Postmortem event meetings are a last chance to fix future mistakes

If insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, then any event planner that doesn’t do a postmortem after an event is crazy.

“Postmortems are an essential way to correct mistakes and make process improvements by discussing the good and the bad following an event,” says Ryan A. Konikoff, COO at Rock The House.

Instead, he says many event planners finish a big project and move on without digging into the details of the outcome to make things better.

“Even if an event goes well, there’s always room for improvement,” he says. “A postmortem can help identify ways to make the next event even better.”

Smart Business spoke with Konikoff about how to use postmortem meetings to improve events.

When is the best time to hold the postmortem?
The best time to conduct a postmortem is soon enough after the event that the details are still fresh in the staff’s mind, but with enough separation that the staff can look at it a little more dispassionately. Staff should still feel a little of the pain from the things that bugged them, but have enough rest that frayed nerves become less of a factor.

What’s the first step in an event postmortem?
Everyone involved in an event should be congratulated for some part of his or her contribution. The people involved in putting on an event all performed monumental tasks, regardless of whether it’s a lunch for the boss and a client or a three-day conference for 20,000 people. Events are often complex with lots of moving parts and can require some to work 20-hour days. So congratulate those involved with a pat on the back, a nice lunch or a toast to their hard work.

What should be discussed during the meeting?
An effective postmortem gathers feedback from all levels — attendees, any performers or speakers, sponsors, the event host, the audio/visual partner and the event staff. A great place to get feedback is from the bartenders, servers or staff working in sponsorship areas because they have their ear to the ground and know what really went on. That can lead to a follow up to deal with an issue that might have otherwise gone unreported.

In the meeting, go around the room and ask everyone how it went. Review the main sections of the event — arrival and entry, food, transportation, venue, entertainment, etc. Talk specifically to the people in charge of the individual categories to get their perspective.

When an issue is brought up in the post-event discussion, it’s critical to get to the bottom of why it happened.

Often, a postmortem is the last chance to have that exact team together, so it’s essential to get as much information as possible from them so the mistakes that occurred during the event can be avoided in the future.

Look into issues individually and objectively. For instance, it could come up that there was an hourlong wait for buses. There could be a completely understandable reason that happened, or it could be the fault of a vendor.

What can event planners do to avoid the mistakes uncovered in a postmortem?
All through the postmortem process, it’s important that everything that’s said is documented. Keep clear and thorough notes and file them in a way that they can be easily referenced. That way, the notes can be reviewed ahead of reoccurring events to help with vendor and location selection and setup, as well as appropriate staffing levels, and host and sponsor preferences.

Event planners should be cautious of success. There’s the tendency after a well-executed event to skip the postmortem, thinking there’s no need to discuss issues if none seemed to exist. But there’s always room for improvement, always something that could have been better. And in some cases, staffers need to learn how to better plan for success to ensure all guests have an equally good experience.

Embracing a postmortem system as standard procedure after each event will not only reduce errors, but also help identify ways to make future events even better.

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Don’t let mediocrity be the norm when choosing an AV provider

Complacency and mediocrity are often the expectation when dealing with audio/visual providers. The prevailing assumption is that AV professionals are grumpy and won’t go out of their way to be customer-centric, and that’s just how it is.

“That mindset makes feedback from microphones, delays because a tech can’t get the laptop to produce an image on the screen, or poor customer service typical or acceptable, and that doesn’t need to be the case,” says Matt Radicelli, founder and CEO of Rock The House Audio Visual.

Smart Business spoke with Radicelli about what to look for when choosing an AV provider.

What is it that separates the better AV providers from their competition?
A good AV team listens to the customer’s needs to determine the best approach and build an AV solution that suits that need. A quality AV provider wouldn’t shoehorn a client into a standard package just to make a sale.
The better AV providers are customer-centric.

They respond quickly to inquiries because they know it can be frustrating to wait, especially when time is short.

Follow up should be prompt and the company should feel satisfied that all questions were answered. Too often it’s the case that once a provider has the relevant information needed and delivers a quote, the client is no longer at the top of their list.

A customer-centric company will turn a quote around in less than 24 hours and politely follow up to see what else is needed.

Knowledgeable, approachable staff will go above and beyond to make sure an event goes off without issues, ensuring the equipment functions appropriately with standbys ready in the event that it doesn’t. Much of the troubleshooting is done through tech-checks well before an event starts to safeguard against disruptions.

What questions should companies ask as they research AV providers?
The first question companies should ask their provider is who they will be working with — who is their point of contact with the provider? It’s always best if there is a single point of contact throughout the process.

