Throughout history, the greatest and most memorable brands have successfully utilized imagery, advertising, and product design to create a detailed brand image in the minds of consumers. Harley Davidson, Apple, Disneyâ€¦ they all have very distinct emotions and personalities attached to them. In the same way, event planners are expected to create an image, a brand, and an idea around an event that goes beyond one night: an experience that builds on all the senses and resonates with guests before, during, and after the event itself. More than just a passing fad, experiential marketing and creating full guest experiences is at the core of the current event industry. It isnâ€™t just a â€śthingâ€ť… it is everything.
With businesses in every industry utilizing events to connect and build relationships with their clients and networks, how do you make your event stand out? Industry experts weigh in on their top tips for turning an average event into an epic experience.
Remember who youâ€™re hosting this event for! Most events will have a specific demographic that dominates, but you have to plan for the exception as much as the rule, as event attendees whose needs are not met will be quick to critique. Do your research, understand your audience, and then cater to their needs. Consider entertainment, food, alcohol, activitiesâ€¦ every aspect of the event should follow the guide of understanding your audience.
Greg Jenkins ofÂ Bravo ProductionsÂ weighs in, stating that as an event planner you mustÂ â€śresearch and have a complete understanding about your event requirements, audience demographics, previous events that were successful and unsuccessful, and set clear goals and objectives that you can plan the event around.â€ť
An excellent point from Courtney Lutkus ofÂ Simply Radiant EventsÂ is that â€śevents really vary depending on the clientele that is attending the event. If it is a socialite or millennials something that keeps their phone in their hand all night to take photos would be the approach for that group.â€ť
Lutkusâ€™ point is well taken, which leads us to our next top tipâ€¦
The social aspect of any event will always be important. People attend events for a variety of reasons: to build their network, to position themselves as industry experts, to make their friends jealousâ€¦ no matter the reason, it is all based on how someone perceives themselves and wishes to be perceived by others. Understanding this makes it so clear why leveraging social media at events is a serious opportunity. Of course, we want guests to utilize Facebook check-ins, event hashtags, or share photos of the event, but how do you get attendees to actually do that? You must provide elements that people will want to photograph and share! Whether it is a PBR toast and cheeseburger empanadas at midnight on New Yearâ€™s, makeup artists in the restrooms, outrageous backdrops, or the fail-safe boas and sunglasses (people love them – itâ€™s a proven fact!), create layers of details for a lasting impression that guests will want to share.
â€śWelcome the guests to use their social media connections, to gain more hype for the event and to encourage the guests to be social, one way or another. The guests will be on social sites anyway, the key is to guide them and challenge them with the posts. Reiterating the activities on social media is a great follow-up and a perfect way to keep staying power with the event,” states Heather Piper.
START AT THE BEGINNING
Begin to generate a buzz for your event from the guestsâ€™ first contact point with a branded or on-theme invitation, announcement, or save the date. In the words of our very own Director of Sales and longtime event planner Michelle Blanchard, â€śI have always believed that an invitation is an introduction to an event. It has this pure, unrivaled moment to create excitement…or not. Regardless of whether the invitation succeeds or falls flat, it sets the tone of what to expect.â€ť As with the rest of the event itself, the layering of details within the invitation will make it feel cohesive and compelling. Utilizing imagery, details, content, and tone, color, photos, and even music allow for the creation of a complete guest experience.
Randy Fuhrman, of Randy Fuhrman Events, echoed this sentiment when he said, â€śIt all starts out with how you invite your guest. You start right at the beginning by getting them excited. Create an invitation that doesn’t have to be expensive but show that you will be having a GOOD TIME when you arrive to this event. When you create a common thread from the invitation and then run it through the event it creates an energy that you guest can feel.â€ť
CREATE A GRAND ENTRANCE
Remember, first impressions are lasting ones. Whether your budget is large or small, focus your efforts for creating a theme and ambianceÂ right at the entrance. Imagine arriving at a masquerade ball, blue and white lights illuminate the art deco architecture of the venue. As you walk through the doorway, you enter a narrow light-filled tunnel, surrounding you with crystalline icicles and frozen leaves. You exit the tunnel, greeted by stilt walkers draped head to toe in shimmering white, who hand you artisanal masquerade masks which are hanging like vibrant fall leaves from 12 foot aluminum trees. Now, that is some serious â€śWOWâ€ť factor.
