Most people when tasked with planning an event, head straight to the decor and logistics of the actual day of the event. Before hopping in to these items, consider these 3 areas:
1. Getting the right people involved
Volunteers are not all created equal and that’s okay. Just because someone wants to help doesn’t mean it will be a good outcome for you; instead creating more work. Spend time interviewing potential volunteers and building the right team who can help you accomplish your goals at the end of the event and not just show up and put flowers out.
2. Event marketing
It doesn’t matter how great your event is, if no one shows up then all your planning was for nothing. Take time to really lay out a marketing plan of how to sell tickets, don’t wait until the last two weeks to discount tickets and beg people to come to your event. Spend time generating your mission statement and creating great content so people will get to know your organization prior to your event. Be sure to mark your calendar to send out emails, social media posts and make time to network and inform.
Before getting into the nitty gritty of your event planning details. Think about how you are going to create a great experience as priority. People forget to think about what it will feel like when your guest first walks into the door and check in. Spend time visualizing what others will experience and try to make this more important than choosing your centerpieces. This will help guide the little details and efforts you make when planning your logistics and decor.
Spending time on these 3 areas prior to starting your event will allow you to stay focused and not become overwhelmed with the little details, in hopes of creating a great event. Focusing on the bigger picture first, will help you ensure that your details are meaningful and intentional.
To focusing on the bigger picture,
Danielle | CEO
So you’ve decided to host a conference, awesome! Welcome to a very big undertaking filled with lots of stressful days and nights. In the end, I promise it will be rewarding and worth it. One of the first and very important decisions you will need to make is the length of your conference. The answer is honestly based on a host of factors and should be heavily pondered, as it really has effect on so many other layers of your planning and the final product. Today, I am going to focus on what I believe are the top 3 areas you need to consider in helping you make your decision. Cost, Content, and Logistics.
Hosting a multi-day conference is definitely more expensive than a single day version. Many think they will receive all kinds of discounts for booking a vendor or venue for multiple days in a row. Though, sometimes you can get a break on pricing for certain things, you most definitely are not going to get a deal like “rent one day, get the second free.” Vendors have employees to pay and in some cases those employees start racking up lots of overtime when your conference is more than a day or two long. You need to budget and plan appropriately for the increased cost of hosting more than one day. Do your research and consider how you will aim to get more or higher dollar sponsorships to help cover the extra overhead.
I get the feeling that many think creating a multi-day conference gives the impression that your conference is super awesome and a must attend. The truth is, I have personally attended more one-day conferences that blew my mind, than 2-3-day options.
You need to take a serious look at your content and be realistic with yourself on whether you have something worth sticking around for more than one day for. Are you filling your spots with sponsors and their sales pitch or do you have genuine, insightful, motivational information to share? Additionally, if your speakers are awesome, but you have only a few . . . do not, I repeat do not extend their speaking time to create a multi-day conference. No matter how engaging your speaker, an hour and a half into their speech people just get restless and their minds wander. It would be a total bummer if your feedback from attendees looked something like this “Content was fabulous, but segments were way too long!” If in doubt, refer to the adage Quality over Quantity.
And finally, the area I spend 95% of my day, logistics. The first consideration is the availability of your preferred venue location. I highly recommend the day prior to the start of your event be reserved to make sufficient time for set up/rehearsals/etc. With that in mind, can the venue accommodate your ideal date(s)? Or would you be compromising and in turn potentially end up with a lower attendance turnout? Another consideration is the capacity and available banquet space your venue can offer. Can you effectively cover all your needs in one day or would that second day make all the difference? My final consideration in the realm of logistics is related to your attendee demographic and where you are asking them to travel. If your target is local business people, then a one-day conference will probably be the easiest commitment. Targeting to out of towners or hosting in a destination location would lend towards offering a multi-day conference. A traveler wants to ensure the conference is worth the effort and expense. Would you want to fly to Hawaii for only one day? I think not.
The takeaway here is that one day and multi day conferences can both be a success. The key is to research first and have a deep conversation with yourself (and your team) about what is realistic and most effectively meets your goals and budget. The stressful days and nights I mentioned earlier . . . well those happen no matter what, so pass the planning piece off to a professional.
