Ladies and gentlemen, it’s that time of year.
It’s Booking Season. You know, the season where I sit down, answer emails, make phone calls, and schedule meetings to book shows for the following year. Now these shows can range from thirty people in a basement, to five hundred people in a conference center or theatre.
But a least a few times a year, I come across someone planning an event that has a boatload of other questions that usually pertain to the rest of the event. Sometimes, it’s about catering. Or, it’s about audio and lighting. Other times, it’s about how to make whatever the event is special or unique in some way. And, being an expert event-goer, I’ve been to my fair share of events from every edge of the spectrum. And this year, I’ve had a few back-to-back requests about how to really add some pizazz to upcoming events that clients are hosting. So, to help all the would-be planners out there, I’ve decided to put together a little list on how to add some simple things to make your event pop.
Tip #1: Get Some Entertainment
This, obviously, is my area of expertise, so let’s get it out of the way first.
Sometimes all it takes to spice up a party is a little entertainment. Obviously, there’s a lot of great reasons to hire a magician or mentalist for your party (after all, I know a guy), but you don’t have to. Even something simple like a guest MC, a DJ, a photo booth, a band, or a party game can give your event a boost. Why? It gives your guests something to do. Plus, with good event entertainment, it’s easy. They come in, set up, put on a great show or entertain your guests, and you get all the credit at the end of the night.
After all, we’ve all been there. There’s an event, you go, and you really only know a handful of people. You sit down, you try and make small talk, and then, silence. You stare at each other, maybe try and distract yourself on your phone, and find your way home as soon as possible.
With entertainment at the venue, people get up, they talk, they interact. Even with something simple, it’s a chance for your guests to bond over a common interest and break the ice. Whether it’s dancing, goofy photos, or an entertainer, there’s something in the room that at the least provides a subject for conversation, or at most makes for an incredibly memorable occasion. In my case, clients have come back saying that their guests loved the fact that there was something different at their event, and have asked to bring me back again. Suddenly, not only was the event they attended exciting and memorable, they’re looking forward to the next one.
Tip #2: Plan, Plan, Plan
The most stressful and unenjoyable events I’ve been to (as a hired entertainer, during my time working for a catering company, and as an attendee) all have one general philosophy in common:
“We’ll just go with the flow and let it happen.”
While I can see the appeal of just letting things all work out on their own, not worrying about the basics and letting things play out on their own is how disasters happen.
Getting out in front of things and having a plan makes the event run smoothly. Now, this doesn’t have to be a militant itinerary down to the second, but having a sequence of events and an idea of what your guests experience can not only be a lot less work than you realize, it makes the event run smoothly and seamlessly for everyone from the guests, to the caterers, to the entertainment, to the venue, to anyone else involved. And, having a plan allows you to schedule ahead, giving you the opportunity to work out any kinks that may arise and get back on track as soon as possible. Need guests to sign in and now sure how to handle it? You can work it out beforehand, instead of having a bottleneck at the door the night of. Have some guests of honour that need to be addressed during the speeches? You can add them in while you’re going through the itinerary instead of hastily grabbing the microphone and stammering through apologies and forgotten details. There’s countless examples about how a little organization can go a long way to making your night run smoothly from the get-go.
Tip #3: Think With Your Stomach (And Your Heart)
Again, I might be a little biased here, but good food can go a loooong way. The thing to remember about most events with food isn’t that it’s about just feeding your guests. Think of it this way…
What makes Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or Easter, (or whatever it is that you celebrate) dinner so special? The food itself carries the symbol of love, and care, and good times with family.
What about celebrating an anniversary, or a promotion, or some other milestone with a fancy dinner? The expensive, specialized meals are a treat. You’re splurging on something special.
Or, going on a trip to a faraway land and eating what the locals eat? It’s not just a meal, it’s an experience.
The fact is, food is more than just for feeding. It carries memories, emotions, and experiences with it too. Which means that feeding your guests isn’t just about filling their bellies and keeping them satiated. The meal you provide shows your care about them, and it’s a way to say thank you, or happy holidays, or any other sign of gratitude or good will you wish to carry on. Taking things like dietary needs of your guests can also go a long way as well (back to that whole “Plan, Plan, Plan,” thing...) showing that you truly appreciate who’s attending your event.
Now I’m not saying you need to break the bank on a five-course meal. Obviously everyone has a budget to stick to (again, Tip number two…), but taking the time to consider food choices can do a lot for taking your event to the next level.
Tip #4: Create A Buzz
Before I continue, there’s actually something I need to clear up. “Creating a buzz” and “having a surprise” is definitely not always the same thing.
Whenever I have a client contact me and they say that “I’m a surprise” for the evening, I strongly urge against it. Why? Because, honestly, a lot of people don’t like surprises.
Now the reasons why people don’t like surprises could be an entire blog post on its own (in fact, it is...and you can find it right here). But the main reason is that surprises, for one reason or another, create anxiety. And, while in some cases the surprise is the buzz, it’s likely to be more off a turn-off than anything. So, if a surprise isn’t a good idea, how do you create buzz? By telling all of your attendees exactly what you’re doing.
Tell them that you’ve got a great venue. Tell them that you’ve hired an awesome caterer to make an amazing meal. Tell them that they can get silly at a photo booth. Tell them that you’ve hired a world-class magician to entertain them after they stuff themselves with great food. Tell them that they can dance the night away while having a drink or two. Basically, tell your guests about all of the details that get you excited. Because if you’re excited, they will be too. And, if you plan accordingly (*cough* Tip Number Two *cough cough*) you can get out ahead of your event way in advance and start dropping little buzz-bombs to ramp up the excitement.
Tip #5: Make It Mean Something
To be honest, this tip is actually a bunch of little tips all rolled into one. Essentially, you want your event to have personal touches to make sure the people attending feel like they’re special, and not just a butt in a seat.
Obviously, there’s degrees to this. You could go the extra mile and find out what everyone’s favourite drink is and make sure that the bar is stocked so that all the ingredients are available. You could have your caterer make everyone’s favourite childhood meal. Your table cards could be custom-matched to everyone’s favourite hue. There’s really no upper limit to what you could do for guest appreciation. That being said, you don’t need to go overboard. But whatever it is you do, make sure your guests feel special.
This could be something small. Goodie bags at the tables filled with candy. Maybe a chance to win door prizes. Or, probably the simplest of all, a free drink ticket to everyone who attends. All it takes is a bit of generosity and compassion to make your guests feel noticed. At the end of the evening, thank them for coming. Recognize all the people it took to pull off the event. Show your gratitude for everyone in the room. After all, as the old saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
Tip #6: Ask Questions
Just because the night is over, doesn’t mean the work is.
The next thing to do is follow up with your guests.
It doesn’t matter what the event is - a fundraiser, a gala, an office Christmas party, a customer appreciation night - talking to your guests is a great way to find out what they loved about the night...and more importantly, what they didn’t.
Again, this doesn’t necessarily have to be a ton of work. If it’s an office party, ask around in the lunchroom the next workday. If your guests registered online, send out a link to a short questionnaire. The point is, there’s no such thing as bad feedback. Take what you get, and put it into your plan for the next event, and blow your guests’ socks off again.
Obviously, putting on any event takes a lot of work, a lot of money, and a lot of time. But no matter the event, the potential to go off the rails is there. But with a little bit of planning and consideration, I’m more than confident that you’ll put on a rock-star evening.
See you there!