I'm definitely not the greatest event planner (passable now after plenty of mistakes!), but having helped with the schedules, invitations, fliers, and other printed material for events at Champion Ballroom, the Holiday Dance Classic, and student events way back in college, I've learned a few things.
Alvin's Rules for Events:
- Someone will ask for the agenda, repeatedly. It's not always the same person. If you're remotely connected to the agenda, presenters or performers will ask and try to give you changes, instructions, and cue notes. Have the agenda ready in whatever draft form it is and lock it down, keep it high-level, and/or print as late as possible (depending on your type of event of course). This is why we also have #2.
- You want a dedicated "DJ" or owner of the presentation or performance materials. They may have to present, make introductions, and handle music needs from "it's on the CD" to "just use #5 on the music machine" to "can you fade music after 2 minutes after the 2nd crash and I throw her in the air?" For corporate events it'll be "it's on this USB drive" to "my presentation is online" to "I'll need a white board, 3 markers, and a volunteer." This is hard work and should be compensated accordingly (money, praise, respect, or an equivalent currency for your event).
- (Some) presenters or performers will get their materials to you late, which is related to the fact that...
- There will likely be a technical or scheduling difficulty. I've seen everything from the wrong presentation or missed cues to back-to-back performances scheduled missing a costume change. Machines will freeze, Wifi drops, or spreadsheets breaks. Pray to the demo gods if you have a live system or interactive prop. Though you have audience to present or perform for, there are practical considerations for both the technology as well as the performers or presenters, speaking of which...
- Be realistic with timing and the presenters or performers. Ideally each group or individual queues before their turn, but you still need time for the following (add even more time for large groups, children, or special props):
- Getting on stage
- The main performance or presentation
- Applause and walk-off for performances or Q&A for presentationss
- Any audio/visual needs before and after
- There will be no-shows and opt outs and that's okay. The best plans aren't perfect, they plan and manage for the real world, which includes unexpected events, attendees not interested in certain parts of a program, and those that can only participate partially for whatever reason. Confirmations and pre-purchased tickets help to the extent that they personally affect attendees (too high a cost and you reduce attendance though). You see this in effect with social events and parties where a good number of invitees won't go, even if confirmed.
- Not everyone wants to go, but some really want to go. Not a big deal for small events, but for popular "ticketed" events you'll hear and maybe see everything from faked entry tickets to "the host said I could drop by." The challenge with large events for the front desk is the host is hard hard to find during the event. Have an official list with first and last names to be sure and the host may likely change, override, or add additions as needed.
It'll help to stay flexible on the details but strict on the logistics. For example you need secure a venue, make invitations, and book travel above everything else. Anything associated with payment should come in writing including terms, cancellation policies, and clean up charges. Especially when dealing with a facility, know what cleaning services are covered, if any (which applies both ways regardless if you're renting out a ballroom or attending a conference).
Applying CXM to a Corporate Team Building Event?So let's apply some Customer Experience Management (CXM) ideas to an internal Corporate Team Building Journey. My company calls these "Knowledge Day" Events because we, well, share knowledge over a few days. Company plug: these are tiny in scope compared to something like SDL Innovate, but we do get some of the same topics and presenters.
Managing the customer experience is based on getting insights and orchestrating a contextual experience. In this case we have an Event Experience with three stages in this journey:
This might feel like a stretch for "CXM" but see how walking through an KD attendee persona highlights all the "oh yeah" things you need to take care of before, during, and after such an event.
Pre-EventCongratulations, you are invited to an event and get instructions on the who, what, where, when, and why. You might be asked to go and/or send a representative for you based on your role. You may likely be presenting at the event.
- Materials. Before you go, you send your materials, any song choice, and any special preferences to the committee before the event. You might be late with your materials but know who to get them to by absolutely no later than an hour before the event or before you step up to the lectern the latest, for sure.
- Arrival. You arrive at the airport and will get to the hotel using pre-arranged transportation or the recommended public transportation method. You either know your company's expense policy (or will find out soon enough) or if you're a guest, you know what to expect based on your agreement with the company or on past events.
- Pre-Event Entertainment. You get to the hotel and want to check in first, then catch up with the other attendees. You see on Facebook the host is at the local bar and head there (or somewhere else).
