When it comes to large conferences and multi-day events, some of the most memorable offerings an event can provide are in the connections made outside of sessions. When the formality of a conference is swapped out for the face-to-face interaction that comes with an informal chat over lunch, or a shared laugh over a networking breakfast, your event goes beyond an individual experience and becomes a shared one.
Breaks, event off-sites, and networking events play a significant role in promoting engagement at events; in fact, one survey found that more than half of the B2B professionals polled considered networking events to be the most engaging onsite experiences for attendees.
In our series, 6 Keys to Event Planning Success, we’ve covered four of the major elements that contribute to delivering a truly memorable event experience, including location, event flow, speakers and influencers, and media. Now we cover that tie that binds it all together, the ever-important spaces in between where attendees are able to engage with one another and enjoy a little downtime…
If your event offers optional sessions, it’s helpful to schedule a comfortable break time between sessions. Break time is also when guests grab their phones to check their emails; use this to your advantage by encouraging guests to share immediate feedback, photos, comments, or posts about their conference experience so far.
Double-check your agenda to ensure that your breaks are staggered; this way you avoid a bottleneck in your free spaces. After sitting through a lengthy session, the last thing attendees want is to be shoulder-to-shoulder on their way to the bathroom or refreshment area. But keep volume in mind when you’re strategizing – think geographically about where your breaks will be held so that they don’t disrupt ongoing sessions.
Factors to Consider:
- Does your agenda allow for breaks?
- Is there enough breakout space for your anticipated number of attendees?
- Is there an appropriate amount of free space that won’t conflict with sessions?
Food & Beverage
The last thing you want on your event evaluations is complaints about food and beverage. No matter how great a program you deliver, people remember if the meals, snacks, and drinks were good or not, and they will talk about it – whether that be on social media or to their colleagues.
Providing high-quality snacks and coffee is a must. “Don’t cheap out! It’s so tempting to simply go with whatever stock brand the caterer offers, but coffee fuels ideas and innovations,” says Robert Richman, culture strategist, and public speaker. “When I go into companies, I always see a connection between horrible coffee and dead cultures. This is an easy hack that will have people talking.”
Factors to Consider:
- What food and beverages will you be providing from your event budget, and what will the attendees be paying for? Does the city or region your event is in have a local specialty that it’s known for?
- Are there environmentally friendly options that fit within your budget?
The Event Between the Events
People go to events to network and socialize – this is what differentiates them from online events. “The nature of an event is that it’s personal, so aim for anything that enhances the personal nature of the event. People go to events because they want to be with other people, so you have to do things that encourage interactions at all levels, both before and after the event.” says David Raab, marketer, consultant, author and analyst.
Welcome receptions, happy hours, fun runs, and galas are all ways to encourage people to connect, chat about what they’ve learned and what they do, and exchange trade secrets. Social events are an important piece of the events puzzle, so don’t make the mistake of leaving them out in order to save time or money. Start and end your event with a fun activity or social event to encourage attendees to mingle – this will make a significant difference in how your attendees interact with one another throughout your event.
Factors to Consider:
- Do you have a designated budget for social events?
- Do you have a staffing plan for social events?
- Should events be held onsite or are there local venues available for happy hours, parties, etc?
The event website has gone live, the speakers are booked, the agenda is set, and now the downtime is filled with plenty of opportunities for people to network and re-charge. The next and final key to your event planning success is, perhaps, the most crucial in terms of your event goals: post-event follow-up. Tune in for Part 6 of our 6 Keys to Event Planning Success: Follow-Up.