Todd Chandler, president of parent company JTC Technologies. “MeetingZilla provides an incredibly simple and cool technology-based alternative to the waste of paper, time and resources typically incurred with hard-copy event materials.”

MeetingZilla is an Internet content tool, not an app. There are no uploads through an app store or waiting for updates. Users simply log in through the Internet to access the secure system, where they are able to choose basic design themes, add a logo then enter or upload all of the relevant content, including information about the event, the venue, exhibits, presenters, activities and much more.

Administrators can access the web-based tools anytime to make last minute changes, send notification messages to participants, and even provide access to presenters or exhibitors who want to edit their uploaded information

MeetingZilla enables users to choose what content to include and what features to add, such as social media connections or links to area attractions. With a swipe of the finger, event participants on any type of mobile device view the content uploaded to the event’s MeetingZilla-created portal, be it hotel information, a speaker’s bio, a map of exhibitor space or an evaluation form.

Best of all, customers can put MeetingZilla to work for their programs almost immediately.

“Customers want a solution that’s easy to set up and provides added value to their event participants without blowing up the event budget or adding a lot of work to the process,” said Chandler. “MeetingZilla is designed to give users the ability to create an impressive mobile footprint with no training and no cost.”

About MeetingZilla
MeetingZilla is a web-based, content management tool designed to help administrators publish their event content online in an easy-to-access mobile format. To learn more about the product, visit the website at http://www.meetingzilla.com.

Posted in event management, event marketing, event materials Tagged with: , ,

Eight Places to Look for New Ideas

You want to freshen up your course offerings, but you don’t know where to start. Perhaps you are seeking ways to leverage social media to keep the conversation going with participants. Or maybe you are just looking for new approaches to get the word out about your programs.

man with light bulb over headWhen your search for ideas has your brain crying “uncle,” tap into someone else’s. There are a number of places to look for ideas, and it’s never been easier to access them thanks to the Internet. All you need to do is apply a little time and effort and one of these eight idea generators is going to give you that “ah-ha” moment you’ve been seeking.

1. Talk to, or survey, your customers. The old saying “the customer knows best” may not be 100% factual, but who better to ask questions about program content, marketing and possible social media opportunities?

2. Go to a bookstore or local library and read the latest book on the subject. You may not find anything as specific as “Using Social Media to Support Teacher Training Programs,” but you will find publications that offer broader tips applicable to your objectives.

3. Pick the brains of your colleagues. Another perspective, from someone who shares organizational knowledge, may switch on that light bulb or at least guide you to additional sources or approaches.

4. Use your organizational resources. If you work in the public sector, you likely have local, state, regional and even national affiliates or governing bodies. Trade organizations and associations fill a similar role in the private sector. Tap into these entities to see what’s on their radar. Learn what’s got them excited and what keeps them up at night. Find out what’s coming down the bureaucratic pike. See what they are doing in terms of marketing and social media.

5. Keep an eye on the competition. To mix two idioms, “there is more than one way to build a better mousetrap.” If you see something you like about a competitor’s product or marketing or use of social media, incorporate it as much as possible (and within legal bounds, of course) into your offerings. If you can’t find a competitor to research, try scouting organizations around the country that offer similar services as yours.

6. Expand your reading to trade publications or blogs to find the latest news or ideas related to your search. Do the same with newspapers and magazines. You can’t always wait for a book to get published, especially when there are so many “live,” updated-daily resources available.

7. Run a Google search on the topic area and set up Google alerts to notify you of breaking stories on the similar. The alerts may turn out to be the gift that keeps giving. A recent report noted that 25% of all Internet traffic now goes through Google. If the information you seek is out there, Google may be your best bet for finding it.

8. Check out industry conferences and their agendas for cutting edge topics and ideas. Conferences and trade shows typically strive to showcase the latest and greatest – whether it’s products, services or ideas. If you can’t actually attend the relevant conference, see what treasures you can find on the event’s website, where presentations and videos are often made accessible. Even unrelated conferences, such as TED, can provide a wealth of ideas to be repurposed for your events.

Those eight tactics should surface plenty of ideas and likely jumpstart your own thought flow. If you have your own tactics for finding new ideas or approaches for your programs — or have some thoughts to offer about MeetingZilla — please share them in the Comments section below.

