Putting together a strategy for a corporate event can be intimidating, even in the best of times. The past few years have certainly made event planning even more complicated — especially with the global coronavirus pandemic, technological advancements for meetings, and increased competition for events. In the midst of all the elements of planning, it can be easy to overlook the goals of an event.
We can help you break through the chaos of event planning to focus on what matters most. Our years of experience helping industry leaders conceptualize and manage successful events has allowed us to create our own proven, concrete approach to corporate event planning. We’re sharing our tips with you in a two-part blog series.
In this post, we’ll cover how to determine your agenda and goals, create your overall message, and how to keep attendees engaged throughout the event.
Our second post in the series digs deeper into the individual presentations and how to make them engaging for your audience.
Successful corporate event planning is a team effort, so finding the right team is essential. You’ll need to break down planning into phases, plus engage with subject matter experts and key stakeholders throughout each phase.
Early on, you’ll need a team who can develop a common strategy and objectives, during the preparation phase you’ll need messaging and tactical experts, and as the event gets closer, engage with those who execute and manage logistics, as well as marketing and sales for lead generation. After the event, you’ll work closely with your data team to measure and evaluate the various elements of the conference.
Regardless of which team you assemble, attention to detail is crucial for each member to pull off a successful event.
As you build out an agenda for you event, think first about four pillars of any event: a welcome/kickoff, an opening keynote, a celebration, and a closing keynote.
As you think about each of these event hallmarks, when done successfully each use emotion to evoke a connection among attendees and help them remember their experience in the years to come.
As part of the planning process, you and the team will want to set goals for the conference and clearly communicate them to attendees, so they know what to expect. The goals for the conference should align with your company or organization’s overall strategic goals, but should also be relevant to the people who have paid to attend. People will be more likely to be satisfied, return to future events and will be more productive in breakout sessions. Identifying goals early can also help with the planning process because it gives you a single source of truth when making key decisions later when it comes to content, marketing, sales, and presentations.
In addition to developing your event goals, make sure you take the time to contextualize your goals for the audience, ensuring the topic is relevant for the target audience. Every time you touch upon your event’s message, make sure it’s either highlighting your key points from a new angle, offering additional insight, or providing actionable ways to live the message.
While it’s essential to keep corporate or organizational goals in mind when planning an event, it’s equally as important to consider attendee goals. Your event was compelling enough to get attendees to register and plan to attend, but you must try to live up to those expectations in the form of a quality experience.
Plus, if you want your attendees to come back for future events, you want to meet their objectives and make it memorable. Everyone is different, but through our experience planning and executing corporate events, most people are looking to do some combination of the following: learn something new, stay up to date on trends, network and meet new people, generate leads for their organization, or learn about new companies and solutions.
Not sure which of those is most important to your attendees? Or if they have different goals entirely? When in doubt, ask them! You can get creative with gathering attendee feedback before, during and after the event. Many software tools exist to help collective feedback from attendees in an interactive way.
We all live in a world where concerns about COVID exist in some form, and with safety recommendations and regulations constantly changing, the biggest question is often: what type of event should we have? We recommend asking the following questions as you plan to make the best decision for your organization. Check out our full blog post on this topic.
People’s standards are EXTREMELY high for contactless experiences at in-person events; a recent study showed that 82% of people expect much of their life to involve contactless experiences in 2021 and beyond. Can you meet or exceed their expectations, using QR codes, pre-registration, contactless payment, pre-arranged seating charts, safe food handling, socially distanced networking, outstanding tech, AND human support for any problems? If not, go virtual.
From kindergarteners to senior citizens, we’ve all learned how to have meetings, celebrations, conferences, and even funerals online. But that doesn’t mean it’s your target audience’s preferred choice. Is it essential that attendees interact in person? Are your products inherently tactile? If the answers are yes, your target audience is deeply invested in having in-person experiences and will probably find ways to get to your event. However, if the answers are no, if your targets are comfortable with technology — or if they tend to keep to themselves at conferences — then you can confidently offer them a great virtual experience instead.