- You also hear a few personal friends are heading over somewhere else. You try to text them but can't seem to find your phone. You know your group has a designated lost-and-found person but since this is before the event, you find your phone with the hotel's lost-and-found.
- Logistics are handled in advance including travel, hotel, and venue
- Invites, welcome letters, and plans are all done early as well, including any financial agreements and reimbursement agreements
- Someone may have identified local attractions and informal events as well
- Start time. You know to get to the conference room by what time because of the welcome letter.
- Coffee. In the morning, you buy coffee knowing it is covered as an expense as mentioned in the welcome letter and invitation.
- You sign in if needed and later introduce yourself to the group
- Present. You get ready to present at the right time because of the agenda (it's on the wall, in your hand, online, but you know not to use the old one in email.
- Event Etiquette. You are reminded of the event rules and etiquette which includes paying attention (to get the Knowledge Transfer), taking calls outside, and not moving across the podium during presentations.You are encouraged to post and share details of the event, being respectful of any that want some privacy (typically very high-paid professionals that have their own marketing teams or those new and hesitant to be out there just yet). No embarrassing pics or mistakes unless they're your own.
- Ice Breaker. You get a raffle ticket and get introduced to “the game” or an icebreaker and wonder how to win.
- Gift. You open or play with the gift, trinket, or table-top decoration and find out you should take pictures while at the event.
- Transitions. Before each presentation, the speaker is ready to go and are introduced (with music). You know when to take breaks and the DJ asks the room to pay attention. Both speakers and audience have refreshments, especially water for dry mouths.
- Schedule. You get enough breaks and there are enough snacks to keep everything interesting and fresh. The music is a nice touch, and if you smoke, you know where to go.
- Lunch. Lunch is a good 45 minutes with some presentations or possibly entertainment.
- At the end of the day, you find out how you stand in the raffle/game/ice breaker, know where to go to eat, when you’re leaving, and who you’re riding with if needed.
- Staying awake. You try not to fall asleep mid-afternoon, the breaks help here as well
Evening and Following Days
- Evening Celebrations. At night you party too late and get a call asking if you’re coming down for "day 2."
- Team Building. You participate in the obligatory team-building event and appreciate that it was relatively painless and short enough to let you enjoy some time alone as well as with friends you haven't seen in awhile.
- Big thank you! You're bummed you didn't win the grand "game" prize, but you enjoy the awards ceremonies at the end, feel great about being part of such a time, and feel you need a break from this break from your usual day job.
- You have someone or a team help orchestrate the event
- You've connected with the venue staff and know who to call in case of problems
- Your schedule includes time for transitions, breaks, and lunch
- You know what makes a good event, a big part of this is the basics in presenting: tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them (see #1 for agenda above)
- You fill out the survey the team sent.
- You get a reminder to share any pics and stories on the event Facebook page.
- You also see the fun times on other people's timelines, in email, and feel inspired enough to start that blog.
Managing post-event, for such a team building event doesn't include too much, though you should probably:
- Solicit feedback as insight into the next event
- Save your materials!
As an example, my set of materials for the Holiday Dance Classic and Champion Ballroom events included invitation and welcome letters, contracts, a rental agreement, dance performer numbers, table arrangements, heat (event) listings, table tents, programs, a welcome letter or intro from host Mary Murphy, and MVP guest lists, paper tickets. It only took an event or two before a few of these became dynamic, for example I'd use Word's merge letter features to make things like invitations and table tents. And the table arrangement and RSVP list were generated from the same spreadsheet.
Alright, that's enough strolling down memory lane. I've talked about the parallels between dance instruction and consulting, stretching the metaphor down to helping a client take their first step. The similarities between any kind of event planning should be much clearer. Larger events might include someone with a chime telling participants when to return to the sessions, private sessions, vendor booths, entertainment, social media contests, and the inspirational keynote presentations.
- Make that agenda. Know it will change.
- Get a DJ.
- Get your presentation materials. Know some will be late.
- There be technical or scheduling difficulties.
- Be realistic with timing. Setting up and walking on/off stage counts.
- Assume no-shows and opt outs.
- Not everyone wants to go, but some really want to go.
Then find your gotchas by walking through the event in vivid detail. Good luck at your next event!