Posted in event management, event marketing, ideas

Tout With the Old, Win With the New

Even the best event project plans often neglect a key action item that can be of tremendous value: capturing event highlights to help promote future events.

Typically, a planner’s priorities revolve around major checklist items such as the venue, registrations, presenters, audio visual, catering, staffing and so on. Down the list – and sometimes even an afterthought – is chronicling the event and collecting promotional content through note taking, video/photography and feedback from participants.

female presenter pumping up groupIf you put yourself in your prospects’ shoes – and you covet their attendance – move this tactic up the list. After all, what’s more compelling to those considering your next event? Is it a single event page listing the details of the future event? Or is it that information supplemented by an array of social media and marketing content from a prior event that acts as a testament to the learnings, fun, entertainment, etc. of your offerings?

We don’t advocate posting a video of the entire event or a transcript of the class or keynote presentation. Aside from the potential cannibalization of your own programs, neither makes for overly compelling marketing materials. A 30-second-or-less video snippet, on the other hand, might. As would photographs of event interactions; pull quotes from the presenter highlighting key findings or lessons; and testimonials from participants telling what they took away from the program.

You don’t need to be a professional journalist to compile and later leverage this information. Where appropriate, take notes, get a copy of the presentation(s), capture video and take photographs. Cell phone cameras are now of high enough quality to pull this off (although an inexpensive tripod goes a long way to improving video quality). Ask a few participants for feedback for video or “print” testimonials. If you have additional staff, delegate some of these duties, especially if your event covers multiple sessions.

With this raw content, consider writing a post-event blog to be posted on your website that recaps some of the highlights of your offering. This piece can drive traffic to your site, generate content that can be linked to future marketing efforts, and maybe cause a little bit of regret for those unable to attend. Post photos within the blog that showcase scenes such as people enjoying themselves, an enticing venue, a dynamic speaker or even a nice buffet.

You can also display your photos on any of the other social media you deploy, from Facebook to Instagram to Twitter to LinkedIn. If you think a particular presentation might attract future participants or add some sort of value to your offerings, post it via Slideshare. Any video captured can be uploaded to YouTube (it’s easy to set up your organization’s channel) and a YouTube-generated link can be embedded just about anywhere you choose on your website and social media platforms. Did we mention that these same materials can be uploaded to your MeetingZillagenerated mobile event site?

If you have access to an easy tool to conduct post-event evaluations (another shameless plug: you do if you use MeetingZilla), use it. Unless your feedback is decidedly underwhelming (which indicates you have much bigger issues than post-event marketing), create a blog that talks about how your participants felt about the program. What better way to sell your upcoming events than sharing proof that your most-recent customers enjoyed their experience.

Don’t forget the little things, such as identifying those participants supplying testimonials (be sure to get their approval of the testimonial and permission to use it), recognizing presenters and sponsors, and “tagging” participants in photos posted online. A little work on the identification front can create a wave of word of mouth (it is “social” media) that results in buzz and ultimately, more registrations for your next offering. Finally – and perhaps most important – link your post-event blog or social media posts to your e-mails to prospects that promote upcoming event(s).

You reap what you sow with post-event marketing. However, you don’t need to commit an inordinate amount of time to generate content that’s much more liable to influence a positive decision than just listing information about an upcoming event.

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Who Hits the Snooze Button Upon Seeing Your Event’s Title?

Two identical events are offered under different titles:

  1. What to Expect When You’re Expectorating
  2. The Science of Phlegm

One sounds interesting, and the other would bring on torpor quicker than a Thanksgiving turkey.

image of lady hitting the snooze button on her alarm clockWe often use event titles out of habit, e.g., “Monthly Parenting Class,” forgetting the importance descriptive, interesting titles play in generating interest. We frequently repeat a course title when we could craft a more compelling heading that might share what the participant can expect to learn. We sometimes fall back on our own organizational-speak that is unrecognizable to a potential registrant, such as “Ideations on Cognitive Dissociations as Related to Post-Adolescence,” which would sound better if it were “Five Ways to Get a Teenager to Put Down the Xbox and Pay Attention.”

If you provide a specific program aimed at a niche audience or one that requires mandatory participation, your efforts at crafting more compelling titles may not be necessary. However, a little effort crafting a strong title can go a long way, if you need to fill as many seats as possible.

