Sam Griffiths, from our third-party event management team, shares her top tips for creating a successful, memorable event.
Planning a conference, or any event for that matter, is often seen as an arduous task – a chore, even. First of all, there’s the months’ worth of planning (usually squeezed into weeks), budgets to stick to (despite escalating expectations – and costs), umpteen minute details to think about (when all that ultimately matters is getting the right message across), sleepless nights sitting bolt upright, panicking that you haven’t ordered the table cloths yet or, shudder to think, the award that needs to be handed over during the final speech.
Personally, I love organising events. It suits my natural methodical and pragmatic style of operating, and being face-to-face with clients, and it gives me an overwhelming sense of achievement to see the event unfold for real.
Luckily, there are a bunch of similarly-minded people here at Freshwater, and we all bring our various and copious skills and experiences to the table to make sure we deliver exceptional events.
With this in mind, we’ve put together a few of the key essentials we think you need to consider to make sure your event goes down a storm.
Always think of your audience when you’re planning the entry, circulation and seating arrangements. Are there people with mobility issues? Sight impaired delegates with a guide dog? What will perceptions be as delegates move around the event space? What journey are they going on?
You always need to think about what the delegates’ experience will be. That then needs to be thought about in terms of the client’s aims, and the space tweaked to make sure the two match. Something as simple as moving a row of chairs to make more space for a guide dog to get through will make a space feel well-thought-out, and make life easier for that person. It is impossible to please everyone at all times, but fine-tuning a space to meet an audience’s needs is imperative.
For one project we worked on, when designing an exhibition area displaying a timeline of a building project, we encompassed some LED under-lit seating to add another dimension to the journey and give people a place to sit and discuss the project with other attendees. This meant that dwell time around the exhibition was extended and people were able to build partnerships and network.
The audio-visual set up can make or break an event. From colour-changing effects in the lobby areas, to the video animation as people walk in to the conference auditorium, these must be designed to take people on a desired journey. For example, using a colour wheel to cognitively drive creativity in a workshop space, or having daylight flooding into the catering area.
We recently designed a stage lighting scheme for a large policy making conference and were required to have different colour schemes for the different stages of the conference. For example, while the motions were being proposed, while the voting was taking place and while the keynote speeches were being made. Each state was to be bold and frame the topic being discussed to reinforce the image of an innovative and forward-thinking organisation. Alongside this, there was an animation based on building blocks that came together to form a beacon inspiring change. It always amazes me that, even if I’ve been part of the process that has seen the designs come together from scratch, I am always still so drawn in by it all!
The communication element takes on many forms. From making sure your marketing is spot-on, to ensuring attendees know the location and timings, it is important to maintain regular and informative communications.
Nowadays, there are plenty of platforms that can really help you engage with people. One campaign that we are especially proud of is the Wales True Taste awards, which saw us roll out a multi-channel approach to increase entries and awareness of the awards.
And you mustn’t forget the simpler communications, too, as this is how you put people at ease as by knowing what to expect on the day. Where to go, what to wear, who will be there – these are all things that will be on your attendees’ minds and, in some cases, will be the cause of some anxiety.
Don’t forget the small details
Always keep the big picture as your main focus, and prioritise your list of things that need doing, but adding finer details to your event will add to the perceived value for the attendees.
Most delegates at a conference will have at least two electronic devices to contend with and these will frequently run out of battery, so having plenty of sockets around means that delegates will be able to remain in contact with the outside world. You might even consider finding a supplier of device charging solutions, this of course can be used as a sponsorship opportunity.
Networking sessions are key to any business event as time out of the office will often be seen as the chance to forge relationships. Extending breaks by a few minutes or offering an introduction service will add huge amounts of perceived value to your event. Often it is the simple things that go the longest way.
Rolling with the punches
No matter how many lists you make or how much time you spend planning your event, things will always change. That doesn’t necessarily mean things going wrong (although be prepared for that too) but you should be adaptable.
If you are this way inclined, you might build in a range of contingency plans ‘just in case’. Even so, a calm and level head and an ability to methodically and logically look at possible solutions and alternatives will be necessary as people will look to you to know what to do next. You need to provide your attendees with the feeling of safety and assurance in your experience and expertise to deliver a suitable solution. Things may need changing, but as long as people know what you’re doing about it and what is expected of them, it need not take anything away from your event. In fact, it may turn out better for it!
Freshwater has extensive experience in delivering client events, including product launches, exhibitions, conferences and awards ceremonies, across the UK. To find out more about this service, take a look at our events section.