For many organisations, the task of planning the next event gets handed over to someone who is very busy with a lot of other pressing business needs, or is even delegated to an executive assistant. Either way, the most natural thing for either of these people to do is to start planning for the new event by reviewing the information about the company’s last conference. While this can feel like a great starting point, it has some built in weaknesses that may lead to a less-than-stellar event.
My advice? STOP! Before you read one more word of what last year’s conference planner did (or did not) do, take some time to get clear on the mission and vision behind the upcoming event itself.
If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always gotten
Long story short, the best way to plan an event is to treat it as if it is the FIRST time the event has ever happened. This way you can approach it with fresh eyes and make it something creative, inspiring, and engaging every single year.
If you’re thinking that sounds like too much extra work, and especially if you’re thinking that your conference is “just fine” and has always been “good enough”, here are a few signs that you could benefit from a stronger events strategy.
- Registrations have gradually decreased over the past few years, or tickets are just generally harder to sell
- Fewer sponsorship from businesses you’ve worked with in the past
- Finding that you’ve reused the same value proposition year after year
- General feedback that potential participants feel they’ve “already been to” your event
- Having a hard time generating “buzz” or interest
The honest truth is, sometimes too much of a good thing leads to something that is tired and feels a bit washed up. An event that was amazing five years ago just isn’t going to have that same WOW factor if you’ve essentially played it on repeat ever since it worked out well that first time.
If you want an amazing event, year after year, you have to be willing to ask yourself some of the bigger questions, such as:
- Do you really know why you’re delivering THIS conference?
- How does this event add value to your business, your delegates, your customers?
- What have you done to ensure that you really know what your attendees want? (One way to figure this out is to use post-conference surveys to inform next year’s planning!)
The point is, the best thing you can do for the success of your event is to take a good look at what you’re doing and how your conference is being delivered to the attendees. If they can’t identify the value they’re receiving, then your event strategy needs some tweaking!
This part of conference organising is what the Auaha team calls the strategic event planning phase. We love to partner up with you and help develop event strategies that your events team can then implement with confidence. (These strategy sessions surprise some people…often there is a misperception that we only take on entire events. Not true!)
If you know you have a team capable of taking on the actual event creation, we’re more than happy to sit down with you and develop a strong framework and sensible strategy that will make your event shine.
- A clear vision for WHY the event is happening, as well as how the event fits into your business model and contributes to outcomes
- A clear understanding of WHO your ideal delegate is and what they really want (and need) to gain from attending your event
- A stated event objective, such as education, skill building, networking, or incentive/offering
And guess what? When you’re able to clearly talk about those three simple (but vital) points, participation in your event becomes a no-brainer for both sponsors and attendees.
People genuinely want to attend events that will stimulate, awaken, and inspire. And your event can do all that and more! However, in order to continue serving this purpose year after year, you’re going to have to be willing to innovate and think fresh for each new event.
It also helps if you’re able to fully consider who your attendees are and what their experience is going to be. One way of doing this is to put yourself in their shoes as you plan out the programme. This includes considering their entire experience:
- How will they park and get into the event (do you need to have signs in areas that might be tricky to navigate for out-of-towners?)
- What does the time between doors opening and first session beginning offer? Never underestimate the power of great coffee and light refreshments here! Try to provide space for networking, make access to bathrooms easy, and set the tone with lighting, a automated slideshow presentation, or music.
- How will delegates spend their day? You must find a way to balance educational content and fun activities, as no one wants to sit in a chair from 9am to 5pm without a chance to move, speak, or mingle.
- What connections will your delegates make? Although some people are notorious for making new friends wherever they go, many find social networking difficult. How are you creating intentional moments to help all attendees connect and form new relationships? (Happy hour doesn’t count if it is your only plan for socialising!)
- Is technology necessary? Discouraged? Communicate clearly about supplies delegates should bring to the event, and try to provide a charging area if technology is encouraged.
- Printing handouts? Do your best to make one packet that can be handed out at once and used throughout the day (rather than many single handouts being passed out throughout the course of the day).
If you’re stuck, there is no need to guess. Ask your delegates what they want and they will tell you! (Do this after you’ve defined your ideal delegate and know who your target audience truly is, otherwise the responses you receive will only create confusion!)
And in the midst of all the other event planning elements, always remember the value of a great venue and carefully chosen food that is suited to the occasion.
Just because our strategy sessions don’t start here doesn’t mean they aren’t important!
At the end of they day, the best advice we can offer is to be intentional about each piece of your event, and make sure that the decisions you make are connected to the outcomes you are trying to reach. Always do your best to honour the time and energy your delegates have put into attending your event as well – it is as much about them as it is about you!
If you’re all jazzed up to get strategic with your event planning, we would love to hear about what your process looks like! If you love the idea but have no idea how to go about it, we’d love to hear from you. Event strategising is an Auaha speciality!
To get you started, we’ve got a FREE event planing worksheet for you to download below.
Mā te wā!
Event Director, Auaha