Whenever we plan an event, an in-depth meeting, a social gathering, or virtual experience Reach Partners will always argue for the same thing. Every time.
This thing is the most important detail for every planned interaction. It is the life blood of our work and what drives us to do better every day. Most importantly it’s the power, the energy that fuels the work at hand.
How do you tap into this energy? How do you make it work for you? Draw the right audience? Craft the right marketing activities? Align stakeholders? Create value?
You start by defining purpose.
From the exquisite gala to the unglamorous gathering, we spend a lot of time at Reach Partners researching and thinking about the unsung aspects of events.
One question we ask every single time we design an event is essential. Why will (or should) a person attend the event? Time is a rare and limited resource. If we want someone to spend precious minutes at our gathering or get-together, we better understand and communicate why they should do so.
At Reach, we always stress that purpose is the driver for any event. When that purpose is well defined, creatively and accurately articulated, it informs the language we use for everything else. It becomes part of the call to action – what we want our attendees to do.
How you will get people to an event, a gathering, or a meeting is very important. After all, if you can’t get people to your event, everything else is pointless. And the “how” sets the tone. To begin with, how you get people interested your gathering must be part of the communication plan. This helps to set and manage expectations, provides context, and builds excitement. Part of this plan includes a strong understanding how you will ask people to participate.
When we make that call to action, we also have choices. Simply, will our call to action be passive or active? When we ask people to attend, will we invite or recruit? Which method we choose sets up different expectations for the attendees – and those hosting the event.
Passive Request: An Invitation
Issuing an invitation is appropriate for many events. This is the typical request where the host wants and encourages your presence, your attendance, or your participation. The main distinction is the event is not specifically for you. You are most certainly a valued guest, but the host is the one who gets the most out of your participation.
In these cases where the event is most meaningful to the host (think: wedding or party, fundraiser, marketing event or activity, awards ceremony, or even a football game) the attendee’s purpose is to witness, observe, demonstrate loyalty, or give.
Of course, the attendee likely will (and should!) absorb some benefits from attending. Maybe he or she expands their network, learns a new skill, enjoys a nice meal, or earns bragging rights for being part of something big. That said, the attendee is called to something and that call is passive.
Some common passive forms of invitation are social media or traditional media campaigns, broadcast email, direct mail, postcards, and invitations.
Active Request: A Recruitment
When recruited to an event or gathering, you are called for something (active).
This is quite different compared to an invitation. Recruitment suggests the event is first meaningful to the attendee. Its relevance to the audience is customized for the recruited. Some examples: networking, board meetings, learning and training.
In these cases, the host recruits a person specifically. He or she has skills, experiences, funds, or assets that will contribute to the success of an event, gathering, or meeting.
Some active forms of recruitment include a phone call, a handwritten note, bespoke email campaign, direct marketing, or an application. Whatever form it takes, recruitment is personal and personalized. It’s a tailored effort to get that special person involved.
The important thing to remember is that whether you invite or recruit is irrelevant. What matters is that as an event planner or organizer you are intentional about your choice. It sets the stage for everything else to come.
Every time we facilitate or manage an off-site meeting or event, we bring a lot with us.
Our vehicles are usually packed with necessities like centerpieces, easels, easel pads, signage, folders, programs, our documents . . . you name it.
Arguably, one of the most valuable items we haul is our trusty Husky toolbox.
It took us a while to realize we needed a container where we could prepack all the small office supplies one needs or might need when away from their office. We had been making do by grabbing a scissors from a desk and Post-it notes from the supply cabinet. But then we’d forget to return the scissors to the right person, and Linda wondered where her stapler was. And don’t even get us started on how much time it took to pack those items. Every. Single. Time.
If you regularly hold events away from the office, you never know when you might need a scissors or an extra roll of tape. Yes, course, you could ask someone at the conference center if you could borrow theirs. Or you could make a last-minute run to a store. But it’s less time-consuming and less stressful if you know exactly where yours is. Plus it builds credibility when someone says, “I need a Sharpie,” and you can practically hand them one before they finish the sentence.
So, up your game and bring your own supplies. You’ll be the hero.
You can pack office supplies in any container. We use an actual toolbox because it has a comfortable, heavy duty handle for carrying. It also closes with latches so that small items don’t fall out during transport. But a clear storage tub of any size would work.
