Sometimes in these days of free videoconferencing via Skype, Facetime from an Iphone, instant messaging and social networking sites, it can feel that meetings with real people have gone out of the window along with your VHS player and LP records. However there are times, whether you’re an SME or a major corporation, where nothing beats face-to-face contact.
Whether it’s for external purposes; entertaining clients, networking with potential new customers, briefing suppliers, promoting a new product or for internal purposes such as training staff or giving company updates, there are endless reasons why you might want to organise an event. And whilst you want to look professional and polished, you don’t want to spend a fortune and you don’t want to waste hour upon hour choosing canapés when you have a business to run. So how do you get the balance right?
Firstly you need to sit down and work out exactly what you want to achieve from an event. It’s easy to lose sight of why you’re organising the event in the first place as the process develops. The best events are those that are targeted and that have a real objective. Do I want to gain one or two new clients? Do I want increased brand recognition? Do I want my salespeople to leave with a clear understanding of this new product?
As well as what you want, have a think about your attendees. After all, how many times have you turned down an invitation because it had no relevance to you or your business? Time is precious to us all and you need to respect the time of the people you are inviting. So make sure they will get something out of it as well as you and that you invite people who will be interested in your event.
By setting out with these two objectives in mind, you will provide a useful experience for everyone involved in the event.
Often - although not always - you may want to spend more money on external rather than internal events. However if it’s a very special occasion – celebrating a fantastic year, a company anniversary – you may want to push the boat out for staff. In these times of austerity though, most people recognise the need to tighten belts. Nonetheless that doesn’t mean you can’t put thought into managing internal events well and ensuring everyone goes away with a great, useful and memorable experience.
Firstly set your budget and find someone within the company who enjoys organising events and has a good eye for detail. Task them with the organisation but make sure they are clear about the goals and also will report back to you on the planning regularly. They should develop a thorough, step-by-step plan listing all the main activities in the countdown to the event. Shop around and barter on everything – in the current market you can really get caterers and venues down on price and if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
One way to make a great impact is the choice of venue. Think laterally and creatively about it. As well as the traditional “reception in a cool bar/hiring a hotel conference suite” options, there are many quirky and unusual venues which can really draw people in – museums, art galleries, cultural centres, old music halls, cinemas – where people can enjoy your hospitality, learn about your company but also have an additional “experience” alongside the event.
And think about the basics, depending upon the nature of your event – easy access, good parking, WIFI, breakout rooms – so that your attendees don’t feel entirely concerned about how to get there in the first place and how to communicate and conduct their own business whilst attending your event. And make sure the AV technology, if you need it, is second to none and that you have back up in the event it should fail on the day.
The invitee list is crucial. A blanket bombing approach rarely works so make sure your list is targeted and specific. It’s better to be more choosy about whom you invite and have people wanting to come to your events - to make them aspirational rather than functional.
Invitations should be professional and personalised. If you’re sending out paper invitations, find someone in the office with beautiful handwriting and have them hand write the names of the each individual attendee. It’s cheap to do but those small touches can really make the difference and make people feel looked after and individual. Enclose a second class SAE so there’s no excuse not to reply.
If you’re emailing an invitation, have it in the body of the email as well as an attachment as people are sometimes reluctant to open attachments. Again ensure it looks professional, well-executed and is clearly branded. Include on all invitations the purpose and benefits of attending your event and include a map, driving directions, information on parking, train stations and so on.
The key is to just make it as easy as possible for people, so they have no excuse not to attend.
For an internal event a three line whip may be all that is required to guarantee attendance. However for an external event, other ideas can help boost those who come. Adding a page to your website focusing on the event with all the necessary details can be a useful, cost effective tool. Using Facebook, Linked In and Twitter to promote it and even distribute invitations is a great idea – apparently adding social networking into the marketing mix can increase attendance at an event by 10%. Send an electronic diary reminder to those who have accepted – most people use Outlook or similar to manage their diaries these days, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to have an additional reminder out there. And send an aide memoire note out a few days before incorporating all the relevant details again.
Catering doesn’t need to be extortionate. Sometimes using a local restaurant that you like or that is in the same location as your business to cater can be very effective – a great Chinese banquet or delicious wood-fired pizza can sometimes be just as much fun as fancy catering and canapés – so again, think laterally, cost effectively and creatively.
If you’re giving presentations, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Practice Q&A and ensure the presentation runs to time and reflects the main objectives of the event.
On the day, have a timetable and run it with precision. Ensure everyone from your team knows their place, their role and their responsibilities. This is your showcase for your company so make sure it all counts and every representative of the company is someone you can be proud to have working for you.
Track everyone who attends, everyone who doesn’t and send a follow up thank you note to all those who did – handwritten by the boss would be ideal, but certainly signed by him or her is a nice touch. It’s always worth asking for feedback from attendees, whether formally or informally, and having a round up meeting afterwards to go through what went well, what didn’t and how it can be bettered next time.
These are some basic ideas but they may help transform your events from average to aspirational and increase attendance at the same time. By planning and sticking to your objectives and by targeting and thinking creatively, you can produce a fantastic and yet cost-effective event.
And the most important thing, it goes without saying, is to really enjoy it.
Deborah Done, the author of our Big Ideas, is founder and director of Nab Communications, a freelance public relations agency which provides sensible and value for money PR advice to regional and national businesses. www.nabcommunications.co.uk