How to Design a Killer Live Event

A poorly run event can be an attendee’s worst nightmare. Thousands of people pour into the conference venue at the same time, and the attendee is forced to endure long lines of grumpy people and a very unwelcoming welcome wagon.

Later during a breakout session, the attendee is roped into a painfully awkward “human knot” exercise. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he has to spend dinner at a corner table with Pushy Paul and Wallflower Wanda. The only thing more awkward than their conversation about supply chain synergy is the amateur improv group selected for the evening’s entertainment.

Cringeworthy moments like these are the reason corporate events get such a bad rap and create a lot of scrutiny in terms of return on investment. The goal of live events should be to educate and inspire employees and attendees, facilitate networking and create an atmosphere of celebration — which won’t happen if attendees feel awkward, frustrated or bored.

I lead the experiential group at GES that organizes events in the B2C and B2B spaces. Designing an event that forges a positive brand connection is no easy feat; it’s an exercise in logistics, design, human psychology, strategy and tactics. We’ve learned that every great event starts by considering the attendee’s point of view and these seven secrets to a memorable brand experience:

1. Start with the right emotional ingredients

No matter what the theme of your event may be, effective experiential marketing starts with considering the emotional response you hope to provoke from your audience.

Passion, fun, surprise, anticipation and spontaneity are the ingredients you need to host an impactful event. They’re the reason event marketers bring in surprise guests to speak and why Steve Jobs always began his biggest product announcements with “One more thing…” — a little mystery, intrigue or controlled chaos followed by a reward creates a positive, enduring response.

 

2. Design a seamless registration experience

Registration is one of the most neglected components of an event, which means it’s often a low point for attendees. Getting great service right when they arrive contributes to the overall event experience, and goodie bags or exciting info areas add to that positive first impression. This is a tactic that can’t be underestimated, and if there’s one area in which you pay the most attention to tactics, it really should be this one.

 

3. Communicate the core educational message

You should always communicate the central message of your event before attendees arrive and continue to drive this idea home throughout the event. O Magazine’s O You! event does this really well. The general session is incredibly inspiring, and everything about the creative is designed to represent the brand as a feminine and empowering one.

Your event’s core message needs to be fresh and extremely relevant, so try gathering ideas from your employees beforehand to shape the event content. The event leader or guest speaker should communicate this message right off the bat with an inspiring talk that offers a quick preview of what’s to come.

 

4. Encourage audience engagement 

Encourage Audience Engagement | Live Events

Get attendees involved on social media before, during and after the event with a simple, easy-to-remember hashtag. Encourage audience members to ask questions through a live Twitter feed during the general session, post real-time event updates and upload high-quality photos and videos.

 

5. Opt for expo-style learning labs 

Nobody enjoys cheesy corporate icebreaker games like “two truths and a lie.” So instead of holding breakout sessions in which group interactions feel forced, arrange learning exhibits in a ballroom like an expo.

At one event I attended, a famous fast-casual brand had arranged the main floor of the event venue to look like a trade show. One exhibit was to launch a new sub-brand while another featured information on ethically sourced ingredients. It was a visually appealing solution that kept attendees engaged throughout the session.

 

6. Arrange receptions for natural networking 

To host an enjoyable reception, you must design it with human behavior in mind. Rather than isolating small groups of people at round tables like a wedding reception, consider family-style seating that keeps everyone connected. These seating arrangements remove awkward social barriers and prevent people from hiding away in the corners.

 

7. Promote fun and celebration 

Fun and Celebration | Live Events

Captivating entertainment and celebrations are cornerstones of any memorable event. Ideally, the entertainment should be somewhat relevant to the theme, but that doesn’t mean a watered-down rock band or boring slide show. Use entertainment as an opportunity to get people out of the hotel or conference venue, and deliver a performance that leaves them awestruck.

And don’t forget to recognize key players! The end of the event is the best time to recognize extraordinary individuals within your company by holding an awards gala or celebratory session. Consider bringing in a celebrity host such as a comedian to keep things light and energetic.

Conferences, trade shows and corporate events often get the reputation for being stuffy affairs with lots of awkward mingling, but they don’t have to be like that. By taking a thoughtful approach to experiential marketing, you can design an event that leaves attendees feeling energized, inspired and ready to tackle your company’s greatest challenges.

A lot of work, planning and time go into executing a top-notch event, but we're here to help! Ready to make your next event EPIC? Let's talk.

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About the Author

Daniel Hilbert

Dan is the Senior Vice President of the Corporate and Consumer Event Planning and Activation team at GES. He has more than 25 years of experience across a diverse range of marketing industries and disciplines. Having held senior-level roles on both the client and agency sides of the business, Dan’s passion is in live events where inspiring environments and personal connections drive business forward.

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