If you're in the corporate events industry, you've got a tough job on your hands. There are thousands of events every year, and they're all competing for one goal: to be the most talked about event in their industry.
But how do you actually put on a killer event? It all boils down to thinking like an attendee, plenty of advance planning, and insane attention to detail.
We just wrapped up our own conference here at HubSpot, INBOUND 2012, and as the event coordinator, I thought it might be timely to share some of the things we learned from this event. The tips in this post are inspired by the things we pulled off, as well as the things we know we can improve for next year (we've actually already opened up registration for INBOUND 2013!). Without further ado, here are some tips to help all of us plan corporate events that nobody will be able to stop gushing about!
21 Insider Tips to Make Your Next Event a Smash Hit
1) Make a good impression from the second your attendees check in.
Have cheery, well-informed greeters at every entrance for your event, providing directions to registration and answering questions about the event. It's important for attendees to feel comfortable and welcomed the second they step onto the event premises.
2) Keep check-in and registration organized.
It's easy for registration to become a sea of mass confusion. Figure out a way to make registration organized and efficient so your attendees don't start off on a negative note. It may help to lay out registration alphabetically, and have a lot of staff (more than you think you need, trust me) to ensure registration runs smoothly and quickly.
3) Start things off with a bang.
If you want the energy level to be high at your event, it's up to you to set the expectation. Pull off a welcome address that excites your audience and makes them look forward to your event even more than they already were. At INBOUND 2012, for example, HubSpot's co-founders Brian Halligan & Dharmesh Shah had quite the entrance ... take a look:
4) Offer variety in your schedule.
Everyone wants to get something different out of your event, whether it's networking, workshops, or lessons from breakout sessions. Providing options around both topics covered and the format of your sessions will make it easier to please more people.
5) Have a lot of caffeine available.
Events are long. You use your brain a lot. You slap on a smile. All. Day. Long. Oh, and those parties last night? Yeah, those kept you out way past your bedtime. Attendees will be way more alert if there's caffeine available -- coffee, tea, and soda -- through most or all of your event. How else will they soak up all that awesome content?
6) Create a mobile app for the event.
People lose conference guides, they're kind of bulky, and it takes forever to flip through to find what you're looking for. We're not saying you shouldn't offer printed conference guides -- but if you have a mobile app for your event that pulls your entire schedule together with dates, times, and locations, you're making a lot of attendees' lives easier. Plus, if schedule changes occur, it's easy to quickly make the changes in the app so everyone's on the same page.
7) Ensure your sponsors are a good fit for your attendees.
A lot of events and trade shows have sponsors who may not necessarily be the best fit for attendees. But I mean, who cares? They gave you money!
Not so fast. Before sending out your sponsor prospectus, consider your attendees' pain points and make sure the sponsors you're working with will provide value for them.
8) Place ushers in your largest rooms.
Everyone who pays for your event should get a seat at that event. The way to ensure this is to put ushers in your large rooms -- like where the keynote address takes place, or in your larger breakout session rooms -- to make sure every seat is filled. Not only will the whole filing-in process flow better, but everyone will be sure to get a seat, too.
9) Provide networking opportunities.
Networking is an important part of any event -- some attendees show up just to make new connections, skipping out on most of the actual sessions! So give your attendees a chance to meet one another with dedicated networking events throughout the event. Meals and happy hours are particularly effective for nurturing new relationships.
10) Include case studies in your breakout sessions or workshops.
Hearing about other people's experiences is one of the best ways to learn -- people like knowing they're not alone, and taking advice from people who have been in their shoes. Offer some case study content or panel discussions that offer peer-to-peer learning opportunities. In fact, much of our INBOUND 2012 content that contained case study content was among the highest rated content overall!
11) Surprise your attendees throughout the conference.
Your attendees probably have a general sketch in their mind of what happens when at your event. So throw them a curve ball to keep them on their toes! Think things like special snacks or guest appearances. For example, at INBOUND 2012, we surprised our attendees by having a short performance from Cyndi Lauper and Charlie Musselwhite during David Meerman Scott's keynote address. Check it out!
12) Have a mix of celebrity speakers, and just plain awesome speakers.
Don't just focus on getting the speakers with celebrity status. Focus on getting speakers who are just plain fantastic speakers. At the end of the day, attendees want to take away lessons that they can apply to their day-to-day lives. If your speakers can inspire, motivate, and educate attendees, it doesn't matter whether they're industry heavyweights or not.
13) Consider the flow of your schedule.
Try to keep the goings-on at your event contained to one area of your venue, eliminating the amount of movement from room to room. That doesn't mean you should keep attendees trapped in one room all day -- give them breaks and plenty of time to walk around! But if your sessions take place across 12 rooms ... and those rooms are all on opposite ends of the venue ... your attendees are going to get lost and frustrated.
14) Station friendly faces around the venue.
No matter how much information you provide, attendees will always have questions. Or, they might just want your opinion on what session to attend! Position people from your company throughout the venue to answer questions, give advice, or just serve as a friendly face to get people excited for your event. Not only will attendees feel more welcome, but their questions will all be answered by the people who know the most about the event.
15) Take every opportunity to make your event green.
If you can use digital signs and apps instead of printing out signs and conference guides, do it. If you can use environmentally friendly materials when serving food and drinks, do it. If you can eliminate the amount of print collateral at sponsor booths and in registration bags, do it. If you take every opportunity to make your event green, you're not only helping the environment, you're making attendees very, very happy. After all, it's just one more pile of stuff for them to keep track of and eventually, throw away.
16) Pepper small common areas throughout the venue.
Have comfortable lounge furniture throughout the venue so your attendees can sit down, check email, have conversations, maybe even do a little business with a new connection. Heck, those little lounge areas may come in handy for you as you try to close new business, too!
17) Make your staff identifiable.
Anyone who can help answer questions should be identifiable from far away. That could manifest itself in staff t-shirts or some kind of bright, branded SWAG. However you do it, it's important that attendees are able to quickly find someone who can answer questions.
18) Give out useful SWAG.
Speaking of SWAG, who likes the free stuff they get at corporate events? Chances are, not many, because a lot of it is useless junk. It used to be standard to give out keychains, pens and even coasters, but a lot of that is never used and thrown away. Giving out items that can be used at the actual conference, like notepads, USB drives, or mobile chargers, are much more beneficial for attendees.
19) Have engaging visuals, graphics, and music throughout the venue.
Use a lot of visuals throughout the venue to stimulate interest while simultaneously providing useful information. Digital signage is even better if you can pull it off -- it's environmentally friendly, and you can change the signs throughout the day depending on what event you'd like to promote.
20) Draw connections between sessions and other activities.
Organize your schedule so that lessons people learn at the beginning of the conference can apply to other sessions or workshops later on. For example, we started to integrate HubSpot 3 content into the presentations that occurred after the HubSpot 3 announcement. That way, sessions started out strategic, and then got tactical towards the end of the event, explaining how to implement some of the marketing strategies we discussed using our new marketing software.
21) Have information available about your next event.
Since your attendees are so pumped up about your incredibly event, it makes sense that they'll want to hear about your next event. Make sure your staff is armed with information about when and where your next event will take place, and when registration opens -- you might get a lot of attendees signing up right then and there!
What other tips do you have to make corporate events amazing?