As the days get shorter and the excitement builds for the holidays, it can only mean one thing: ‘tis the season for events. And as your social calendar starts to fill up with holiday parties, end of year celebrations, and client events, now is a good time to take stock of why the RSVPs are flying in fast and furious.
Maybe the Real Housewives are to blame (looking at you Luann) for bringing the term “event” into the common vernacular.
Or maybe it’s because many organizations feel events are necessary because “it’s what they’ve always done” or “it will make the announcement official”. But this year as you’re about to hit send on that latest invitation, maybe it’s time to reflect on the real reason to come together.
Really, what is the point of your event?
Think about how the event will be an integral part of what you are looking to celebrate or communicate. How does it augment your efforts? Why would people want to engage? What will the investment look like? How will it stand out? Basically: why would people want to come?
Rather than assume that people will come to an event based on sheer loyalty to your brand or organization, you need to create something that’s compelling enough for people to attend. I’ve stared down too many RSVP lists to know the stress of wrangling people to come to an event that may be overruled by the lack of a reason to attend.
Who really needs to be there?
Further to that, you need to attract the right people to help you share your story. Getting the right people in the room can be challenging—but it should be your number one consideration in the initial stage of planning.
Some questions you might want to ask yourself include: would it be more meaningful to host a small reception for key stakeholders vs as full-scale party? A lunch with the core team? Don’t get caught feeling confined to one timeframe or scenario, as there are different scales and options to create a quality experience.
Location, location, location
Once you determine the viability of your event and its true purpose, you need to figure out a way to source and design the right space and program to tell your story.
There are a myriad of options when it comes to branding a space and creating the right atmosphere. A basic but big consideration is lighting. Consider the time of day you are hosting and what your room will look like. How can you create the right ambiance for both guests and presenters? Should it be dim and relaxing or bright and alert? Lighting really does set the tone.
When it comes to decor, less is more—especially when it comes to the table. We’ve all attended events where a beautiful—but over the top—centerpiece interrupts the flow of conversation. Keep it simple and tasteful and respectful of the flow of conversations.
It’s also important not to clutter tables with things like postcards or other information pieces that people will leave behind. Instead, communicate with your guests with a thank you and follow up note via email reinforcing your message.
The AV experience
It goes without saying, but a top notch audio visual experience is essential. Sound, acoustics, and visuals must be flawless. The AV experience is integral to achieving your desired ambiance. Music that is too loud or a video that doesn’t roll properly can be distracting and might be the only thing people remember about your event.
Here’s a big one. It’s ok if your event is just an hour. In fact, many people would probably prefer that. Does your fundraiser command a sit down dinner or can you generate a great result with a lovely cocktail reception? People are short on time, over-scheduled, and tapped for attention more than ever before. You’re much better served to create something memorable and impressive within a smaller timeframe.
Also consider the networking and formal program ratio. Give people the chance to talk and relax. That’s what they want to be doing. Keep speeches or presentations tight and make sure they are interesting, with compelling visuals to match.
Most of all, make it clear to people why they have been invited and what you’d like to take away from the experience. Themed cocktails and door prizes won’t do that for you. But meaningful interactions and a respect for time and space will.
——— Tara Wickwire is a former Associate Vice-President at NATIONAL Public Relations