I have been a Meetings & Events professional for well over fifteen years. It has been a wild ride, and has taught me innumerable lessons about unpredictability, collaboration, and being an undercover optimist.
For as much as it has been a defining factor of my life for over a decade, I actually began in the Meetings & Events industry almost by accident. I had been working at a Blockbuster (Do you remember those? Am I dating myself?) in Monterey, CA. Back in the Blockbuster heyday, Friday night was a thing to behold – ‘busy’ doesn’t quite cover it. Really busy; heckin’ busy; ‘OMG, that is a lot of people’ busy. And we, the mostly college-aged few that worked there, dealt with it every week.
My boss, an amazingly supportive man named Rudy who has since passed, liked to have me work the register on these days. He said I was like a Robot, with nothing but affection and admiration in his tone. He knew that I would give every person that came by my register the same customer service experience, the same smile, the same attention, thereby (hopefully) keeping as many people happy as possible.
It was on one of these crazy-busy evenings that I happened to help a woman who would change the direction of my life. I was at the register helping customers as I did; finished with one customer, and asked for the “next guest in line – let me help you out this evening.” The woman didn’t strike me as anything other than another customer, but I helped her with a smile nonetheless. After she was done, handed her receipt and pointed toward the door, she came back to me – interrupting the customer after her in line.
She apologized, then handed me a business card.
“I’m a manager at a luxury hotel on Cannery Row. I want you to work for me. I hope you’ll apply.”
I took the card with a smile, tucked it away, then got back to work. I didn’t think about it until the next day.
The short version – I applied, and got the job. I worked at this lovely, cozy, luxury hotel for almost two years, then moved to the sales office of a hotel group, becoming the Conference Services Manager for over 300 rooms-worth of hotel. And that is how my Meetings & Events journey started – because I made the decision, early on, to treat everyone with courtesy and respect, even when I was feeling harried.
And, for a write up about Tips and Tricks from the Event Industry, that must be tip #1: if you are putting on an event of any kind – virtual or in person – there must be a part of you that wants to, in some way, help other people (teach them something, help them connect with one another, entertain them – something). Hold on to that – that want, or drive, or need to help out others. That is the beginning of your success as an event runner.
The Actual Tips & Tricks:
Alright – heartfelt introductions are all well and good – but why did I start this out with a brief history of Maya? Partially to make the point of helping people (it’s a good thing, and a lot of wonderful connections and learning opportunities can come from it). But, the other reason will be addressed as I get into some of the nitty-gritty, actionable tricks that one can apply to their own events. And I promise – it will make sense when I point it out.
Events, like stories, have a Beginning, Middle, and End. For the sake of this metaphor, The Beginning is all that happens before an event takes place, The Middle is during the event itself, and The End takes place after the event.
The Beginning, much like the beginning of a story, is where all the buildup happens; where the questions are asked; where it is established what’s at risk for our protagonist (you, the event runner); and where you begin to introduce your audience to what you want them to learn from your story/event.
Here is what the Beginning for any event (virtual, in person, or hybrid) should consist of:
- The Game Plan:
Whether big or small, every event should have a Game Plan – a strategy (an outline, if you will). Start with your key goal, then build up and out from there. The earlier you can get planning, the better. Before hosting any event, answer the following questions:
- Who do you want to reach? Who is your audience?
- What is your theme? If you have multiple events, what ties them together to encourage continued participation?
- What kind of experience do you hope to deliver (e.g., interactive, sit back and learn, or something else)?
- What do you want your attendees/participants to walk away with? What do you want them to do after the event is over? What will be the event’s call to action?
- When is the best time for the event?
- Time zones – where is your audience physically located?
- What are they doing with their lives – do they work full time, are they out and about?
- Are there any holidays that would interfere?
- What are your key selling points? Why should people care about your event, your content, and you?
- How will you promote the event?
- What key performance indicators (KPIs), or measurable accomplishments, do you plan to track? How can you set it up (now) to track them well?
Now that you have an idea of what you want your event to be – get it on the calendar! Preferably a month to two months before the event will actually happen. People start subconsciously planning their time up to three months out (you can thank the airline industry for this).
Additionally, they like consistency – if a recurring event looks to be consistently taking place, it becomes easier for a potential attendee to fit it into their mental calendar (they want you to be reliable before they will put in the effort to be reliable). If a recurring event happens inconsistently, or only every once in a while, it is easier for people to disregard and/or forget about it.
3. Prep for the Surge (of Registrations):
According to several meeting industry studies, registrations for an event will tend to begin ramping up two-to-three weeks before the event date. Take advantage of free social media marketing platforms during that window to begin engaging, and to communicate your key selling points and a clear call to action.