Think like a copywriter creating a marketing brochure, or a writer seeking eyeballs for a blog. Use active verbs, strong adjectives, a clever turn of phrase, a challenge, an offer, a question – anything relevant to the event that plants that hook or makes a pitch for their attendance. Start with basic tips in headline writing.

More tips:

  • If you administer events that repeat, AB test two titles for the same event to determine which works better
  • Don’t use title words that end in “gogue,” e.g. “Pedagogue”
  • Don’t use words that begin with “Peda,” e.g., “Pedagogue”
  • Don’t deploy trendy but worthless words or phrases such as “ideate,” “incent,” or “trending”
  • Don’t write a headline that can’t fit on one line
  • When appropriate, quantify, e.g. “50 Ways to Weave Your Cover”

Just as it is common to write a nice blog that isn’t read much due to a nondescript headline, your event can suffer without an optimal title. Don’t over-embellish, but do convey the value your programs or events offer.

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10 No-Brainer Tips For Your Event Day

Even the most experienced program and event administrators fret the big day. Registrations may have worked flawlessly, the presentation rehearsal clicked, audio-visuals checked one-two and the venue wowed, but anything can happen on the day of the event.

image of a lady eyeing somethingTo give yourself a little more big-day comfort, check-off your checklist (for the fifth time), brush your teeth and remember these 10 tips to make your event go as smoothly as possible.

1. Wear comfortable shoes.
Or at least mentally, put yourself in a comfortable place, because being relaxed will help you do a better job. And, you may be there a while.

2. Be earlier than early.
Make sure everything is good to go well in advance of start time. Double check the AV. Get a thumbs up from the caterer. Confirm that your speaker/presenter is in the building. Put some of those blue packets of Equal by the coffee. Be there to support other staff and…

3. Welcome guests.
Make a good first impression. Let them know you are happy to have them and value their business. Invite them to come to you at any time during the event should they have any issues or needs. Then…

4. Listen.
Is the venue too hot or too cold? Is the sound too loud or not loud enough? Is someone sneezing who doesn’t have access to tissues? Pay very close attention to your participants to make sure you are doing everything you can to make their experience awesome.

5. Smile until it hurts, and then keep smiling.
No matter how good or bad the presentation or venue or entertainment, your smile conveys a positive experience or, at the least, shows that someone confident and competent is in charge (which can be somewhat comforting if it’s a not-so-positive experience).

6. Never let them see you sweat.
Much like the above, if you show a crack in the armor, you can quickly give participants the impression that something is going wrong, even when they weren’t even aware of whatever got your attention. They probably didn’t know, for instance, that the blinds in the rear right window weren’t closed entirely during the video. We’ll add “Don’t forget to use deodorant” under this item just because it fits well and probably doesn’t deserve a separate callout.

7. Be prepared for last minute hiccups.
Bring extra items to help with any issues, from process-oriented materials like the agenda, remarks, presentations and even a backup laptop to all of the “other” stuff necessary for events. Things like: tissues for that person sneezing at table 12; scissors for the ribbon cutting; mints for your post-coffee breath; extra tape for the signage; or extra pens and paper for participants who forgot. If you administer events, you might want to prepare and bring an event emergency kit.

8. Keep the event on schedule.
Event folks more than earn their keep keeping to the event’s timeline. Start on time. Finish on time. Get in and out of your breaks. This is a challenge made easier if all presenting participants know the timeline in advance and know they will be kept to those timelines on the big day.

9. Leverage your registration tools.
If you have registration software, pull it up on your laptop or mobile device to track attendance, check payments, send out thank you e-mails and more. If you have a mobile tool like MeetingZilla, use it to communicate scheduling changes, upcoming activities, etc.

10. Stay late.
In your role, the event usually doesn’t end with the last agenda item. Personally thank any sponsors, speakers, participants and fellow staff members you can reach before they exit. Get feedback, if possible. See that any leftover food goes to a shelter. Clean up. Don’t forget your event kit, backup materials and anything others may have left behind. Turn out the lights on your way out.

Tips 11 through infinity are up to you, the event administrators that occasionally tune into this blog and surely can offer insightful expertise on this topic. Use the Comments section below to add you best “day of the event” tips for those running such programs.


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