Ask about backup scenarios to all the ‘what ifs’ that could happen to disrupt the event. Some AV providers have an on-call technician who is on the road and available every day of the week. That ensures most failures can be solved quickly.

Find out about the provider’s quality assurance program. What can the host company expect if there is a disruption that’s solely the responsibility of the AV provider? It’s good to know how the company will make things right if they make a mistake. Also, ask if the deposits or retainers are refundable if the event has to be canceled.

Get references from companies that hosted a similar type of event. Some AV providers keep photos and videos of their work for clients to review.

Ask the provider what makes it different from the other providers. What value does it bring beyond setting up and running equipment? Any AV provider can set up speakers. But a standout provider becomes a part of your team. They help their clients make decisions about the best way to get their message out or how to structure an event for the greatest impact.

On what should a company base its post-event review of its chosen AV provider?
It’s important, but often overlooked, for an AV provider to follow through with the client after the event to understand how the client perceived the event, what went well and what could have been better, because the assumption is they will be a client again in the future.

When talking post-event, there are primarily three aspects of an event on which a company should focus: sales, planning and execution. Host companies should ask themselves whether the sales process was enjoyable and stress free; if planning was easy and thorough; if the provider made good on its event plan; if the execution was seamless; and if it was easy to do business with the company.

Companies that have had their events delayed or experienced technical issues during their events should get another vendor. Good AV is invisible. Great AV imparts a message and adds to the dynamic energy of an event. Anything less is unacceptable.

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How to send a strong message through events

Whether the purpose of an event is to strengthen the company brand or deliver a message from the internal team, every detail of the event must be handled with care. The signage, décor, centerpieces, handouts and every other element of the event is a reflection of the company’s ability and reinforces its approach to business.

Smart Business spoke with Matt Radicelli, founder and CEO of Rock The House Audio Visual, about strengthening an image and conveying purpose with events.

What purpose do events serve for the companies that host them?
Companies host events for a number of reasons. There are upload events geared toward employees during which a company collects insight from its team members, or download events in which the CEO makes a statement to everyone.

There are also state of the union meetings that involve a combination of upload and download meetings with a message from leadership followed by an opportunity for employees to give feedback or ask questions.

For-profit meetings provide a revenue stream and emphasize the company brand. Lunch-and-learns are a common form of for-profit meetings in which a target group is invited to a free seminar that’s capped by an informative presentation.

Where should companies put their emphasis if their goal is to strengthen their image?
Much of an event is about presentation — signage, color scheme, service, food, the layout and flow of the room. However, the touchpoints before and after an event are just as critical.

The impression guests have of an event begins when they first hear about the event and ends the moment they stop thinking about it, whether that be the day after the event or weeks later. Companies should be mindful to create registration and informational emails that are consistent with the brand’s standards and leave guests with a cohesive and positive impression.

Companies can also build value into an event by creating actionable takeaways. Guests, whether employees or potential clients, should never feel as if they wasted their time attending an event. One way to reinforce a message may be by offering a branded flash drive to guests that provides useful information that emphasizes the key takeaways of an event and/or brand.

When should an events/production company be brought in to help with an event?
Whether or not outside help is needed often comes down to the ability of a company. If a company has the same meeting every month, there’s a case to be made for purchasing the necessary equipment for those monthly meetings, but only if it can be easily stored and maintained.

Similarly, a company could rent equipment if it has an internal person who can operate it and troubleshoot problems.

On the other hand, for smaller companies with less time and limited technical abilities, it makes sense to seek outside help. There are companies that can simply assist with audio/visual setup or can serve as a full-time consultant to help with all aspects of an event.

How can companies learn whether their event had the effect they were hoping to achieve?
CEOs tend to have a clear vision of what they want to happen at an event. Often, it’s their gut that tells them whether a message was delivered and received as they had envisioned. For every event, CEOs must access the ability of the team to set expectations, vocalize goals and targets, and make sure everyone involved has their assignment.

It is crucial to determine upfront what needs to be accomplished. This may range from basic presentation elements, such as clear lines of sight and crisp audio, to organizational goals, such as number of leads generated or introductions made.

Regardless of the intent, it’s critical to plan ahead and be very clear on what’s to be accomplished. Each event must have a purpose and that must be identified by the host. If a company finds itself struggling to achieve its goals, it’s likely time to bring in professionals to assist.

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Say ‘thank you’ to employees by wowing them with a great holiday party

Holiday parties are meant to thank employees for all the work they have done throughout the year. It’s also an opportunity for everyone in the company to step out of their work roles and spend time with each other in a social setting.