An event can often entice attendees to travel from out of town, requiring the need for a hotel. As the host of the event, reserving a block of hotel rooms for your attendees is a courtesy that does not go unnoticed. Room blocks help ensure a location near your venue for attendees to stay and a discounted room rate which might just sway a few more ticket sales your way.
A room block is a group of hotel rooms that a hotel puts on hold at a specially negotiated rate for a group of people. This can be set up for a conference, tradeshow or a wedding! Room blocks typically need to be at least 9 rooms (although sometimes hotels offer room blocks for 5+ rooms). You might ask yourself, “what all do I need to cover?” OR “what if I miss something?” I know my first time booking hotel rooms blocks I was so worried I would forget something, possibly costing us a large chunk of money. I’m here to give you the tools to confidently put together your RFP (Request for Proposal), review contracts and secure your hotels.
Things to Keep in Mind
Before you start calling hotels left and right, create a list of questions that make or break a hotel that fits your needs. These are the items I ask myself before locking down 3-4 hotels for attendees to choose from:
Make the Call
Once you’ve locked down your list of hotels, it’s time to get the ball rolling. Call the hotel and ask for the person in charge of hotel rooms blocks. Introduce not only yourself, but your event. Inform the hotel of the expected dates and let them know you’ll be sending an RFP over with your requests and requirements.This shows you not only have expectations but are organized.
Creating an RFP
An RFP also known as, Request for Proposal, lists (in order of importance) your requests and requirements for booking the hotel room block. Here are a few items I include:
Provide Information to Your Attendees
Now it’s time to promote your hotels and get those room blocks booked up. Include some quick hit information that they can view directly from the event website. Let them know pricing, distance to and from the event, a short bio of the hotel and pictures (everyone loves visuals). Allow your guests to be well-informed and make an educated decision.
Hopefully, after reading this I’ve eased your nerves of tackling the “book hotel room blocks” task. Find hotels that meet your expectations, list your non-negotiables, create your RFP and get a signed contract. Impress your attendees and help them out. It won’t go unnoticed.
Being in the event industry there are a lot of terms I’ve learned along the way. Let me start by telling you an embarrassing story at the beginning of my event planning career. Many years ago, I was working an event and was asked to grab some chargers. So…… obviously (to me at least), I looked all over the venue for different phone chargers to grab. Eventually I came back with my hands full of chargers and, oh boy, you should’ve seen the look on their face! Little did I know a charger was just a decorative plate.
Although some terminologies might be straight forward, others may be left to interpretation. It’s important to know these terms when communicating your event’s needs. Below I have compiled a list of the usual’s to help save you the challenge of pretending you know what is being said and secretly googling the definition later. ;)
Don’t make the same mistake I did. Remember these words and overuse the heck out of them. I don’t know about you, but I’m guilty of learning a new word and using it in about every sentence. No shame in my game! I’d love to hear any funny stories you have had when learning the lingo. Comment below on what you were confused about or a term you don’t understand. I’d love to hear!
To ending the google definitions search,
One of my absolute favorite things to do for an event is to write live stage productions. I’ll share a little secret with you, if I had a magic wand and could do any job in the world, I would be the production manager for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show! To me, they do an amazing job on so many levels.
Especially being a live show, I can only imagine the excitement, the pressure, the stress, to execute a flawless production. How exciting!
Back to real life, within our own events we do try to capture those ah ha! moments throughout each production. I’m sure we’ve all been to those drab, dry boring events with awards that you continually look at your watch (or phone) hoping it's almost over! Let’s talk about that for a moment. How do you know when you need to change your program?
You need change when:
Recognize any of these faux paus from your own program? The list above are examples of items that my company has experienced with a client at one time or another. We worked to adjust these errors and create a more entertaining, enjoyable program that left people feeling inspired instead of a waste of their time. Below is an example of how we changed one client's experience from boring to great!
This client's event recognized 50 women. Before changing their program, they had this simple line up. Self-introduction, sponsor speakers, read each bio, grip and grin, the end. The only people that attended the event were friends and family.
