As we all slowly waken from summer’s sizzling heat, post-Labour Day will bring more than a nip in the air. Inboxes will be flooded with invitations to events—lectures, symposia, conferences, summits—all competing for the attention (and registration) of an intended audience.

How can you make your event stand out in the crowd and get the response you want in a crowded market? Planning and hard work!

But not to worry—if you have a process in place, the chances of your success increase significantly.

How does the event planning process work?  Let’s look at some key elements—event venue and optimizing participant comfort. In future blogs we can take a deeper dive into topics such as catering, audiovisual needs, exhibitor showcases and so on.

Early bird gets the attendees

To accommodate and be respectful of hectic schedules and a saturated event market, you’ll need to send invitations to a broad swath of your desired audience a minimum of six weeks before a scheduled event; significantly longer lead time for larger conferences. Keep in mind, early notification with reasonably well-developed content puts you ahead of most of the competition. Six months’ notice—or more—allows potential registrants to get approval, schedule travel if necessary and book off the time to attend your event.

Location, location, location

A central location is optimal to make it as easy as possible for your potential audience to attend. When preparing the invitation, try to think like a potential registrant who has no knowledge of your organization or the location of the event, and try to ensure that you answer all the relevant questions they might have. Did you include the website, map and directions to your venue in the invitation?  Is there detailed information about parking, public transit and wheelchair accessibility?

Registration in two clicks

Before you send the invitation, it’s important to make sure there is a quick and convenient online registration method—everyone’s time is at a premium. Registration should ideally require no more than two clicks of a mouse. Your marketing and communications team will be critical in helping to develop appropriate invitations and a timeline for deployment, as well as other important information for prospects and confirmed registrants alike.

Pressing “send”

OK, you’ve prepared the invitation and hit “send.” Now what? With the invitation out there, you need to prepare and schedule a series of email reminders (not too many—no one likes a spammer), right up until the “last chance” email within a few days of the event. These follow-ups can also include updates about the speakers or agenda and detailed logistics specific to the venue. For example, make sure your registrants know where they should go upon arrival at the venue—will there be greeters and appropriate signage? Are all your front-office operations staff briefed so they can offer assistance and guidance?

Venue

When assessing the venue, be sure to choose the right room size—not so big that a smaller event looks lost in cavernous space, but not so compact that participants are cramped together. There are many ways to manage both scenarios, if the chosen venue allows. Built-in retractable walls are ideal for making larger spaces smaller and more intimate.  If space is at a premium, consider renting smaller sized chairs (with no armrests) and avoid stage risers that take up space in the room. Instead, panelists can sit in higher director-style chairs to offer good sightlines.

Technology

Now let’s address the practicalities around technology. Most people like table space for a laptop or iPad and a coffee cup, rather than having to balance everything on their lap. One essential but sometimes forgotten detail to think about: is there a plug nearby for your participants’ devices? Everyone is hungry for power, but you don’t want participants tripping over power cords snaking like octopus tentacles underfoot.

Room setup and staging

Room setup and staging can be key to participant comfort and viewing perspective. Take the height of the stage and the position of the screen into consideration. No one wants to crane their neck to see presentations and watch speakers and panelists.   Is the sound adequate? Test for optimal lighting and be prepared to adjust room temperature.

Is it easy for people to enter and exit for breaks? Is there appropriate seating and manoeuvrability for disability vehicles such as wheelchairs and scooters? A scaled rendering of your room optimizes successful placement of other event elements such as easels, flip charts and whiteboards, literature tables, camera risers, space for AV technicians, and water or food stations.

The big day

OK. You have a plan, you’ve invited people, and they signed up! Now it’s time to get ready for the big day. On event day, guide attendee seating starting from front to back. For whatever reason, human nature sometimes leads people to choose seats near the back or an exit. One trick of the trade is to place “RESERVED” signs at back tables to force seating to the front, and then remove them as the room fills up. This will minimize the disruption of latecomers looking for a seat.

Be sure to reserve seating close to the stage and podium for the moderator, keynote speakers and panelists. If there are VIPs like high-ranking government attendees, corporate CEOs and sponsors, consider reserved seating areas and private break-out rooms to accommodate their need to take calls or meet with other stakeholders during the event. The chance they’ll attend is much better if all their requirements are met—especially if they know in advance.

If respect for your audience’s busy schedules and comfort during an event are prime considerations, you are guaranteed better engagement and feedback from your participants.  Word gets around about who’s running professional, seamless events—putting audience needs at the forefront is courteous and mindful of the hectic pace we all keep.

Stay tuned until my next blog on event logistics.

Janet Grant

Janet Grant is responsible for all aspects of events and meetings held within the MaRS Centre, where in-person connections are a key part of how MaRS’ convergence innovation model drives economic and societal prosperity. Since joining MaRS in 2008, Janet has helped to grow the number and range of meetings and events held at MaRS, delivering an exceptional customer experience to our diverse community. See more…