“These special occasions should be built around making employees feel like valuable members of the team,” says Matt Radicelli, founder and CEO of Rock The House Audio Visual. “Companies are finding unique and innovative ways to thank their employees for a great year. And more often they’re going out of their way to give them an event to remember.”

Smart Business spoke with Radicelli about how to impress employees with year-end and holiday parties.

What are some elements that wow guests at an event?
When planning an event, regardless of the size of the budget, don’t spread the elements too thin. For instance, rather than featuring hundreds of small centerpieces on dining tables, put that money into three or four big arrangements placed throughout the venue that make an impression — they’re a success if your guests are gathering around them to take pictures.

Similarly, with entertainment, bring in a well-known act that will be the highlight of the night — an act employees will brag about to their friends.

Food and drinks can be a spectacle in and of themselves. For instance, flaming coffee bars that incorporate fire and liquor in the service or serving cotton candy on LED sticks that create a glowing presentation are gaining popularity. There is a lot of creativity being put into making a spectacle out of what would ordinarily be mundane.

Also, rather than typical waitstaff walking among the guests serving appetizers, some events have converted them into roving entertainment with a food component that gets people talking. For instance, there are waitstaff dressed in elaborate outfits over which they pour champagne to fill guests’ glasses, and there are flying bartenders who swing from a harness 20 feet off the ground. Anything that makes the food more of a show and less of just a meal is sure to make an impression.

What are some ways companies are keeping guests entertained and engaged throughout a holiday event?
Consider activities that aren’t necessarily the center of the room’s attention. People enjoy interactive attractions and anything that offers a souvenir they can take home from the event. Those could include photo strips from a photo booth, prizes from a game or contest, or custom merchandise, like hats or T-shirts.

Giveaways can also be entertainment, but the gifts should be impressive. Better to make it memorable by giving away tablets than looking stingy by giving out cheaply made, company-branded water bottles.

What energy killers should companies be sure to avoid at their events?
What really kills an event’s energy is trying to force employees into a party that may not be for them. For instance, a holiday party thrown for a group of mostly men ages 50 and older that features a giant dance floor is probably not the best choice.

And unless a common religion is really ingrained in the company’s culture, it’s better to keep those beliefs out of holiday events. Many companies are skipping references to any December holidays and rather framing them as year-end events that follow an unrelated theme or have no theme at all. Again, it’s about understanding the people in the company and building an event that suits their interests, not just those of a few executives.

What are some ways to leave a good impression on guests?
An understated way to personalize an event and show appreciation is for the executive team to greet everyone as they come in. Say hello, meet their spouses and family and strike up an authentic conversation unrelated to business.

It makes a great impression to send a personal letter to everyone after the event, thanking them for a fun night.

Also, it’s a good idea to make available anything that serves as a reminder of the event — a photo album on Facebook, a light-hearted video, for instance. It’s a success if people are talking positively about the event when they come in Monday.

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Taking action to create a more positive company culture

Company alignment and employee appreciation go hand in hand. Internal events are held in part to thank employees for their hard work, but there is a selfish reason to make sure the team is happy.

“Sometimes executives in the C-level may slough off the idea of an employee appreciation event as frivolity,” says Matt Radicelli, founder and CEO of Rock The House Audio Visual. “What they’re missing is the hidden purpose: an idea that will align the team, leading to greater efficiency while reducing turnover.”

But, he says, just the act of throwing an appreciation event is not enough in itself to align or engage the team. It has to be properly produced to effectively deliver that message of appreciation.

Smart Business spoke with Radicelli about throwing events with purpose.

What are the fundamental elements of internal events?
With any event, it’s important to be respectful of the team’s time. Events — whether it’s an annul kickoff meeting, state-of-the-company meeting, holiday party or an appreciation dinner — should start and end on time, have an agenda that’s specific and key company players need to be present.

The program itself should be fluid and have specificity — events should happen deliberately to generate energy. That means following a storyboard of sorts, with a clear beginning and end.

How should companies use events to boost morale and improve cohesiveness?
A group of people can’t be forced to jumpstart the company’s culture. If employee morale is important, committees should exist that are made up of people who care — never ‘voluntell’ someone or make them join the culture team.

One problem companies make is as a holiday party approaches, they recruit people from each department a few weeks before the date and ask them to plan an event. That’s not the worst approach, but it’s not best. These people may not have talked to each other throughout the year and haven’t likely planned an event together. There’s likely no chemistry and no ability to incorporate lessons from past events.

