Managing Conferences and Events
Planning Successful Events
Today, we can communicate directly with customers, suppliers, and industry experts using platforms like Twitter®, Facebook®, and LinkedIn®; and we can talk and share information using VoIP and webinars.
With options like these at our fingertips, why should we go to the effort and expense of hosting a customer event or conference?
Live events might seem old-fashioned in an increasingly-virtual world. However, they can still provide a powerful and effective way to improve customer relationships, build loyalty, strengthen your reputation, and create a buzz around your products or services.
In this article, we'll look at the benefits of hosting a customer event or conference. We'll also look at a step-by-step approach that you can use to plan and deliver a successful event.
The Benefits of Live Events
Face-to-face events provide an excellent way of fostering personal relationships with customers and suppliers.
Well-organized events can strengthen your brand and build loyalty, increase sales, and generate referrals. They also give you the opportunity to connect personally with customers or suppliers, and build community awareness.
These events can also help you network with customers or industry experts, work on your own professional development, and share ideas; plus, the unplanned connections you make can lead to innovation, opportunities, and important partnerships.
In some countries or regions, hosting an event may be seen as bribery, particularly if it seems extravagant – take care with this. Also, ensure that any gifts you hand out during the event are appropriate, and that they won’t violate anti-bribery laws in your own or your clients' state, country, or region.
Types of Events
When you plan an event, it's important to be imaginative. Events and conferences can be educational, with public speakers and classes; or fun, such as an outdoor cookout for customers, suppliers, and employees.
- A cellphone company hosts a "thank you" event for members of its teenage target market. The company organizes several competitions by text message, and it gives away free smartphones to winners.
- A mortgage company organizes an event to educate potential buyers about the costs and responsibilities of home ownership. There are guest speakers, workshops, and hands-on projects. Company representatives are on hand to assist customers with mortgage applications.
- A luxury car manufacturer invites existing customers to a weekend-long VIP event at an upscale resort. The company unveils its latest model, and it encourages attendees to test drive the vehicle on a professional track.
- A trade organization hosts a three-day conference to share information on the latest trends, upcoming changes, and industry-related news. Companies and suppliers rent booths and inform people about their product and services, and several high-profile keynote speakers headline the event.
- A pizza restaurant organizes a free event to promote its new takeout service. The company serves food from its menu, and it gives customers the chance to create their own pizzas. Each person who works in the restaurant is on hand to meet customers, and to promote their new service.
As you can see, there are many creative possibilities for your event. Keep an open mind as you brainstorm ideas, and come up with a theme that's fun, relevant, and unique.
Planning and Execution
It takes time, effort, and good project management skills to plan and organize a successful event. Visit our project management section to discover tools you can use to improve these skills.
Follow the steps below to plan and execute a successful conference or customer event.
Step 1: Identify Your Objective or Goal
The first and most important step in planning a successful event is to think carefully about why you want to host it. You need to set a meaningful goal, and use it to guide your decisions.
Do you want to say "thank you" to your customers? Educate potential clients or suppliers about your organization? Build a rapport with existing customers? Attract new clients? Create buzz about new products? Network with industry experts? Or train your team?
Because events require such a big investment of time, money, and energy, make sure that running the event is the best way to achieve your objectives, before you proceed.
Step 2: Identify Your Target Market
Once you've identified your goals, think carefully about your guest list. Typically, you'll invite your target customers, but you can also use events to reach out to potential employees, existing suppliers, potential business partners, or other groups that are important to your business.
Step 3: Choose a Time and Venue
Your event's time and location will have a big impact on how many people attend.
When you choose a venue, look at the options from your guests' perspective. Make sure that the location is safe and well-lit, with plenty of parking and good accessibility. To encourage attendance, hold the event in a popular, easy-to-travel-to location, near public transportation hubs.
The venue also needs to align with your brand, target market, and event goals. For example, if you want to target high-earning executives, you should choose a location that reflects this, and that will appeal to this group of people.
Take time to brainstorm the hurdles that people might have to overcome to attend, and come up with a strategy to address each one. Remember, you want to make it as easy as possible for people to attend your event.