Creating distance learning for 10,000 people is a lot harder than for 1,000. So size alone may be a determining factor. But if your target size is huge and your event will be in person, consider segmenting them. Maybe you can offer live options to one subset, but virtual options to others. Or split your event into several targeted, smaller events, to reduce fears about gathering in large numbers.
Make sure that your vaccination policy is clear and that your protocols can be easily viewed by potential participants. You don’t want anyone to be surprised or confrontational at the door of your event. And have a plan in place for what you will do if someone shows up and refuses to show proof of vaccination; again, make sure that plan is clearly stated on all your marketing and registration materials.
Consider what you’ve offered in the past, or what you hope to offer this year, and consider the response by your target audience. Did what you offered in previous years generate lots of leads or conversations? Then stick with the in-person formula you know works. If the response was mediocre, you’ve got little to lose by trying something new and shifting online … and maybe a ton to gain.
Each event type has its pros and cons, but once you’ve chosen your route, it’s important to optimize the event based on the unique challenges of each type.
As an event planner, your job is to embody a quote from British actor Michael Caine: “Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.” This is certainly true as pandemic restrictions and concerns have changed throughout 2021 and 2022. Our three biggest guidelines:
Many people are traumatized by the events surrounding the pandemic. Psychologists and social scientists warn that people are struggling to readjust to in-person social interactions. Expect awkwardness and discomfort as we continue to re-enter the world and attend in-person events.
Check out the full blog for more details on planning in-person events in 2021 and beyond.
So how do you make your virtual event stand out — and be worth the cost — when your target audience has recently enjoyed content for free? How to leave attendees happy with their experience.
Looking for more info on virtual events? Check out the entire blog on this topic.
Hybrid events generally refer to a trade show, conference, seminar, or workshop that combines both elements of an in-person and virtual event. Growing in popularity, hybrid events are a creative way to include more people to attend who may have budgetary, health, or safety reasons for not traveling.
We’ve developed five tips to help you has you plan a hybrid event for your organization.
Want to create your own hybrid event? Our blog on the topic can give you more info on building one.
Once you’ve determined your team, agenda, goals, and event type, next you can determine your event’s central message, keeping your company and audience goals in mind. Once you have your message set, help make it relevant through the speakers, topics, and activities. Lastly, find a memorable way to close the event, hopefully leaving your audience inspired by your content.
Before you can create a truly memorable, successful event, you must ask and answer the question, “What do we want our guests to remember?” Your answer will guide you in setting the right tone for the event, from your opening presentation through the closing session.
Choosing a focused message isn’t an easy task, but one that’s possible with careful consideration and research. What you’ll need:
As you develop your speaker list, you’ll want to ensure they are relevant to the overarching message and theme of the event, but don’t forget to look for people who are relatable and personable as well. The best events have an authenticity and human connection, which draws directly from the speakers.
We’ve all attended events with a big name draw who ends up being less interesting when they’re giving a speech in front of a crowd. And we’ve likely wandered into a random session and been blown away by someone lesser known with a great message and delivery.
Our events experts have attended countless events in-person and virtually, and we’ve compiled the best qualities to look for in potential speakers. Look for speakers who do the following:
Humor makes people relatable, and jokes help audience members relax. Of course, any humor used needs to be appropriate for a professional audience, so get a second opinion on any jokes, and when in doubt, leave it out.
The safest types of jokes at corporate events are self-deprecating, as they humanize the speaker while making someone who’s highly accomplished seem more like the rest of us.
Move through the crowd or bring members of the audience to the stage to personalize things. Add online interactivity through official event hashtags and build excitement before the opening by sharing content online.
To further personalize things, highlight the stories of people at the event. Bring partners and customers on stage to tell their story or show how you helped them directly. Post snapshots of people (with their permission) to your event’s social accounts.
