2020 has been a year in which we’ve seen the shift to an online world happen with extraordinary speed - the business world moved to virtual meetings and events almost overnight. The availability and ease of virtual technology and video conferencing platforms has seen businesses successfully move their planned meetings online within a very short space of time. Now as we move towards the latter stages of the year, restrictions are starting to ease and we are transitioning into a Hybrid event world, catering to attendees in-person and virtually.
What has become clear is how important business meetings are to building lasting relationships with clients, fostering professional development, building staff engagement and morale, and generating new opportunities and ideas.
So…whether you are hosting a meeting for 500 people or a training session for 30 people; and whether it is in-person, virtual, or a mix of both, there are some key principles to planning a successful business event that always remain the same:
1. Identify the objective of your event
What is the purpose of your event? Why are you hosting it and what would you like to achieve? Once you have identified the objective, you then can start to plan the type of event that is going to generate the results you are after.
2. Who is your target audience?
Once you have set the purpose of your event, the next step is to determine who your target audience is. For example, is it for staff, clients, or stakeholders – or a combination?
How many people do you want to attend? If you are planning a gala dinner, for example, it is always a good idea for the invitation list to be larger than your target number of people, to allow for those that can’t attend and the inevitable no-shows.
3. Set your budget
It is important to know what your budget is so that you can determine what sort of event you can produce. Your budget will determine how much you have to spend on your venue, catering, entertainment, and other elements. You will need to prioritise what is most important to helping you achieve your event objective – for example, will you spend more on the venue and less on entertainment? Or is the keynote speaker the most important aspect?
Whatever your budget, it’s always a good idea to have a buffer to deal with any unexpected costs that may arise.
4. Identify the theme of your event
Once you have identified the objective of the event and your audience, you can then choose a theme for your event, as well as the best format to deliver it to attendees. For example, if your event is to acknowledge and thank your clients and to position your organisation as a trusted partner, you may organise a gala dinner with a keynote industry expert. It’s a good idea to always include something entertaining or interactive to keep your guests engaged. And allow time for networking! Often this is the only time these people will get together and it’s a great opportunity for them to relax and catch up.
5. Set the date
If you are planning a recurring event, the date may already be pre-set. However, for new events it’s a good idea to consider the following:
- Depending on the nature of your event, you should ideally aim for a 4-6 month planning period, if not more.
- Be aware of public and school holiday dates.
- If you are inviting any government representatives, be sure to look at the parliamentary sitting calendar.
- Check the dates with your key participants – e.g. your guest speaker, presenter, and VIP guests.
- With a confirmed date, you can start booking your venue and other suppliers.
- Once you have the date set, consider sending a ‘Save the Date’ notice to your attendees.
6. Create your event plan and timeline
Break down every single element of your event and put a timeline against it. This can be as simple as creating an excel spreadsheet – or utilising many of the project management tools available.
This checklist allows you to stay on track and on top of all the finer details associated with your event, when each item needs to be delivered, and who you need to work with. Make sure you share this event plan with everyone that is working on producing the event with you.
7. What is the ideal venue?
Once you know the type of event you want to deliver and what you want to achieve, you need to determine which venue is going to help you realise your goals. The venue may be dependant on where your attendees are coming from. For example, if you have a lot of interstate attendees, you may want to choose something in the heart of the city with a great range of accommodation and entertainment options nearby. If it is mainly a local event, you could consider a unique venue that will excite and surprise your guests.
Now, during this COVID-19 environment, you may need to source a venue that has the capacity to manage a hybrid event – so they can accommodate the in-person attendees, as well as deliver a seamless virtual experience.
8. Sponsorship of your event
Depending on the purpose and theme of your event, you may consider offering sponsorship opportunities. This is a great way to fund a portion of your event. The brand association these sponsors can bring and their ability to promote through their networks is also highly beneficial. Ensure you choose sponsors that align with your purpose and complement your event. You will need to develop a sponsorship package that clearly outlines the sponsorship you are asking for, and what you will provide in return – e.g. logo placement, media opportunities, etc.
9. Promote your event
The way you promote your event will depend on its purpose. If for example, it is an invitation-only gala dinner, you will simply send the invitation to your guest list. If it is a larger event where you need to promote attendance, you may need to create a marketing strategy that includes email communication, social media, industry advertisements, engaging your sponsors, and encouraging your sales teams to spread the word.
An easy and effective way to promote your event is to create a special event website with all the information for easy access. Your social media marketing can include videos, guest blog posts, and LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter updates. Make sure your messaging is consistent and that you use the same handle and hashtag across all your platforms so that it is very clear that all the promotion is about one specific event.
10. Post-event follow-up
Each event is a learning opportunity, so it is highly recommended to conduct a post-event debrief with your team. Did the event meet your desired purpose and what was the impact? It is important you communicate this back to your team and any relevant stakeholders. Make sure you communicate with your attendees via a post-event email or phone call to thank them for attending and solicit any feedback. You may also want to send some communication to non-attendees with a summary of the event to encourage them to attend next time. Oh – and now’s the time to pay all the bills!