...and how to avoid them!
You'd never make any of these blunders, but you probably know someone who has. Or not, in which case you may be some sort of Event Planning God, possibly waited on by a clique of minor but equally flawless venue deities.
1. Sales – Using discounts and coupon codes (badly)
Are guests buying tickets for your event? Early bird discounts are all well and good, but remember that you’re cutting into your profit margin for each discounted ticket sold. Always make sure you know where that money is going and what you're getting in return. Discounts are best used strategically:
- To compete with other similar businesses in a similar market
Coupon codes make sense when you want to undercut the competition. Make it clear that they’re available for a limited time only – this adds urgency to the purchase process and encourages unsure ticket buyers.
- To track where your ticket sales are coming from and optimize your marketing efforts
Use different discount codes for each marketing campaign. When your event is finished, dedicate some time to understanding what worked and what didn’t. Keep using this strategy and you’ll eventually narrow down the most productive avenues to sell tickets for your particular event.
- To reward and engage clients and customers
If customers learn to expect regular discounts then you’ve basically succeeded in undercutting yourself. Be sparing with them and you can reward loyal fans or promote your event through partners with exclusive offers. As a customer, even 10-15% off can feel like a lot more when you know other people aren’t getting it.
- To close sales with longer term customers
But not all customers. Make sure you’ve figured out the ROI for your tickets, especially before you start handing out significant discounts. Be aware that larger price cuts can have a negative impact on your brand; make them too high and you run the risk of looking desperate or having customers think that there’s something wrong with your product.
2. Resource allocation – Problems with space and time
You might have good speakers and exhibitors, but that won’t mean much if you haven’t given them the right rooms.
It's vital to know which aspects of your event are likely to attract the largest audiences. You can then make sure that the allocated space is suitably sized. Be sure to pay attention to acoustics and check that your AV systems are up to scratch.
Similarly, giving a large room to someone doing a very niche presentation is usually a mistake; semi-deserted conference halls are embarrassing for speakers and depressing for attendees.
Of course, that’s not to say that every aspect of your event needs to draw large crowds. A small, engaged group in an appropriately sized room can create the sort of intimacy that makes a conference particularly memorable.
All right, so you’ve got rooms sorted.
If you've booked speakers, have you allocated their time slots appropriately? Obviously you’ve margined for introductions – I’m talking about different periods in the day. A few things to think about:
Will audiences be ready for the first speaker and are late arrivals likely?
It can be a good idea to have some key ideas presented when energy and attention levels are highest. On the other hand, you don’t want an important presentation to start late and run-on because you’re waiting for stragglers.
Who have you got speaking before and after lunch?
The first slot is problematic because attendees are getting hungry and will be figuring out who they’re going to meet up with. During the second, guests may be sleepy, tipsy or still busy talking to colleagues and customers.
What’s your final presentation?
Ending the conference on a high note is clearly ideal, but attendees are likely to be tired and ready to go home. Whether it’s worth saving one of the best for last is a difficult decision that depends on experience and an understanding of each particular audience.
3. Engagement – Social media gone wrong
Social media is incredibly useful from an organiser’s perspective, but that doesn’t mean you need to be everywhere at once. In fact, pushing engagement too hard can have entirely the opposite effect. It’s also much more difficult to produce quality content and cultivate a friendly atmosphere if you’re attempting to do it all across multiple platforms.
Instead, pick one or two social media channels and use those exclusively.
Talk to people, connect with them and you’ll not only find the whole process more interesting and rewarding, but also easier to keep up.
Encouraging attendees to use social media at events is vital, although yet again there is such a thing as excessive engagement. “Engagement” in this sense is a bit of a misnomer, since it usually equates to something like twomiting. Observations and experiences are valuable; a continual echo of what the speaker said 10 seconds ago is not.
You can take steps to prevent social media abuse in several ways - one is to livestream the event.
This will often garner interest by itself, but it also makes Twomit-like updates fairly pointless. Similarly, having a twitter stream in front of your audience will make guests think for longer about what they want to say. A twitter stream can also be quite a lot of fun and it encourages the kind of questions that some attendees may be unwilling to ask out loud.
At the other end of social media gone wrong is its absence; from whence storytelling and light-hearted banter should emanate, there is only silence.
And a gaping void of missed opportunity. Do yourself a favour and be active on at least one social media avenue. It’s not difficult and it’s certainly worthwhile - unless you really don’t care what anyone else thinks!
4. Facilities – Failure to accommodate
No, not the requests of the speakers or the buffet preferences of the client – we're talking about everything, including your attendees!
First off, make sure you have fantastically obvious signage.
You might know where everything is located but try to imagine that you've never been to the venue before. Does the layout make sense? In general, but especially if you’re using volunteers, there also needs to be a place for staff to take breaks and leave personal items that’s suitably hidden from attendees.
But wait! There's more:
Is the entrance to the venue clearly marked? Where are guests going to park? Will they have coats and bags to drop off? How about wet umbrellas? Are the bathrooms spotless? Will they be kept spotless?
These are the sort of questions that tend to escape notice amongst all the other high priority tasks that need doing. But they are important, albeit fairly basic, concerns.
And what if things go wrong?
Event planners are fond of quoting Murphy’s law – “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” – even though it’s only slightly less naff than the nonsensical imperative to “expect the unexpected”. The real take-home message is simply this: spend some time thinking about the kinds of problems you might encounter during the event. Create a back-up plan for those eventualities and you won’t disappoint guests or look unprofessional if they do come to pass.
5. Concluding gracefully – Not following up
Done thanking everyone?
Great, now you need to follow up.
The show might have ended, but it’ll still be fresh in the minds of your guests for a little while longer (one hopes). Keep in contact via social media. Be sure to ask for feedback and testimonials. Create a write-up with some pictures and highlights of the event to send out during the following week.
This is also a good time to advertise your services for future events.
This is especially true if attendees left on a positive note and felt like they got their money’s worth. How you choose to do this is fairly case dependent, but it’s a good idea to personalise your follow up marketing and find a reason to contact potential clients that isn’t just about the sale.
Finally, you should set aside time to reflect on the event itself.
Take five to think about what went particularly well and what could have been done better. Be sure to talk to your staff and address any concerns that they may have. The results of this process will be useful for planning, budgeting and timing in the future, and can serve as a jumping-off point for the next iteration of a recurring event.