Here is how we changed the production flow:
The difference between the two? We created energy and enthusiasm during the entire program. But best of all we started to change the way attendees felt about the event. Sponsors started rebooking their sponsorship the second the event was over, because they enjoyed it so much and wanted to be a part of it the following year. We created a program that wasn’t just about the honorees (which is important) but gave the audience a takeaway; in turn the attendance grew as did the demographic of person interested in attending.
If you find your productions to be boring and lack that something extra, think of ways to change the order of your lineup, or add creative elements in between breaks that make sense. Find ways to reduce the amount of back to back talking or talking in general. Not only will your production be better, you can create a culture of having better events that attract more tickets sales and sponsors that want to be a part of it year after year!
Every morning I get ready to work, sit down at my desk and open my e-mail to find 30-50 new emails in my inbox. Most of which are promos. So how do you stand out to your audience in this competitive market? I have four quick tips for making your marketing emails open worthy.
Real people read this!
Humanize your message. This is big. Make sure your email is about your customer, not about you. If you are constantly sending messages, but they are only advertisements, you will lose your audience. Your goal should be to make people laugh, create a great recommendation, ask real questions or brighten someone's day. Create an e-mail that is interesting to your subscriber by remembering that they are PEOPLE. Connect with your customer and make your audience feel like they know you. By aiming to add a human element to your message you are likely to capture more audience members. If you can put a spin on your e-mail like a funny line, quote or picture, you are likely to have people not only read your message, but hopefully share it too! Even if you are a serious business, it helps to not take yourself too seriously.
You’ve heard the saying a picture is worth a thousand words; this is so true. If you can make your email content simple and add a few relevant pictures you are likely to keep the attention of your audience. Whether it is a picture of mouthwatering desserts, a fun photo of people at a prior event (especially if they are receiving this e-blast), or a heart grab photo for a call to action, pick your images carefully but make sure they are there. For example, many events have a photo booth if you are sending a follow-up email from an event or maybe an early bird special for the following year, pick out a few people that had silly pictures and highlight them in your message.
Get to the point
Kuddos to you, as if you've read this far you've managed to maintain interest longer than most do! Point: Keep your email short and sweet with a few images to enhance your goal.
When should I send this?
Timing is everything. Sending an e-blast at 7pm to a working audience has a high probability of getting lost in the mix by the time they check their inbox the next morning. Think about your target audience and send it at the most opportune time. On many marketing automation sites like MailChimp or ConvertKit you can schedule the time you send out your e-blast. So, you don't have to set your personal alarm at 4am, if that's the time you find makes the most sense! Don’t be confused with the lingo, more on marketing automation coming soon!
Keep it real,
Sponsorships can feel like a daunting task when it comes to raising funds for your event, both corporate and nonprofit alike. Having sponsors is the lifeblood to many events and important to understand why to have these partnerships.
When starting out in developing a good sponsorship ratio, our philosophy is that your sponsorship dollars cover the expenses of your event. Your income from ticket sales or fundraising activities and any “other” income generating areas are applied to your net revenue.
It is bad practice to wait until your event day, in hopes that you made enough to pay your catering bill.
Assuming you currently have an event that has sponsors, let's look at ways to increase or maximize your current sponsorship line up. Here are 3 things you can do to maximize your sponsorship dollars with existing sponsors.
Make sure you are going after marketing dollars.
This is especially common in the nonprofit arena who is typically looking for donations or foundation funds. As an organization you are providing marketing to a specific demographic that companies want to market to, not donate to. Whether you are a corporation or nonprofit, know your demographic. Make sure you are collecting information from your attendees so you know who they are. The more you know about them, the more you can increase your packages to attract the right sponsors to market to the right the people.
You are never out of sponsorship opportunities.