When you share the stories from real customers and partners, it sends a signal to your audience that you actively care about them and want to engage with them.
While you have everyone gathered at your signature event, give your audience a chance to offer their thoughts on relevant topics. Learn from your community what they need to know, so you can build your next event to better serve them.
Create opportunities to get feedback throughout the event, whether it’s before the event, during the sessions and breakouts, or after the closing session. Audience members can help you determine which speakers to bring back or add to the roster, learn more about food and facilities, and find out if your central message resonated.
A feeling of community lasts long after an event. How can you capture it in between events, to remind people of the powerful experience they had?
Often, community spirit becomes a happy memory for past attendees that could drive them to participate in a future event with your organization.
As event planners, we always have certain information we want attendees to take away, but beyond those specifics, we also want people enjoy themselves. Ideally, conference goers should leave with a positive feelings, which helps increase the chance they’ll attend additional events in the future and/or continue their relationship with your organization in some way. One way to make that happen is to create opportunities for surprises and fun for guests.
Great events not only impress those who attend, they build up your public image and position you as an influencer within your industry. They go beyond updates, advocacy, or product premieres. They endure —and they truly motivate and inspire those in attendance. Some become legends like South by Southwest or the Sundance Film Festival.
Every event represents a chance to build your public image for employees, partners, clients, customers, and press. They are marketing and sales opportunities as well as chances to cultivate thought leadership or build your relationship within the community. By making your event bold while you’ve got media attention, you can extend your influence and reach.
Your audience won’t connect with or be inspired by your event if it isn’t relevant to their immediate concerns — if it doesn’t speak to the larger zeitgeist.
Inspiration can be both personal and universal, stirring emotions to drive action. Using emotion within an event can create a strong memory in the brain. Step back and think about an important memory for you, say a personal milestone or a time you felt proud of your work on a difficult project. When you think back, it’s not the little details that are prominent in your mind. You might not remember what you were wearing, or even what you worked so hard to accomplish. But you remember how you felt.
To inspire your audience, you need to reach them emotionally, using different notes and tactics throughout the event. Your role is like a conductor who calls on different players to use their instruments at the right moment, pulling together the orchestra to create something beautiful.
To maximize the impression you make on your audience and ignite that spark of inspiration, look for opportunities to inspire and create an emotional connection. The emotions that stay with us the longest are those of surprise, delight, community, and inclusion.
Audiences often respond positively to a surprise or a break in the routine throughout an event. Bring in a musician to lighten up the mood after a long, productive day, or break up that post-lunch slump with an unannounced guest speaker who is prominent in your field. If you don’t have the budget to hire a highly paid speaker, consider a hands-on event or bring in a local artist or entertainer to amplify the mood.
Anyone who attends an event develops an impression over time that’s shaped by how they feel on the first day, who they meet at sessions or during coffee breaks, and who speaks in keynotes and breakout sessions. An often-overlooked contribution to the overall impression is how you close out an event.
Events often end with a keynote from a prominent speaker and/or company representative. Make that last presentation one to remember and inspire attendees to join for future events.
Consider including a big surprise to close out the event, which could be a star guest speaker or a valuable perk like free products or services. If people don’t feel an incentive to stay for the entire event (whether it’s in person or virtual) chances are you’ll have some attrition as the week goes on. It’s a missed opportunity when someone leaves an event early because they aren’t getting everything they were promised or see your company as less valuable than they once did.
As you bring your event to a close, the last day should continue to touch on the overall themes and hook your audience with call to action for after the event.
An outstanding event doesn’t have to require a large budget or star talent. However, it takes a lot of hard work, knowledge, practice, and commitment. The strategies we’ve outlined in this post are drawn from extensive experience helping clients plan and execute successful events. With these tips, you are set up well to plan an event that connects, inspires, and influences your audience.
Once you’ve created your overall event strategy, the next step is planning out individual presentations for your key leadership. The second blog in the series covers all the dos and don’ts for creating the best presentation for your event.