From luncheons and corporate retreats to dinner parties and fundraising galas, people attend dozens of events each year. What makes the truly memorable ones stand out?
“It’s all about adding in personal elements to tell a story for people to recall later,” says Craig Campbell, area director of sales and marketing at InterContinental Hotels Cleveland.
Susan Beech, facility planning and special events coordinator at the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, adds, “The goal is for the client to remember the small details. And, you know you’ve done a good job when everyone leaves happy.”
Crafting the ultimate guest experience may seem overwhelming, so here are five unexpected ways to keep your event fresh in the minds of those attending.
1. Make a plan
Preparation should begin long before the day of the event.
“When you don’t plan, you don’t think of everything, and the little details fall through the cracks. It’s always the little things that get you,” Beech says, citing oft-forgotten items like HDMI cables, extra handouts, parking permits or security.
To keep all the details organized, Beech suggests using a checklist and consulting with an event planner.
Jim Mahon, vice president of marketing and brand management for the Akron/Summit Convention and Visitors Bureau and John S. Knight Center, agrees. “Providing information before, during and after your event is critical in keeping your attendees informed about and prepared to enjoy their time with you,” he says.
In some cases, it’s helpful to perform research before introducing a given event to the community, according to Kelly Manderfield, chief marketing officer for Cleveland Metroparks.
“You can learn a lot about your event before it comes to life simply by asking folks in the community if it’s an event they’d be interested in attending,” she says.
For example, for community-wide events hosted at Cleveland Metroparks’ venues, Manderfield says her team reaches out to community members, asking questions such as what types of activities they would like to see and what’s a reasonable price point for the event. She adds it’s crucial to also think about the timing of the event and what other happenings may be taking place around the same time.
For recurring events, Manderfield suggests that event coordinators ask for feedback from attendees during the actual event. “We’ll then correct for the next event date to make sure we’re delivering a high-quality event that’s achieving a strong guest experience and high satisfaction,” she says.
2. Create an interactive environment
Events may range from educational conferences to summer music festivals, but no matter the occasion, attendees should be given plenty of opportunities to interact with the event and foster connections with other attendees.
With conferences, Campbell says that one of the biggest concerns is holding the attention of attendees.
“It can be taxing for people to sit and listen for so long. Give audiences breaks and opportunities to walk around to keep from feeling lethargic,” he says.
Campbell suggests incorporating “action stations” into the breaks. For example, instead of grabbing a cookie or brownie off of the dessert table, guests can instead make their own trail mix. He says that omelet stations can have the same effect.
In addition to allowing attendees to grab a refill or stretch their legs, such pauses can also help foster connections among attendees, as some breaks may include a small activity or ice breaker for table mates to complete.
When it comes to educational events, Mahon suggests bringing in the best-of-the-best presenters.
“Your budget must allow you to secure the caliber of keynote speakers and presenters that will impress and exceed the expectations of your attendees,” Mahon says.
For companies who put on events for their employees, Campbell says, “The more unique the message is, the more the information will sink in.”
For other events, be sure to create plenty of opportunities for attendees to partake in different activities. Activities can be related to the theme or even be specific to the venue, like a round of golf if an event takes place at golf club.
“For us, it’s all about the guest experience and tailoring the events to your audience,” Manderfield says. “We want there to be something fun for everyone to do.”
3. Take care with the cuisine
When thinking about the food served at an event, be sure to consider any potential dietary restrictions of attendees. Event organizers should be prepared to provide alternative meals such as gluten-free, kosher, vegetarian or vegan options, just to name a few.
“From breakfast to lunch and from breaks to the main banquet, invest the extra time (and sometimes, financial resources) with your venue’s food and beverage department to create a menu that will have everyone asking for seconds,” Mahon says.
The organizer should be sure to cater to the tastes of the attendees, according to Terri Kufel, director of catering and conference services for InterContinental Hotels Cleveland. “A lot of people just go off of their own tastes when planning the menu,” she says. “Being creative with the food and beverages is a way to shine through for the guests of honor. When attendees see those things, you want them to say ‘Oh, that’s so them.’”
Campbell cautions against serving heavy fare for mid-afternoon meals, especially during conferences. He also suggests substituting juice and water for soft drinks. “You should serve something that will help keep attendees energetic and carry them through the rest of the
afternoon,” he says.
4. Integrate technology
With technology an ever-present force, there’s no reason organizers can’t incorporate it into their event.
For starters, organizers can post and advertise the occasion on social media on personal or professional platforms, depending on the nature of the event. In some cases, the venue will also promote the event via its multimedia platforms.
Promoting the event early is also a good idea. “We’ve learned through research that people like to know a minimum of one to two months in advance of a new event so they can plan accordingly,” Manderfield says.
Another way to integrate technology is to introduce a customized app, which can be especially helpful at conferences and trade shows. Not only is an app noteworthy, but it can also help streamline the experiences of attendees, as they have the ability to view speaker bios, download presentations and even stay up-to-date on last-minute room or time changes.
“Giving people the opportunity to have a paperless and fluid experience is huge,” Kufel says. She adds that such details can help prevent annually recurring events from becoming stale over time.
Another way to bring technology into an event’s sphere is through an LED wall, typically situated behind the speaker, says Kufel.
“It captures people’s attention and keeps the meeting lively and energetic,” she says, adding that the look of the display can be changed to highlight a certain brand, product or logo.
5. Add some flair
Once all the other items on the checklist have come together, it’s time to think about the smaller details, or the “extras.”
To ensure that an event shines, consider items such as high-quality linens, floral decorations, balloon arrangements, take-home gifts, a professional photographer or even a photo booth. When appropriate, the organizer can suggest a specialty cocktail, particularly one that plays up the theme of the event. The added flair can even stem from local elements.
“Working with a wide variety of event planners has allowed me to identify what separates wildly successful from just-OK events,” Mahon says. “Be thoughtful in creating engaging social events that showcase local venues.”
Beech adds, “Push the local stuff. I love Cleveland and being downtown, so we tie it in any way we can.”
This can be done in many ways. For instance, the event organizer can arrange for a coffee cart that features local brews or implement an ice cream stand starring a local creamery. Local-branded coffee sleeves and napkins can also help add the homegrown touch.
To tie in with Cleveland’s culture specifically, Campbell recommends incorporating items such as a chocolate guitar to celebrate Cleveland’s rock-and-roll history, or even adding to the tables Lifesaver candies, which were invented in Cleveland.