Meeting and event planners however are often equally hardwired to shun any opportunities for surprise of any kind. This may not apply to everyone reading this, but for many, we live in moderate fear of the many stakeholders who are part of the event and know that our jobs (internal or external) are only as secure as our last event is great, and we are always at the mercy of the whims of those responsible for choosing their next event partner - which may include an individual, a committee, or may roll to procurement. Procurement is particularly hardwired not to be excited by surprises.
So how can we balance creating positive surprises for guests and do this in a budget relevant manner? I think there are many ways of doing this, and much of it comes down to these things.
- Thinking holistically about the guest experience from the beginning
- Understanding the value relative to the objectives
- Being able to articulate this to your key stakeholders for buy-in
- Entrance or welcome entertainment that sets a tone and provides a delightful start; no matter how your guests arrived, if you can mentally transport them from the beginning you have already created an impact. Imagine arriving for a morning conference registration and a solo guitarist was playing - simple, inexpensive and sending a message today will not be ordinary
- Thoughtful transitions as simple as allowing time for hallway conversations between sessions to as surprising as a performance that leads them into a dining space
- Listening to what they have to say from a collaborative breakout session to a grafitti wall; a twitter stream that adds to rather than distracts from a session at hand - finding ways to listen and share messages is often a surprise to meeting participants still used to being talked at. A combination of great speakers and even greater facilitators has the opportunity to lead to even greater results.
- Where did that come from? A dessert bar that lowers from the ceiling, performers that come from an unexpected place, a 150' harp that arcs over a ballroom and appears as decor until it is played, a video that begins a session and the live presenter who appears to finish it - keep them guessing, keep them engaged in the process
- Where do I sit? Break out of classroom setups for meeting sessions and rounds for galas - mix it up and try something that has people talking. They came to the meeting to MEET, allow this to happen. Octagons and squares, lounge seating and balls, conversation clusters and pedestal tables - this year we have tried it all and each has had resounding success because we knew why we were choosing to mix it up - and the participants shared in the positive surprise and opened themselves up to the possibilities.
- Feed me well. Break out of the white bread, white flour habits - replace breakfast items with mini protein shakes, yogurt shots and other energy providing foods, lose the chicken and pasta lunches opting for items like a delicious Nicoise salad and a cheesecake pop, and start to see the energy of your attendees shift as they enjoy delicious and nutritious options.
- Seek out alternate venues. Mountaintops and riverbanks, gallery rooftops and forested parks, underwater viewing galleries and stunning train rides have all added up to amazing programs this summer - where are you taking your guests to get out of the norm?