Use smaller clear storage containers within the tool box (or larger tub) to keep things organized and easy to find. If you own a label maker (because really, who doesn’t?!), be sure to label each storage container so you can easily identify items and see those that need to be restocked.
While you could use opaque storage containers, clear ones make it much easier to see what is inside without opening each container. Time saver!
What you include in your toolbox depends on where the event or meeting is held. For example, you may add sunscreen and bug spray to the kit if you’re hosting an outdoor event.
But here’s a list of some standard supplies that can be prepacked and ready to go without too much preparation:
We love having these supplies ready to go at a moment’s notice. A quick review before an off-site event and we’re prepared for the unexpected. Our biggest challenge is remembering to restock items after every use.
Happy supply packing!
Once the last event attendee has left and the vendors have packed up, go ahead and put your feet up.
Only for a minute or two, though.
The event may be done, but that doesn’t mean the work of an event planner is complete. Every event should include an evaluation or survey that helps you determine whether the event accomplished what you set out to do.
Consider evaluations your reality check. They confirm whether you’ve done what you wanted to do and help improve your next event or program.
After all, we don’t plan events or programs for ourselves or because we’ve always done it. Events fall flat if the participants didn’t learn anything or didn’t enjoy the day. If you’ve done your homework and established a great strategy, you’ll want to know what participants thought.
This can be easier said than done. After all, we want to know everything: What lessons did we learn? Where can we improve? Did we meet participants’ expectations?
The more I research why and how to evaluate, the more I realize how overwhelming it can be. It’s equal parts science and art. To start, as planners we want to evaluate measurable outcomes.
Easy Ways to Ask
One of the easiest ways I’ve found to evaluate an event or program is by using a Net Promotor Score (NPS). Many software and product companies use this method for feedback, but it’s relevant for gathering input from event participants, too.
NPS is a simple one-question, 10-point scale survey with an option for participants to add comments. Essentially, you ask participants how likely they are to recommend your event to friends and colleagues on a scale of 0 to 10. There’s a formula for calculating your overall score, but the higher the number, the more likely your event was a success.
An NPS score won’t be helpful in all situations. If you have specific goals, be sure to ask questions related directly to those. For example, if your goal was to attract women between the ages of 30 and 45, gather demographic information in your survey. If you promised your sponsors that participants would become more involved in your community after attending the program, ask participants whether that is happening.
Some common survey questions:
When and How to Gather
It’s best to get feedback while the activity is fresh for the participant. (Of course, you need to have your survey ready to go before the event takes place. This isn’t the time to procrastinate.) Consider asking attendees to fill out a short survey at intermission or between topic changes during an in-depth seminar. Send a survey by email the morning or evening after a day-long conference.
Evaluations can happen in person, in writing or by email. Interview parents while kids are occupied with an activity. When the event is done, collect a written survey placed in the program. Send a survey a day or two later by email.
Be sure to ask participants, planners, and committee members to respond to your evaluation. Keep in mind that the separate surveys may need to be sent to each of these distinct groups. After all, you may want to gather different information from each of these groups. They all view the event from a different perspective and deserve to be heard.
No, your event isn’t done until your post-event evaluation is. Embrace the feedback and make your next event even better.
Every milestone deserves a good celebration.
For its 20th anniversary, Aldevron wanted to host a party for employees and their families after its annual all-staff meeting.
But the Fargo company’s staff were stretched to meet the daily demands of a quickly growing firm in the biotech field. To throw the fun celebration they imagined without adding pressure on full-time employees, they needed additional support.
Ellen Shafer, senior director of marketing and communications, contacted Reach Partners about two months before the event.
“She needed someone she could trust to handle the details,” says Rachel Asleson, co-owner of Reach Partners.
Staff had already identified the framework for the celebration – an open-house picnic with family-friendly activities. Reach Partners managed the details of the day.
We established the best way to layout the elements and served as a liaison between the event vendors – audio-visual professionals, caterers, entertainers, etc. – and Aldevron staff. We identified vendors, managed the contracts, and confirmed everything was set up as planned. If a contractor had questions or needs on the day of the event, we served as the point of contact.
We also established a process for tracking RSVPs.
While we hovered in the background, the work we did ensured that the day’s activities rolled smoothly. More than 275 people attended.
