The secret to experiencing successful in-person events is this: complete 95 percent of event preparations before the big day.
No matter what type of event you’re planning — an open house, client dinner, seminar, fundraiser, new store opening, etc. — target your energy on pre-planning. This approach enables you to focus on guests come event day, rather than being distracted with organizational issues.
Today, let’s focus on the day-of-event implementation considerations.
When Guests Arrive
How you acknowledge guests when they first arrive is one of the most important components of an event plan. Remember, you’re making a first impression. Even if you’re hosting an event for existing clients, if they don’t have a good experience, it’s unlikely they’ll return for future events. You also run the risk of deferring referrals when guests leave unhappy.
In-Person Events Marketing & Planning Checklist
Questions to ask yourself when planning an event:
#1 — Generally speaking, you want guests to bring guests, extending your marketing reach at no additional cost. What will you do to inspire your customers to bring their friends, family and associates? Just as important, what will you do on event day if your guests bring far more attendees than you anticipated?
#2 — Guests are driving to your location. Do they know how to get there? Is parking easy and plentiful or do you need to give added instructions? Are GPS directions accurate? What is your backup plan if parking fills up? What will you do if the line to enter your event extends outside and it’s cold and rainy?
I recently went to a family and friends brewery soft open. We drove 40 minutes to get there, the parking lot was a zoo and the line extended what seemed like half a mile out the door. We left. It’s unlikely I’ll go back, simply because of parking concerns.
#3 — Is your location handicap accessible? If not, let people know ahead of time about any limitations. In fact, without advanced notice, you could appear insensitive to guests needing such services and to onlookers. If you don’t want to call attention to what you’re lacking, you could include in your invitation, “Please alert us to special accommodations you may need to enter and enjoy yourself at the event.”
The ideal venue is a highly accessible one.
#4 — How do you visualize the event coming together just before customers arrive?
#5 — Are you in a large building with multiple floors and offices? How will guests find you? What type of visuals will you display to help direct guests to your event? Current clients may know your office whereabouts. However, a new prospect may be experiencing your business in-person for the first time.
#6 — When guests arrive, what will they do? What will you do with early arrivals? How will you share the time of experts that guests came to see? Also, how will you manage someone taking too much of an expert’s time?
#7 — What will your guests first see? Most will expect a registration table; don’t disappoint them. An organized check-in process is an opportunity to keep track of who attends and obtain additional contact information. It’s also an excellent first impression.
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#8 — Who will greet guests? What will you say during your greeting?
#9 — Will you instruct guests to do something, e.g., sign up, eat, preview, tour, etc.? If you direct them to sit and wait for things to start, how will you minimize waiting frustration? Perhaps you preoccupy guests with a helpful handout, educating them about your company’s benefits. Or, they’re able to watch a screen show, similar to being in a movie theater, with trivia questions on the screen.
#10 — What will guests do with their jackets, umbrellas, rain coats, etc.? What’s more, how will they easily find them when they’re ready to leave?
#11 — If there was a snowstorm the day before your event, what will you do with your guests’ snow boots and bulky winter coats? Perhaps they don’t take their boots off and melting snow is now all over your floor. Who will manage this slippery situation? Can you head this off at the entryway? Also, how has the snow impacted your original parking plan, including on-street parking bans due to snow removal?
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#12 — Will you have refreshments? At minimum, you should have a few snacks and drinks, such as fruit, water, coffee and tea. If you’re hosting an event around traditional mealtimes, you must have more food. Also, it’s imperative to consider food allergies and various diets, e.g., low-carb or vegan. Keep in mind that the refreshments you offer are a direct reflection of your guests’ value. Said differently, they’ll notice what you don’t provide.
#13 — How will guests find the restrooms without having to ask? How will you minimize waiting lines?
#14 — Will you have name tags? Many professionals prefer this because it gives them an opportunity to network with ease. Recollecting another’s name is often difficult for many people. Will you preprint them or have guests hand write their own?
If preprinted, how will you ensure you’re using the name guests most prefer and designations they want mentioned, i.e., Michael Philips vs. Mike Philips, CFP®? Also, if this is a business event, provide a networking table for guests to display business cards, brochures or even samples of their products. Be sure to inform guests ahead of time about this value-added opportunity.
#15 — Will you have door prizes? How do your guests participate? Can they win if they leave early?
#16 — How will you collect accurate contact information for all guests? At minimum, collect: email, mobile phone number and postal address. If it’s a business audience, then also: title, business name and URL.
Collecting guest contact information leads right into how you’ll handle the event registration process. I recommend that you have all guests register digitally. This way, you’ll have all contact information before they walk in the door.
Smooth Guest Registration Process
A smooth registration process can make all the difference in event attendance. Did you know that every additional step in the registration process leads to a 10 percent decrease in completed registrations? Getting the entire registration process onto one page can help with conversion while still ensuring that you receive all the data you need.
Mobile optimization is also key for this step — if eventgoers have to pinch and zoom on your page, chances are you’ll lose them before they finish signing up. Try using a trusted event management software platform such as Eventbrite to set up your online registration.
Many of my financial advisor marketing clients use Eventbrite to successfully fill in-person seminar seats as well as webinars. Personally, I use their search tool to find interesting events in my area or online. One of my favorite nonprofits uses them for fundraising purposes; specifically, to promote their event and process event ticket sales. This process generates a unique landing page you can then share within all social media channels.
#17 — Will you offer seating? Some guests may have physical constraints necessitating they sit.
#18 — What other staff members will be at the event? What is their role? Will they know what to say and do?
#19 — If you’re presenting during your event, how will you handle guests’ mobile phone usage? Even if you’re not presenting, and a guest is in a corner yelling into their device, what will you do? How long will you allow the distraction to continue as nearby guests grow agitated, later leaving your event with the sole recollection of the phone guy? Perhaps offer the offender a private office.
#20 — If you do present, what will you say? Before you decide, ask yourself this one question that guests will want an answer to, “What’s in it for me?” If you don’t answer this important question, then your guests’ attention will likely wane. If your event is a fun, social one, such as a client appreciation event, then keep your speech to five minutes, ideally less.
Make the event about your guests, not you. And, yes, it’s okay to offer a sales pitch and/or an if-you-act-by special offer. Attendees expect it, particularly if it’s a free event. Just keep it short. Presentation trainer and author Brad Phillips does a wonderful job describing how to hook your audience from the start with engaging and effective openings in his excellent book, 101 Ways to Open a Speech. Use his ideas to grab your guests’ attention for three minutes.
#21 — Are you a retail or service business? How will you handle incoming customer calls during the event?
#22 — If a staff member is working the front counter with three guests in line who are excited to schedule an appointment for your services because they’re having such a great time at your event, BUT the phone rings with even more potential business, should your staff answer or manage the customers in line? This question leads to another one: How much help should you have for your event?
If you have little staff support, utilize family members and close associates.
#23 — Finally, don’t forget to think through when guests leave. Ideally, have a staff member at the door thanking guests for attending. What’s more, will you give guests a gift, a special offer for your services or products? Again, do you have accurate contact information — email, mobile and postal — so that you may follow up and continue to deepen relationships and wow guests with your customer service, thus retaining clients for life?
Plan ahead! And remember to ask yourself the most important question of them all: What am I looking to achieve by hosting this event? Only then can you measure the success of your event.
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