Founder ofÂ Rothweiler Event DesignÂ and expert planner, Danielle Rothweiler says â€śMaking the entrance memorable makes guests wonder what other fabulous things are planned, so focus on that!â€ť
What separates a good event from a great event? Any event planner can come up with great ideas, but a great event ties all these ideas together into a singular theme. This theme not only gives you a roadmap in planning the event, but it can also help point your guests to where you want them to look, and how you want them to feel. The general rule is to make sure you change the tone of the event or add an element every hour. For example:
6:00PM Guests Arrive, Tray Pass Caipirinha CocktailsÂ andÂ Lamb and Chimichurri Skewers
6:45PM Brazilian Dance Troop enters, does one tour around around the venue, and then leads guests to open the buffet
7:00PM Stations and Dinner Buffet Opens
8:00PM Tropical Fruit Flambe Station and Tequila Tasting
9:00PM Picanha and Queso Fresco (Beef and Cheese)Â Pasteis
10:00PM Live Music Switches to DJ
â€śOne thing we know to be true â€“ everything element of an event has to play into the overall experience â€¦ from theÂ invite, to the event dĂ©cor, to the food, to any takeaways and follow up communication, all the event elements should seem thoughtfully placed and feel as though they belong together.â€ť – Amy Chappuis, Paramount Events
To take it a step further, Jenkins encourages planners to â€śdevelop concepts that will communicate a story — one with a beginning, middle and an end. Think as if you were creating a motion picture that needs to captivate and hold an audience’s attention for a minimum of 2-hours.â€ť
FOOD AND DRINK
Julia Child was on the right track when she said that a party without cake is just a meeting. Not necessarily that every party needs cake (even though we love cake, and are proponents of always having cake), but more importantly it speaks to the influential role that food plays in the creation of any event. Matching menu items and serving style to coordinate with the ambiance, theme, and flow of an event can be the difference between a stunning success or an ill-fated flop. Food is one of the most important places where audience should always be front of mind. In catering, the menu has to please the masses. This means not only creating interesting, crowd-appealing dishes, but offering gluten free, nut free, vegetarian, and vegan options.
Chappius relates back to her experiences at Paramount Events saying that, â€śIf our clients have an all day seminar or business meeting, guests usually respond well to something interactive that relates back to their company or team. We suggest incorporating unique snacks on each of the tables to keep everyone engaged and energized. We also like to display food in a more visual way. This may include a bagel or donut station created out of a standing peg board.â€ť
You best believe that this isnâ€™t your guestâ€™s first shindig, in fact, they probably came here from another party. To separate your event from the rest, you have to surprise your guests, give them something they arenâ€™t expecting! Maybe itâ€™s a celebrity guest host, or an extra touch in the gift baskets. Rothweiler knows best when she saysÂ â€śThe best way to make your event stand out is to give your guests the unexpected. I love hearing “Wow, that’s a great idea” when guests enter a room or anytime during the event. Working with the audience that we have, we try to cater to those people and give them something they will remember.â€ť
“To get people talking during and after a party, surprises are key. I like to have at least three surprises per event. They can be as simple as serving champagne in splits with a straw instead of champagne flutes or as elaborate as filling the venue with thousands of votive candles or having a headlining performer. It’s all about adding elements of the unexpected,” saysÂ Carla McDonald, founder ofÂ The Salonniere.
With all this being said, don’t forget that the most important thing is that everybody has fun. JenkinsÂ points out that â€ś’Fun’ is in the eye of the beholder [but] by understanding your guests and demographics, you can build things into the event that communicates that fun sentiment.â€ť And as Michelle says, â€śAny event that has someone on stilts is winning.â€ť
What other pointers do you have for making an event a full experience? Share with us in the comments section below!
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