Organising a corporate event - steps to success

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“Contactless” is a becoming a metaphor for our society – people aren’t doing face-to-face in the way they used to as communications become increasingly digital and virtual.  But human nature remains unchanged and contact is still incredibly valuable whenever you are trying to get individuals to work effectively together.  Smart businesses and organisations understand this and make sure they create regular opportunities for face-time with the people who matter to them – staff, customers, prospects, suppliers, influencers and stakeholders. 

How do they achieve that?  By putting on regular events where these different groups can get together, build relationships, discuss issues, swop ideas, share information and make plans.  These can range from team building events to seminars and conferences, workshops and training courses to executive board meetings, celebratory dinners or office parties to extended strategy retreats.

Such events can have a huge positive impact – if done right.  However, this takes a lot of planning and a bit of money.  In this post we look at how best to approach creating such an event and how to maximise the return on your investment.

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Have a clear objective in mind

Start with the end in mind then work back to make it happen. 

So, do you want to get your sales, marketing and operations teams to develop a better appreciation of what each other does so they can all co-operate more closely?  Maybe you want to make existing clients feel valued while sharing with them new products and services you are in the process of launching?  Or perhaps you want to position yourselves as thought leaders in your sector by hosting an industry event and delivering the keynote speech?   

Whatever your ultimate goal you are more likely to hit it if everyone on the team knows what they’re aiming at! 

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Have a plan

Now you have worked out the “why” of the event you need to plan the “how”. 

The biggest questions relate to the guest list, the venue, the catering and the budget (more on these in a moment).  But there are countless other matters to consider.  For instance, is it a relatively simple event, like a workshop or a board meeting?  Or is it going to involve more than one element – an area for exhibitors, an auditorium with a stage, a formal dinner, music and dancing, a series of different workshop sessions, each of different size?  Where will you serve refreshments?  Will there be a reception area for informal networking?  Will you need to hire a DJ, band or comedian?

 The important thing is to scope out the big picture, list all the things that need to be addressed then have a clear plan of how you are going to turn your vision into reality.

Budget

Now you have the “why” and the “how” pinned down it’s time to ask “how much?”  How much money are you willing to invest to achieve your objective and do the job you now have scoped out?  It’s important to get agreement on a figure before you start turning those ideas into reality.  This will help you weigh up different options and hopefully avoid a situation where you are over committed financially.  Finding, at the last minute, that you need more money, or that you’ll have to skimp on some of the details and risk it being an embarrassing flop, is not a nice place to be!

At the very beginning, and depending on the type of event, you might be able to to seek a sponsor for (perhaps one of your vendors or suppliers), to consider selling tickets in advance or even partnering with a complementary organisation willing to share costs.

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Venue, venue, venue

Now it’s a matter of “where”.  It’s impossible to overstate the importance of this decision - the choice of venue can make or break the event.  These are some of the questions you might want to ask yourselves:

·         Is it in keeping with the kind of event you have planned?  The venue totally sets the tone, so you want somewhere that will help you achieve the right mood music.  For instance, do you need somewhere where you have exclusive use, or are you happy in a venue where other events may be going on at the same time or where you have to share with hotel guests or general visitors?  Does it have sufficient character to make the event feel special or is the space too bland and soulless?

·         Is it large enough, and flexible enough for your needs – you don’t want somewhere that’s going to cramp your style.  But by the same token you don’t somewhere too large where there’s little atmosphere and everyone’s “rattling around”.  Think through the timetable for the event – do you need an auditorium, a dining room, break out areas, outdoor space for activities, a bar, overnight accommodation, a dancefloor, quiet and private meeting rooms.

·         Is it easily accessible by road rail?  If some people are flying in where is the nearest airport?  Is there plenty of parking and is disabled access going to be a problem? Is electric vehicle charging provided?

·         If you want to incorporate some activities with the event is the venue able to organise these on-site and is there sufficient space?

·         Do they have all the AV capabilities and resources your event requires?

·         Are the staff genuinely experienced in event management or will your event test their capabilities beyond the limit?

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Food and drink

Now we get to the “what” – what are you going to serve in the way refreshments.  This is another big decision that will play a huge part in shaping the experience of those who attend.  Will guests be treated to a formal three course meal, a help yourself buffet or a barbecue in the garden.  Partly it depends on the type of event, the numbers attending and the budget.  Whatever you decide is most appropriate it is important not to disappoint – the quality of the food and drinks, along with the presentation should at the very least match the guests’ expectations, and ideally exceed them.  Bearing this in mind it’s wise to give them a clear indication, before arrival, of what will be provided.  Champagne and dainty canapes will go down well – unless guest were somehow expecting something much more substantial. 

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Timing

Next, the important issue of “when”.  Be very careful to ensure your event doesn’t clash with something else that may make it awkward for people to attend.  What major sporting events are coming up?  Be aware of major holiday periods and things like half-terms, major trade shows or even the finals night of Bake Off or Strictly.  Also be sure to give people plenty of warning so their diary is free as well as giving you and your team ample time to prepare.

Select your team.

Who is going to make all this happen?  You need to delegate the project to people who are capable of handling it.  Make sure it’s clear who the leader is and what roles and responsibilities are designated to the others.  Then make sure they plan everything properly and that progress is regularly monitored.  If things are getting behind schedules, the budget is getting uncomfortably tight or there are disagreements then you need to have reporting procedures in place to make sure corrective action is taken promptly.

If you are not confident you have the right people in-house to ensure success then you could consider bringing in an experienced event manager – or pick a venue that has a really capable event management team to help.

Before the actual day itself your team should mentally walk through the entire event, so everyone knows what is supposed to happen when – and who is responsible for making sure it does happen!  That includes everything from setting out chairs to sorting the name badges and checking the PA system to handing out the clipboards. This exercise will help identify how many other people you need on hand to cover all the tasks.

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Spreading the word

If the event is ‘invite only’ a guest list needs to be sorted and those RSVPs sent out well ahead of time, along with a tracking system so responses are recorded.  If the even is open to all you need to put a marketing plan together that covers things like email outreach, social media, press releases, flyers and advertising.  People are busy these days and a lot of demands are being made on their time – you must create a real buzz around your event if you want it to be well attended.

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Follow up

There’s a tendency, once the event is over, to heave a huge sigh of relief and move on.  This is a major mistake – it’s vital to harness the impetus created by the event and direct it towards achieving that original objective you set out with.  You, or the team assigned to organising the event, need to get in touch with all those who attended and move things forward.  This could just be thanking them for attending, asking for feedback, offering them some kind free trial or sending them further information – this depends on the nature of the event and what you want to achieve from it.  Internally you also need to review results – for instance, how many attended, number of current vs new customers, value of actual orders placed and so on. 

You also want to gather plenty of images from the event, both still and video, then post those on social media afterwards - it’s important to gain the maximum reach and impact once things are over so even those who didn’t attend are fully aware of what a great success it was.

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We’re here to help

At Clevedon Hall we host a wide variety of business events throughout the year for a broad range of different organisations.  The combination of a prestigious setting, flexible facilities, superb catering, luxurious accommodation and a dedicated event management team is a winning one.  We’re here to share our extensive experience if you need help putting on anything from a corporate bash to a training course, a conference to a networking event or an away day to a fundraising dinner – just give us a call.   

Jim O'ConnorComment