As mentioned in part one of this two-part blog series, there are three main parts to hosting a successful annual event: planning, execution and follow-up.
We have already discussed the planning and preparation aspects of the event. How can you guarantee success now that the event is starting? With attention to detail on execution and follow up.
Below we will cover the important things to remember during the event itself and the focus of the follow-up after the event to finish strong and build momentum for the next event.
Any event loses the interest of the attendees quickly when one of the speakers drones on past the scheduled time, pushing back an agenda or forcing others to scramble to shorten their presentations. Make sure every speaker knows how long they have to present. Give them a "5 minute" warning as their time is ending to help them wrap up and take questions. Publish an agenda for the event to set expectations for everyone. Then, be diligent about starting and ending each session or activity on time. Your attendees will appreciate knowing that the program is running smoothly.
Pictures, Pictures, Pictures
Hire a photographer for the entire length of the conference or event. It may seem expensive at first, but you'll get great use of the photos for years to come. No one ever said, "I wish we hadn't taken so many pictures of last year's annual conference." You'll be able to post the photos to your Facebook page and use them when promoting next year's event. If your event is multi-day, post the previous day’s photos as a slide show for attendees to watch before your morning general session. Attendees love seeing these photos and they'll feel more connected to the event when they "see" that they are a part of it.
Keeping people interested and aware at a large event can be two-fold. For one, don't let them stay in the same seat throughout the event. Find a way to work to get them on their feet and participate. There are tons of great team-building or networking games you can use, no matter if your event has 10 people or 1,000. For ideas, check out these networking games for professionals.
Also, mesh social media with the event in some way. Encourage posts to social networks using an event-specific hashtag. Then use the submissions for talking points during the event to let the attendees know their contributions are being noted and shared when possible. This will let your attendees know that you're "watching" and can encourage the more hesitant attendees to participate as well.
End on a High Note
Rather than simply having the last breakout sessions end your annual conference, have a wrap-up general session to pull everyone together and summarize the major points of the conference. Have a comedian drive the closing agenda or weave in some "inside jokes" to get your attendees re-engaged. You want them to leave with a smile on their face and laughing!
Hold a drawing for 5-10 great prizes for attendees who stick it out to the end. Ask attendees to complete your event's evaluation form to be eligible for prizes. Give awards to attendees for things like: best question asked during the conference, best idea, super helper award – person who helped another member, best use of technology, and much more. What else can you think of? Show your attendees that you appreciate them spending their time (and money) with you and make stronger connections with them. They'll become even greater fans of your organization and help you promote next year's event simply by telling others about their great experience.
The Follow Up
If you can, provide the dates for next year’s conference and the opportunity to sign-up early. There's no better time to secure registrations for next year's event than when your attendees are feeling great about this year's event.
Share all available presentations, videos and photos after the event. Attendees will love having the additional resource and members who didn't attend will get a glimpse into what they missed. Tag your members in photos and encourage them to share particularly memorable aspects of the event with their networks.
I’m a big fan of having your entire staff write thank you notes to the attendees. Yes, some attendees may be thank you notes from multiple staff – that’s OK. The personal touch still matters; your members will appreciate your note. Some of them may even write you thank you notes for your thank you notes!
Make sure you wrap up all the logistics details quickly. Mark all of your attendees as "attended" in your membership management software. This will help you enlist champions for next year's event and give you the ability to target market to those that did not attend. Hold a staff debriefing as soon after the event as possible and take very good notes. Make sure to follow up on any open items and create a list of suggestions for improving next year's event. Make sure you document expenses and revenue so you can compare next year's event to this year's. Pulling all these details together make seem like they take too much time, but doing so will make planning next year's event much easier.
These efforts to plan the event, make it a success and then share it again afterward are the keys to make that big event stand out beyond its typical place on the timeline and keep people interested for the next event. You want your attendees to "sell" the next event to their colleagues because this year’s was such a great experience.
Planning and hosting large events can be stressful and - like anything worthwhile - take time and effort to create success. By building a plan, executing and following up effectively, you'll drive value for your members and great success for your organization.
What are your greatest event success stories?
Related or similar posts: