Corporate events range from afternoon parties to daylong meetings to three-day conferences. Ideally, employees or clients look forward to the event, participate in interesting activities, eat great food, get to network, learn something new and, in the end, walk away with a positive impression about the company.
But, unfortunately, not all events turn out that way, according to Michele Clark, an event-planning expert and the program manager for training and development at Corporate College. A poorly planned event can be a public relations disaster, she says, resulting in a long, drawn-out day — or days — that attendees find disappointing, boring or awkward.
“A successful corporate event has three important elements: diligent planning, consideration for guests and, most importantly, a commitment to fun,” says Clark.
Smart Business spoke with Clark for tips on how to make your next corporate event a successful one.
What are the biggest mistakes businesses make when planning a corporate event?
The biggest problem is when a business owner or CEO hands off the event-planning opportunity to an administrative professional thinking that he or she can handle it in his or her ‘spare time.’ Often, administrative professionals are thrown in without any training, have to shoot from the hip and hope all turns out well. Business owners tend to think that event planning is like planning a party, but, in fact, it is a full-time job that requires great attention to detail and time-consuming organization. It is a lot to ask of someone.
Another major mistake is not allowing enough time to plan. Many CEOs don’t have a concept of what it takes to plan an event — even a company holiday party or picnic. Not having enough time to prepare could result in lack of attendance, absence of key VIPs, and places or entertainment that are already booked.
A third mistake is when the event planner does not do enough research when booking an event or consider the target audience that will be attending the event. For example, don’t host an event for your ‘green’ company at a hotel where a nuclear conference is going on at the same time; and make sure that you check for food allergies and offer alternative meals so that you don’t contribute to an allergic reaction. Without research and attention to detail, your event could be a PR disaster.
How can a business avoid these mistakes?
Hire an event planner or train someone in your company to do the job, such as your administrative assistant. Make sure the event planner has the resources and enough input from you and other employees to do the job right. Make sure there is no conflict of interest in the chosen venue. Have all printed materials on a disk. If for some reason your materials don’t arrive on the event day, you can take them to get printed. Finally, have a plan B in case a key speaker cancels or other unforeseen events happen.
What are the elements that make a memorable, successful company event?
- Emotional involvement. The audience
needs to be invested in and committed to the event. You want them to feel excited
about going, wonderful when they are
there and happy when they leave. Provide
incentives for employees to attend, for
example, give away an iPod to the first 10
attendees or tickets to a show. Just
because it’s a company event doesn’t mean
you can’t use your marketing know-how to
get people to attend.
However, remember your event is not just a big party — get your attendees involved in the learning process in creative ways, rather than just have them sit through a three-hour PowerPoint presentation.
- Consistent message. Know the purpose for the event and articulate that purpose in your invitations and marketing
materials. Without a purpose and a consistent message, the event will feel directionless and will flop.
- Time used wisely. Have an agenda and
stick with it. Don’t allow long, drawn-out
speeches. Make sure you have a facilitator
to move things along and not let anyone —
even a VIP — dominate the conversation.
- Movement. If it is a long conference,
make sure that you schedule some physical activity, even something as simple as
touring the facility. Movement reduces tension and makes people more alert.
- Attention to detail. If the person planning the event is organized, you will have a
better company event. Little details go a
long way in keeping attendees happy.
What can a company gain (or lose) from company events?
A good event creates loyalty, provides education and develops a team-building environment for employees and/or clients. However, a poorly executed event can do a lot of damage. You can lose credibility with employees and clients. You can lose time and money. It takes effort — and a well-trained person — to pull off a successful event. But once you host a successful party, meeting or conference, people will talk positively about it and will be eager to attend your next one.
MICHELE CLARK runs The Shlensky Institute for Event and Meeting Planning and is the program manager for training and development for Corporate College, which offers employers custom-designed training programs to enhance future work force development, job growth and job retention in Northeast Ohio. Reach her at (216) 987-2909 or firstname.lastname@example.org.