“Thank you for jumping in on such short notice, working with me and the team, and helping with all details to make a great event,” Ellen wrote to us afterwards. “Your management of the day gave me the peace of mind to take care of what I needed to take care of.”
A year later we received the best compliment of all – a request to help again with the all-employee picnic. This time the celebration coincided with a ground-breaking event for Aldevron’s newest facility in Fargo.
We are always grateful when we can help our partners focus on the daily demands of their work while we take care of the details that make one-time or occasional events run smoothly.
What We Delivered:
Planning an event or activity takes time and coordination. From the moment the brainstorming starts until the last attendee leaves, you need to know what’s going on and keep track of the details.
We believe in – and practice – documentation. Lots of it. We track everything leading up to the event welcome and detail the day of the activity until the last swag bag is grabbed.
Why? If you don’t write it down, you forget. And it becomes even more challenging to make sure a group of staff, volunteers, stakeholders, and others are on the same page.
It’s true. Every event is different. But these documents can help your gathering run smoothly.
By no means, do we consider this list exhaustive. Nor do you need to incorporate each of these tools into every event. Give them a try!
This won’t be a big surprise to many of you, but we love conferences and big events.
Yes, it’s true that we enjoy organizing them. We also enjoy attending them.
After all, you can gather information by watching online videos or reading about the latest industry trends via article or book. However, nothing replaces the face-to-face interactions that happen when people gather for a specific purpose.
When you attend a shared event or conference, you have opportunities to connect with others. You may gather new insight or hear a different perspective. When done right, conferences are energizing. You will walk away with at least a few tips that can make your personal or professional life stronger.
That said, every successful conference requires you to put forth some effort.
Here’s how you can make the most out of your time at a large event or gathering.
Before the Conference or Event
Enjoy your next conference or event!
With a 150th anniversary approaching, leaders in Otter Tail County knew they had a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to celebrate the region’s history and culture. People were excited and passionate about getting involved in the milestone event, but that enthusiasm came with a price tag.
“The more ideas there were, the more opportunities there were for things to get chaotic,” says Nick Leonard, communications and external relations director for the county.
Key stakeholders including the Otter Tail County Historical Society and the Otter Tail Lakes County Association established a planning committee for the sesquicentennial, but the group needed someone to serve as a single point person for communication and project management.
Reach Partners stepped in, helping with event strategy and support.
The committee established a budget and goals for the celebration. Anita from Reach Partners helped to keep these things on track.
“She knew when to dig deeper and ask questions, and when to challenge the group,” Leonard says. “Thanks to her, we stayed hyper-focused on our plans.”
While the committee wanted to promote the region, it decided the 150th was an opportunity to celebrate all who live, work and play in the county. The committee met monthly to identify and plan events. Major events for the celebration included a musical production written for the anniversary, an ice-themed winter gathering, and a historical reenactment of the first county commission meeting. Other events included community walking tours and historical displays.
Events were held over the span of a year and throughout the geographically expansive county, but planning started months earlier.
“There were a lot of moving parts,” Anita says. “These are people who love their county and they wanted to celebrate.”
To help the group stay on task, Anita created agendas for each meetings. She identified logistics that needed to be addressed for the major events. She also managed a micro-grant program that offered support for community projects that promoted Otter Tail County and its history.
Planning and coordinating numerous events can be stressful and time intensive, especially for staff who don’t do this regularly. Asking Reach Partners, which has the expertise and experience, to take on this role was an easy choice, Leonard says.
“Planning a big event is one of the most visible things you do as an organization. It leaves a lasting impression on people. You want to make sure it’s done well,” Leonard says.
PHOTO CREDITS: Dan Broten. All photos were taken at Otter Tail County's 150th anniversary kick-off event.
If you’ve ever planned a large event, you know how hard it is to determine how many volunteers or staff you’ll need to make the event run smoothly. So, you turn to your good friend Google and find out that the general recommendation is one (1) staff member per 50 to 100 attendees.
Great. But, that’s a broad generalization, and it’s critical that you get the number right. After all, if you understaff an event, your attendees will suffer. And if you over-staff, it will cost you money or sour a valuable relationship. You don’t want your volunteers feeling unappreciated because they’re standing around doing nothing.
To figure out the appropriate number of staff – either paid or volunteer -- you need to start by being clear on what needs to be covered and for how long.
