A Refresher Course as We Head Back to School

As I’ve been out and about over the past few weeks, it’s apparent one thing is on the minds of most kids and parents – it’s time to head back to school!  With excitement and preparation for the upcoming year in full swing, I’m reminded of lessons we, as event planners, can learn as school starts again.

Child portrait
Here is a quick refresher course on event planning as learned from those heading back to school:

  1. First impressions are important!  Teachers spend a great deal of time and energy in preparing their classrooms.  They are visually appealing and creative.  Your first impressions should be no different during events.  The registration area is often your first personal interaction with guests, so make sure it is appealing, and make sure your staff are well prepared, as well.  Just as teachers want to make good impressions on their students and parents, your staff should do the same.
  2. Creating an inviting environment is essential!  Going to school can be a great time of anxiety for children.  For some people, going to new events and conferences can bring similar reactions.  Encourage your staff to be welcoming, to act quickly when an issue arises and to go out of their way to make those who might feel apprehensive welcome.
  3. Knowing what to bring is helpful!  Paper, #2 pencils, crayons and more top the typical school year supply lists.  Though you don’t have to be as thorough with your conference guests, it’s always thoughtful to let them know of any extra items they may need or any weather specific items they should bring.  If you are going to have a formal dinner, make sure they are aware.  If you plan on having an afternoon hike, be sure to let them know so they can be prepared.  If the event is “BYOB” (bring your own bedding), remind your guests to bring linens for their stay.
  4. Don’t forget to share the important details!  As kids head back to school, parents receive a lot of information – drop off and pick-up times, parking locations, lunch prices, absence policies, dress code and more.  As an event planner, think in terms of guests who have never been to your event or event facility before.  Information concerning parking locations, schedules, nearby attractions, registration procedures and more help guests feel more prepared, as well as reduce the questions your event team may have to repeatedly answer.
  5. Start your event off with a bang!  Teachers usually don’t start their first day of school asking students to open their books and begin working.  There are fun activities, group elements, get-to-know you times and more.  Remember this as you plan your event – make sure to “hook” your guests from the beginning with excitement!

Fall is a popular time for event planners as there are many conferences and events taking place.  I hope these refreshers get you geared up as you plan!

The Act of Discovery and How It Can Revitalize Your Event

I took a class in college whose principals have really influenced my life long term. It was called “Teaching and Learning”. One of its main principles was that a good teacher identifies what they want their students to learn during a lesson, and then leads them along a path of discovering it for themselves. I’ve certainly found this is a much more effective strategy than feeding people information in long, detailed lectures. Wouldn’t you agree? Remember a time when you came to a conclusion that you were willing to act on, the exact one someone else had been trying to convince you of for months? Yep.

What does this have to do with events? Well, what do you want your participants to take away from your event? How could you lead them towards this as individuals, and as a group?

In the Summer 2014 issue of Biz Bash, Scott Stedman, spoke about elevating the event experience: “The real driving spirit is the act of discovery, enhancing that moment of discovery and providing it.”

I love this quote. The act of discovery.

What challenge, task or journey could you provide for your participants that would lead them towards a premeditated discovery? It could be anything! From understanding a key business concept, to empathizing with a certain customer experience. Don’t forget to provide follow-up, ideally verbal. People will remember their discovery more clearly if you help them connect their experience to the higher concept you are trying to teach them.

Have you ever watched the show “Undercover Boss”? The CEO of a company takes part in some daily (usually menial) task at his company without disclosing his identity. This is an individual experience, but it certainly leads the participant to discoveries about himself, the people who work for him, and the way his company functions.

Whether it is watching a movie, taking a field trip, or completing a challenging physical feat by working as team, there are so many things to learn from experiences. Use them to your advantage, and to accomplish the purposes of your event!

Icebreaker Questions

Have you ever been in a meeting or small group session where no one talks?  The silence can be quite daunting for the meeting facilitator.  It can also be frustrating for those in attendance who may not want to be the first to speak.  How can you fix this dilemma?

Question Mark ConceptIcebreaker questions are a great way to start off a small group time.  All of the participants can play a part in answering these questions, hopefully promoting an open environment for them to share once the main topics of the meeting are discussed.  Depending on the group size, you can break off into smaller groups or talk about these as a whole.

If your groups are sitting around tables, questions can be on slips of paper placed in a basket.  If your groups are less formal, you, as the facilitator, can simply ask one question at a time or give each group a handout with questions.