Don't base your sponsorship opportunities off a checklist of ideas. Talk with your sponsors and understand what is important to them and then find a way to bring them in that meets their goals. Use your list of opportunities as a resource, not a final checklist and once they’re all gone they’re gone
For example, I had a client tell me once they turned a company down interested in sponsoring their event because they were out of sponsorships at the level they were interested. Instead of coming up with a creative way to incorporate them at their desired level, they chose to offer them a lower level sponsorship and lost out on raising more dollars. Never say NO to Money!!
There is always a way to give a sponsor something outside of the box. If you are having a hard time coming up with ideas, use your team to brainstorm creative opportunities that don't live on the list.
I had a client mention during an event planning meeting that they had a sponsor request a specific area to sponsor and a set dollar amount they were willing to give. The dilemma was another sponsor had already spoken for this area. The response was to offer the sponsor a lower dollar table sponsorship instead. I suggested instead of giving up the higher dollar offering and compromising on a lower one, why not create a new item to sponsor that would appeal to the sponsor? Instead of a photo booth, they were given an elevator sponsorship. This included a branded backdrop, elevator hosts taking selfies as guests traveled upstairs and social media posts linked to a feed on big screens in the main ballroom. The sponsor was thrilled and as already reserved this for next year!
Next time you’re having a conversation with your existing or new sponsor, be sure to stay creative, ask questions and most of all don't say NO to money!
Danielle Snelson | CEO | Sona Events | email@example.com
A common new client that we encounter in our industry, is one that has been running their event the same way for years with great success and then boom, the recipe no longer seems to be working and they have no idea why. Without going into a full diagnostic overhaul, my initial hunch is they probably are no longer engaging the current demographic. By demographic I am not only referring to your attendees, but your sponsors as well.
Whether you personally care to embrace it or not, we live in an age of technology and instant gratification. People want information right at their fingertips, and by fingertips I don’t mean via their email (that’s totally yesterday, duh!). Queue the continually popular solution: There’s an App for that!
Event Apps are changing the way conferences, trade shows, fundraisers and other special events are communicating with their attendees. Not only is this new technology pleasing to the attendee, but provides great benefit to the event organizers and your potential sponsors; as well.
Before your Event
As soon as a guest registers for you event, send them a link to download your event app. This gives instant access to the demographic of guests you have just attracted. With this information you can predict what will engage them on the event day, provide a means for marketing directly to your audience and provide insightful information on what to expect on the day of your event.
During your Event
Easily communicate the event program, location of breakout sessions (and facilitating signups for these if required) and interactive directional maps. Send push notifications to alert of changes in the program, location change of a speaker, or an emergency. During your event keep attendees engaged with Q&A or polling questions (you can even display their responses in real time on a screen). Another fun function is the ability to allow attendees to networking more effectively with each other. They can connect with individuals with similar interests or within similar markets, organize meetups, share contact information, etc.
After your Event
After your event physically ends, the communication can carry on. Attendees can reference the app to find contact information for a fellow attendee they met, a vendor they noticed at a tradeshow or a sponsor can reach out to their interested audience. Just like LinkedIn is used to create a sense of community that is easily accessible. Above and beyond, probably the most beneficial tool you can use for the after, is feedback! Find out what people liked and did not like in a simple survey. That in and of itself is so valuable to the success of your future events!
There are a wide variety of event apps out there to choose from, so explore the offerings and find the one that fits well with your needs. Ask for testimonials or feedback from other users to get the real scoop, instead of the glorified sales pitch of why one app is better than another. Better yet, use my tried and true method of research: Google It. I bet there are people who have already done the research and have blogged about it for you!
Honestly . . . this is a hard topic for me to write about. Why? Because, I’m a perfectionist. Yup, it’s now out there for the world to know. I like all my ducks neatly in a row and it drives me crazy when those ducks decide to have a mind of their own. If you know me at all, then you may be thinking “then how the heck are you so calm, amidst all the chaos?” My answer is actually pretty simple: I Plan.
I plan for the unexpected, just as much, if not more than I plan for the actual event. I figure if I consider all the possible things that could go wrong and do my best to hedge the risk of them happening from the get go; I’m bound to have positive results.