For example, a registration desk is usually a busy place at the start of a conference or event. You may need several people to help when everyone arrives during the same half hour. But once the rush is over, you may only need one individual to handle late-comers or to serve as an information desk where attendees can get their questions answered. The other volunteers or staff can be assigned a new task.
Take time to identify every job that needs to be covered and for how long. Here’s one way to do it:
Where: The lobby
What time: Arrive at 7:00 a.m. and be ready to start at 7:15 a.m. Finish at 9:30 a.m.
Role or duties: Welcome attendees, capture attendee data for onsite registration, assist attendees at iPad kiosks, provide event information to attendees, distribute agendas and notebooks, encourage attendees to register for post-event training.
Some common roles at events:
Now, determine who can fill those roles. If you’re hosting a company-sponsored event, you may rely on employees to serve in familiar roles. For example, you may ask your communications director to serve as a liaison to media and to oversee social media for the day.
You might ask an employee to do something different than what they normally do. For example, your payroll specialist may be asked to host one of your speakers. Don’t get too caught up on titles as long as it’s clear what needs to be done. And don’t be afraid to ask someone to serve in one area while it’s busy, and then do something else once the rush is over.
Assign one-point person for every event area. An area can be a geographical space or a category, such as event program, refreshments, vendors. That point person might have an assistant or even an assistant to the assistant (as one client, who was having a bit of fun, once recommended). This point person is important so that volunteers and other staff know whom to contact if there are issues.
In addition, map out a clear chain of command among everyone onsite. Collect names and cell phone numbers so you know how to reach people.
One helpful hint: walkie-talkies can be valuable communications tools for staff and/or point people when an event is large (either by space or number of attendees). Cell phones are great, but may not always work well in situations where people may have their ringers off or where coverage is spotty.
By defining roles and identifying the right people, you’re well on your way to making sure everything runs as smoothly as possible.
Later this month, Anita will be attending an event featuring Rachel Hollis, author of the best-selling book “Girl, Wash Your Face.”
Hollis has been a hot ticket for our local chamber’s Women Connect anniversary. So big, that the event quickly sold out. Anita, and many others, were placed on a waiting list.
To accommodate growing demand for tickets, the Chamber of Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo quickly decided to move the event to a larger venue. More people could hear the author AND celebrate Women Connect. Woo-hoo!
A sold-out event is every event planner’s dream, right? If all the tickets are gone, you’ve planned an event that people want to attend. If all the tickets are gone, you’ve likely covered your costs.
But sell-outs come with their own set of challenges.
When you sell out a day or two before an event you have one option: congratulate yourself on good budgeting as you keep plugging away at the last minute details you need to complete to pull it off.
But when sell-outs happen with time to spare, you – like the Chamber – have some decisions to make.
To our extreme pleasure, we have sold out an event, twice. The first time, it happened three weeks before the event. The second time, 11 days before.
Both times we were faced with two options: 1. Open a bottle of champagne and celebrate the fact that we had a strong plan of action and our event would go on as planned; or 2. Pour a cup of coffee, grab a pencil, and consider how to accommodate more people.
Adjustments can mean a variety of considerations from the extreme – secure a new venue or add another day – to the less drastic change of furniture or room layout. Each carries additional questions that relate to settings, seating, menu, budget, staffing, and materials.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you make those decisions:
Don’t sell out strategy. Before changing an event, circle back to your strategy. Why did you want to host the event in the first place? To make money? Connect people? Educate? Go through your strategy and think through how all, not just the additional, people will be served.
Do the math. All of it. How many additional tickets do you need to sell to make financial sense of the added work it takes to reconfigure the setting for new seating and additional menu items, the material and staff time? Will everyone get what they paid for?
Consider the time. Do you have enough time and energy to pull it off? Do you have enough staff to manage the day with additional people? Can you order and ship more give-aways for the swag bag? Can you print more materials for the packet? Do you have time to construct additional custom birch-bark name badges?
Consider the place. Sure, maybe you CAN fit 75 more people in the back of the room, but really, SHOULD you make them stand?
Carry the torch. Don’t forget about messages! Can you quickly create a new plan to clearly communicate the new order? Do you need to create additional signs or activities to maximize your space or guide people to the new meeting place?
Congratulations, you’ve sold out! Take a moment to enjoy the success and then make your next move strategic.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This blog is adapted from one that originally ran in March 2015.