4. Tech Trouble:
Technology – phew. It’s a lot, and it is also vital to your success. So, first, acknowledge that something will likely go wrong. It’s okay, it happens to the best of us. Then, ask yourself – what could actually go wrong? Be specific. Prep for those specific things, then ask yourself – what more could possibly go wrong? This is a key component of live events (whether in person or virtual), and what (hopefully) keeps your event moving smoothly.
Example: what if my internet went out midstream of my event? Answer – take some time right now to learn how to turn your mobile phone into a hotspot, and how to get your computer connected to it easily. This will get you back into your event ASAP.
Now to the Middle of our story/event. These are the things that should be happening during your event (from its own beginning to end).
- Encourage Engagement, Part I:Throw Back to the Beginning
Mining the “story” metaphor a little more, Engagement is something akin to “Breaking into Act Two” – it’s a little bit of the Beginning of the story, and a whole lot of the Middle. Engagement itself can happen before, during, and after your event. Before can look quite similar to the beginning of this post, where I introduced myself with a feel-good story – it was to help you (the reader and potential event attendee) start building a relationship with me (or my brand, or my product). It is one of the reasons food bloggers include a 1,000-word essay on their personal life philosophy, or an anecdote about mushroom foraging, or an explanation of why they added extra gluten to their diet before they give you the recipe that you looked up – they want you to begin developing a bond with their personal brand, thereby trying to increase the odds that the next time you need a recipe, you’ll go to them instead of the food blog down the street.
2. Encourage Engagement, Part II:The Event-ing
Engagement before an event is great – it can help drive registration. Though, arguably, the most important Engagement is During. Having your event be engaging keeps your attendees plugged into you, it makes your attendees more likely to return to you, and it can potentially turn those attendees into word-of-mouth marketing machines. Engagement during your event can be achieved several ways:
- Decide beforehand how much of yourself you want to share with your audience – then be very open with that; introduce yourself, share anecdotes, and invite questions
- Use ice-breakers to introduce your audience to one another
- Ask attendees to submit questions either out loud or through a chat tool
- Pause after good take-away content, and ask for reactions
- Ask attendees to share their unique resources on the topic
- Hold polls or quizzes
3. Tech Trouble, The Return:
From the Beginning, you have to look out for tech trouble. But, more importantly, if it happens – take it with grace. Acknowledge the issue, apologize for the inconvenience to your attendees, and ask for a few minutes break while you do your best to fix it. Thank your attendees for their patience. Give them something to do while you’re otherwise occupied – polls, quizzes, chat prompts, etc. (all of those ways they can engage with you, they can now engage with each other).
If it’s possible, work with a partner who can take over hosting while you deal with the technology.
But, most importantly – take a deep breath. Tech issues happen to even the most prepared person. This too shall pass.
4. A Clear Call to Action
You are holding this event for a reason – to sell something, to teach something, to entertain, etc. Whatever your reason, you likely have something that you wish your attendees will do – that is your call to action.
“Buy tickets for more of my workshops!”
“Take this knowledge and pass it on to other people!”
“Visit my website for more moving poetry!”
“Sign up for my newsletter to get more great recipes and hear more about my mushroom foraging!”
Whatever your call to action, you need to communicate it to your audience. Sprinkle it in throughout your event, but be subtle. We’re talking foreshadowing here.
But as you start getting to the end of your event, it becomes time to pull out all the stops and declare what you want people to do. Make it clear. Make it concise. Make it easy for them to do.
5. Encourage Engagement, Part III:The Curtain Call
You’ve reached the end of the event. Your call to action has been delivered. You are about to sign off. But before you do, you have one last Middle of the story thing to do – say thank you (being sincere), and ask for feedback (still being sincere).
We’ve had a Beginning, we’ve had a Middle. Now, it is the End.
Or is it?
Like a lot of good stories, the End doesn’t mean that it is over. The End (for you, the event runner) means jumping back into the Engagement saddle!
- Encourage Engagement, Part IV: To Be Continued…
This step relies a little on you, the event runner, having a way to communicate with your attendees – either personally (emails), or in a broad, impersonal way (website, social media, etc). This is your chance to say Thank You once again, and to ask for more feedback. If you have any notes you want to share, pictures, edited recordings, or great questions you weren’t able to address during the event, this is when you can share them.
And, once you’ve done all that, you deliver one more call to action: come back for more.
Want some one-on-one help with an event that you’re planning? Book a session, and we’ll hammer out the details together.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this (very high-view) list of ways to make your event a success. Reach out to QandACreative@gmail.com to share your thoughts and ask questions.
Thanks for reading!
Development Coach for The Quill & Anvil: Creative Development
As a Meeting & Events Professional for over fifteen years, Maya has found ways to make her experience help others – she runs a local writing group offering support to science-fiction and fantasy writers, she volunteers with The Dancing Cat (cat rescue and adoption organization) putting on events to raise money for the charity, and now offers her event consulting on ProlificWriters.Life.