Here is a list of great icebreaker questions to get your guests talking in your next small group time:

•    If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would you go?
•    If you had to give up one of your senses, which would it be?  Why?
•    Does your name have a special meaning and/or were you named after someone special?
•    If you had a time machine that would work only once, what point in the future or in history would you visit?
•    What did you want to be when you were little?
•    What is one of the things you would put on your “bucket” list?
•    What is the strangest thing you have ever eaten?
•    What do you keep in the trunk of your car?
•    If you could be any animal in the world for 24 hours, which animal would you be?  Why?
•    If you could snap your fingers and appear somewhere else, where would you be?
•    If you could control the weather in your area for the next five days, what would the forecast be?
•    Which Olympic sport would you most like to win a gold medal in?  Why?
•    If you had to choose between never getting your hair cut and never getting your nails cut, which would you choose?
•    If you could change any restaurant into an all-you-can-eat buffet, which restaurant would you choose?

If you’re stumped for more questions and own a smartphone, there are even apps to quickly find icebreaker questions!

How To Create A Visual History

You’ve just arrived at a fundraising luncheon. Would you rather learn about the non-profit from a brochure, a two page report, a twenty minute speech by the director, or an interactive history display?

I’d choose the display. Let’s talk about how you might bring something like this to life for your next event.

First, identify your purpose. What do you want your participant to take away from the display- figuratively! A better understanding of the company’s grass-roots beginnings? Why they are committed to organic standards? A realization of the stellar leadership? A grasp of the evolving product line? Determine a definite purpose and make sure it supports the overall push of the event.

Now that you know your purpose, decide how you could communicate that in an interactive and visual way. How much space do you have? How much time? What is your budget? A simple display might have 5-7 photos with some written descriptions. A larger, more complicated visual tour might have anything from a diorama, audio files to access online via a QR code, maps, info graphics, streaming videos, company “artifacts”, clothing on display… there are so many possibilities!

Before you start to build be sure to take into account how you will transport your display, how long you will have to set it up, and location infrastructure like wifi, door width and power outlets.

Now, gather your materials and finish your test setup. You should let several different people do a walk through and share their observations with you. Ask them what they found interesting, confusing, exciting. You’ll pick up on common responses that will allow you to tweak your display.

Visual displays don’t have to be hard or complicated to create- and they can add so much to an event. Have you ever created anything like this? What was the response? Would you do it again?

OffSite: Libraries, Universities, Museums, Oh My!

Maybe you are ready to move out of your comfort zone and stage an entire event at a non-traditional venue, or perhaps you need a unique spot to host a VIP luncheon during a larger event. Here are some locations that might be close by and just what you are looking for.

A library. Libraries are often beautifully designed, and sometimes have outdoor patios or gardens. They also usually have community rooms, that seat from 50 to 500 people. Call or visit a library and speak with someone on staff. They’ll let you know about hours, rental fees and food restrictions.

Universities. These can be amazing venues! These beautiful spaces are set up for presentation and group instruction, and usually have a variety of lecture halls and classrooms to choose from. Evenings are a great time to book a group, because most classes are scheduled during the day.

Museum. What a dramatic backdrop for an event. If you can schedule your group during a time when the museum is closed, you’ll have the place all to yourselves. Do be sure to tour the venue during the hours that you’re hosting the group, so that you can check for sufficient lighting, request certain doors (bathrooms) remain unlocked, etc. Talk to group reservations to find out what has worked well for groups in the past.

Historic Sites. Civil war battlefields, traditional farmsteads, two forts, an Indian mound, a president’s home, these are just a few options that popped up when I searched online for historic sites in North Carolina. With ample parking and public restrooms these indoor/outdoor sites have quite a bit of potential for group experiences and meetings.

You’ve chosen your unusual venue, now what about food? If the location doesn’t have a food option, find a caterer, or hire a food truck. A food truck is an especially good choice if the location does not allow food to be served inside. If your group is larger than about twenty, you’ll probably want to hire more than one truck, to avoid long lines.

If you’d like more ideas, check out uniquevenues.com. You can fill out a quick form on the front page of their website with dates, group size and region, and they’ll contact you with a list of venue options.

An unusual location might require a bit more work, but the character and charm it adds to an event is worth it. Just be sure to pick a location that has the ability to meet your needs, so that you don’t spend countless hours trying to fit a square peg into a round hole! Happy planning!