Make sure that you have several potential dates and times for your event, so that you have an alternative if your first choice is unavailable. Avoid national or regional holidays, and check that no other major events (such as a sports championship or a competitor's conference) are scheduled for the same day.
Step 4: Plan Your Budget
Costs can spiral out of control when you don't stick to a budget. So, think about how much you can afford to spend on this event, and ask yourself if this spend will allow you to achieve your objectives.
Start by brainstorming the basic theme of your event: will it be high-end, educational, or fun? Get estimates for the price of booking the venue and guest speakers, and the costs of catering, furniture/material rentals, and security (if applicable).
If you aim to generate revenue (such as with ticket or product sales), include approximate figures in the budget to offset costs. Be as specific as possible in your estimates, and leave a comfortable cushion for unplanned expenses or emergencies.
Step 5: Plan the Experience
What type of experience do you want your attendees to have? And what will people do, learn, or take away from the event? Think about whether you should include the following:
- Keynote speakers.
- Product demonstrations.
- Games or competitions.
- Round-table debates.
- Hands-on workshops.
- Appetizers, dinners, or drinks.
- Coaching or mentoring sessions.
Depending on the nature of your business, you may want to consider one-on-one events. In one survey, 91 percent of respondents felt that attending or hosting an event with preplanned, one-on-one appointments made it more valuable for guests, and for the organization's stakeholders.
Be creative, and try to add an element of fun to spark interest. For example, could you partner with other businesses to create a unique experience for your target market?
If your event is educational, consider using a webinar or virtual platform to include people from different cultures and locations. Engage these attendees with live chats or video feeds.
If you decide to serve food at your event, ensure that you respect cultural and religious variations. Also, offer gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan options to accommodate those with special dietary requirements. To help plan ahead, ask guests to indicate their preferences when they RSVP.
Step 6: Promote
Use sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube® to promote your event. You can also advertise it on your organization's website or blog, in trade magazines, or through targeted emails or newsletters.
As you organize your guest list and send out invitations, do realize that only a small proportion of people will be able to attend – sometimes 20 percent of your target audience, or even much lower. You may have to invite a lot of people to get the attendance you want!
There are a number of online event-planning checklists that you can use, alongside this article, to plan and promote your event. These often include a timeline of steps that you should take at specific stages before the event.
During the Event
If you're the host, arrive at the venue with plenty of time available to supervise the setup, deal with any problems, and ensure that everything is properly organized.
As guests arrive, greet them personally and thank them for attending. Station people near the door to take coats, pass out drinks and hors-d'oeuvres, and answer any questions that guests have. Remember, your goal is to make people feel comfortable and welcome as soon as they arrive – after all, you want to ensure that everyone has a great experience!
If you have handouts, gifts, or other promotional materials, don't give them to guests when they arrive, as they may not want to carry them around. Set up a table near the exit with these materials, or pass them out later in the event.
If you want your guests to attend a lecture or training session that's longer than 15 or 20 minutes, make sure that chairs and refreshments are available. Create effective presentation visuals, so that guests can engage with what they're learning, and read our article on Delivering a Great Presentation, so that you can run informative, interesting sessions.
After the event, get feedback from all attendees. You could send out a questionnaire, comment card, email, letter, or survey. Thank guests for coming, and invite them to share what they liked and disliked about the event. Their feedback will help you measure the success of your efforts, and improve future events.
With the time it takes to plan and organize an event, it can be easy to forget why you wanted to host it in the first place. Things can change during the planning process, people can get swept up in the excitement of the event, and you can lose sight of your overall goal. Use Benefits Management to make sure that the event meets expectations, and provides the benefits you expect.
You can use online services like Eventbrite®, EventSpot®, and Eventzilla® to plan, organize, and promote your events. These services help you sell tickets, track RSVPs, and communicate with registered attendees.
In today's virtual world, a conference or customer event might not seem to be worth the time or expense. But these events can be powerful tools to help you build customer loyalty, attract new markets, and increase sales.
As you start to plan your event, define a clear objective. This will guide decision making, and it will help you ensure that the event stays true to your goals. Identify your target market, and choose an appropriate venue that makes it easy for guests to attend.
During the event, do your best to greet all guests and thank them for coming. After the event, follow up with a thank you letter or email, and ask for feedback.