One) I’ve probably lowered the risk of bad things happening
Two) I’ve got a Plan B, C and D in if plans need to be adjusted last minute
Lower the Risk
Part of my job is to take care of the event logistics. In doing so, I make it a point to have really good communication with all the vendors I have hired. They are always in the know (before the event day) of all the what’s, where’s and why’s. We share contact information for the day of the event and you better believe, if their arrival time comes and goes and they aren’t there yet I’ll be calling. I also feel it is super important for the event planner/organizer to arrive at the venue well ahead of time. I usually arrive 30-60 minutes before anyone else does. This gives me time to review room diagrams, discuss details with food/beverage, and correct any concerns or issues before I get involved in overseeing other people. Lastly, I ensure when others do start arriving that they understand their tasks and are familiar with the space. If you are not ready for the arrival of your vendors ahead of time, you will get pulled in 100 different directions. When an unexpected issue does crop up, I’m ready and available to problem solve.
Absolutely always have a backup plan in place if your event is outside and there is any chance the weather could go South and let’s be real there is always a chance the weather can change. You should have a plan in place if you are concerned about a speaker or any other vendor you’ve had difficulty communicating with and think there is any possibility they might not show up. Include in your initial budgeting a line item for a contingency plan. If you know a tent would be the backup if weather is not cooperative, then know the cost ahead of time. If you don’t need it, then great! But if you do and you did not account for it, your profitable event could take a serious turn towards the red.
As much as I would love an event to be absolutely perfect, there are too many variables that are outside of my control no matter how much I plan. I have learned that accounting for the possibility that the unexpected could happen and accepting it, makes the process so much easier and in most cases, no one even knows there was an issue but me.
My final piece of advice, no matter how disastrous the situation, remain calm and courteous. You will have an easier time thinking outside of the box to quickly solve the issue and those around you will be more willing to help and contribute to the solution.
Keep Calm and Party On!
Event planning may seem like glitter and rainbows to the outsider, but I am here to tell you that just like any other job I have wins and losses. I’ve learned to celebrate my wins, whether big or small, and learn from the losses. Here is an inside peak at a few lessons I’ve learned along the way.
1. Blocking Your Time
This has been the biggest takeaway of them all for me. Planning events can be stressful. You are in contact with a lot of different people and have a constant flood of emails coming through every day. It’s hard for me to have an email come in and not respond to it immediately. I am a “box-checker” and have been my whole life. However, checking every email coming in can be a slippery slope to wasting half your day. This is where blocking out time on your schedule every day comes in handy. Keeping true to these deadlines will keep you focused and on track, slowing hacking at that to-do list. I now keep ongoing drafted emails of information as I receive them. Clients and vendors love getting an email with all the updates rather than several throughout the day. This not only keeps everything organized, but limits the emails, keeping me on track with my schedule.
2. Every Detail Counts
In the event planning industry, this couldn’t be truer. What I mean by this is every email you send or every phone call you make, you need to ensure your words are clear and concise. A BEO (Banquet Event Order) is a document that outlines every detail of your event with the venue staff. Also known as the “meat and potatoes” of your event. Take the time to read through the BEO carefully and have someone on your team look it over. In the end, whatever is on that sheet will be exactly what happens at your venue so make sure it’s correct.
3. Make Rehearsal Time
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but nobody reads anything. All those well-spent and beautifully crafted emails and timelines, clearly explaining everything that needs to be done and by what time, were merely glossed over. That is why I recommend providing rehearsal times. Whether it’s for your emcee, speakers, etc. Give them the rehearsal time to review, because it can’t be promised they read through their script the evening before.
4. ALWAYS Make Time for a Dance Break
Here at Sona we believe in dance breaks. However, we aren’t always the best at taking our own advice when it comes to this. Event days are jam packed with running around making sure vendors are where they need to be, speakers are set-up and the drinks are flowing. It’s hard to take that 30 second break to relax. Months and months of hard work have finally come down to this day and you want everything to be perfect, but sometimes, a 30 second dance break is all you need to get your engine going again. Remember, kick butt, work hard and embrace that 30 second dance break. YOU DID IT!
To embracing the takeaways,
Multi Day Conferences, Special Events and Fundraisers