It’s best if the committee has knowledge of events thrown by the company through the years, including holiday parties, kickoffs and other meetings. Invest in the activities that led to improved engagement and morale.
Also, appoint a culture czar. While one person can’t do it alone — it takes a village to move a company’s culture — one person should lead the charge and be accountable for the outcome.

Why should a company look outside for help with internal events?
Third parties are typically specialists. They have the wisdom to guide a company to better outcomes. Bringing in a specialist also allows a business to focus on what they’re good at and not expend energy only to produce lackluster results.

Hiring the right event partner and forming a long-term relationship allows the two to build on success. Hiring the right people — whether consultants, comedians, caterers or an AV team — can help guide the planning based on individual knowledge and experiences.

Companies that have been doing the same thing for a while and getting stagnant results should invite a professional to offer a fresh perspective. Companies can find themselves watching the cultural growth of their competitors and feel as if they’re standing still. Bring in a professional and borrow their vision until new ideas can be generated without their help.

Ask associates from other industries about what’s going on within their walls. When was the last time they wowed their employees with an event and what was the result? Learn from them and incorporate their lessons.

Ultimately, employees matter. Employee appreciation doesn’t start and stop at the holiday party. Their happiness and engagement is woven into the fabric of the company’s culture, which in turn is inextricable from the company’s performance.

Companies that are stuck can find help. There are many organizations that produce hundreds of events each year. They know what works and what doesn’t.

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Get the small things right to make your corporate event a big success

Timing and energy can make or break a corporate event.

“Everything matters,” says Matt Radicelli, founder and CEO of Rock The House Audio Visual. “The audio, video, lighting cues, color palette, music, every detail is noticed by attendees, making them all important to the event’s success.”

Events such as kickoff and annual meetings, trade shows, conventions, seminars, even galas and fundraisers might not all incorporate every production element, but moving the event through its stages without disruption means the difference between average and excellent.

“An event is the vessel used to deliver a brand message,” he says. “It must keep people’s attention. A quality production can do that. Otherwise, attendees leave thinking they wasted their time.”

Smart Business spoke with Radicelli about what it takes to put on a top-notch event.

What production elements have become more common at corporate events?

Corporate event productions recently have taken a more relaxed, fun approach. There are more musical or video introductions, and there’s an emphasis on interactive engagement through technology, such as smartphone apps that allow people to instantly give feedback.

Events have bounced back from the years during the recession that saw pared down presentations. Now people are chasing bigger and better, more fun, and more excitement and engagement. And they’re seeing that it’s not necessary to spend big money to achieve that.

Regardless of its size or budget, an event can be great just by ensuring the audio and video cues are right on, that the content is quality and that the event structure, including breaks, are intelligently planned. There are, however, popular flourishes, such as video bumpers with 3-D graphics and celebrity interludes that show up more.

How important is timing and energy to a corporate event?

The timing and energy of an event are critical to its success. Properly planned events with great timing can do well despite having a small budget.

It’s important that the event starts on time, as should all other aspects of the event. For instance, when the speaker introduces a video, it needs to start on cue, at the appropriate volume level, and in coordination with the lights dimming. Otherwise, there are awkward moments that prevent attendees from becoming immersed.

Bad timing elicits unwelcomed emotional responses, giving attendees the sense that things aren’t going well. That can throw the energy of the whole event off, which likely means the brand and message are negatively affected. Attendees’ level of engagement suffers because they’ve been distracted by poor production.

What common mistakes do companies make in the planning stage that can hurt an event?

Most common is that the agenda and program are not being properly scripted, which throws off the timing — some portions run long, requiring that other portions are cut short to compensate. Script or plan out the agenda to cover everything that will happen from who talks, how long, the type of microphone they’ll use and more. This keeps everyone on the same page.

Another common mistake is not giving enough time for the setup of the event. Typically setup should be done the day or night before the event. Trying to save money by cramming setup into the few hours before start time rarely has good results.

How can companies ensure their corporate events are well-produced?

Take notes at events and use those notes when talking with your production partner to convey the elements that worked and what didn’t. Talk with people who host events and pick their brain to learn their lessons. And trust the professionals hired for the job. Give opinions, talk about goals and give feedback during pre-planning conversations and then let them do their job.

A good production partner can apply its knowledge to make the program more palatable for attendees. From parking considerations that factor in traffic patterns to ensuring power is available to charge attendees’ myriad devices, it’s important that every detail is considered so guests’ needs and comfort are accounted for.

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