For about 10 years, I produced dinner events and conferences for print customers. They took place locally and in Chicago. Their focus? Educating professionals about printing technologies and how to work with the print industry.
With zero experience in the event business (unless a ton of public speaking counts), I just…well…jumped in. (It’s one of those things where it’s better not knowing what you’re getting into, or else you might never take the plunge.)
Every time I planned an event, I corrected something. Maybe it was the format, or the content, or the promotional strategy. I based it on my previous events as well as experience speaking at or attending other events.
There’s nothing like learning from your mistakes.
Because private customer events can be immensely beneficial for a printing company, I thought I’d share these 6 mistakes you should avoid when you’re planning your next customer event.
- Your event is all-work-and-no-play. Make sure you build in enough time for your guests to socialize with one another. For my early events, I was so concerned with providing educational value that I jam-packed them with sessions scheduled back to back. My advice to you: Relax! Print customers will attend your event not only to learn but also to meet their peers. Give them time for this. Naturally, refreshments will help.
- You forget to provide handouts and other materials. Sounds nutty, right? Yet I’ve attended conferences where this has happened. As you’re planning your event, think about what attendees will take away – literally. Are there important (not tacky) corporate promotional materials to give them? Do handouts of speaker sessions make sense? How about an attendee list? Are there other business-related gifts you want to offer, whether from your company or from sponsors? Sending guests on their way with something in hand will add to their fond memories of your event.
- You schedule your event on the wrong day. One of the very first things you should do when planning your event is to pick the date carefully. Naturally, you’ll avoid Federal Holidays. Also avoid religious holidays, especially but not limited to Christian and Jewish holidays. Be mindful of school vacation weeks, if they’re applicable to your guests. If your area tends to get clobbered by snow, avoid certain months of the year. Finally, always do a search on other industry-related events. Don’t schedule your event when similar events are being held.
- You neglect to ask attendees for feedback. We crafted our attendee and sponsor feedback surveys well before every event we produced. It’s so incredibly easy (these days I use online surveys by Surveymonkey). Send out emails with your survey link within 48 hours of your event. You’ll have to email attendees at least twice if not thrice. This feedback is pure gold. Attendees will tell you what they loved and what they didn’t. Get ideas for future events. You’ll even gather great testimonials (just make sure you get permission to use them). The key is collecting feedback as soon as possible. Attendee interest will fade with each day that passes.
- Your signage stinks. The great and knowledgeable Frank Romano gave me this advice before my first print buyer conference: Make sure your signs are good! It’s one of those niggling details that I left till the last minute and planned way too quickly. He was right. Signage at customer events makes a huge difference. If you’re hosting customers in your sole conference room, there’s no worry. However, if you’re having a larger event in a bigger venue, be sure to have excellent signs that guide attendees to rooms, dining spaces, restrooms, sessions, coatrooms, and so on. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about lousy signage (this usually means nonexistent) while at trade shows. It leaves a terrible taste in your mouth and generates anger and frustration. Who needs that?
- You don’t act like a Virgo. Thankfully, I am a Virgo, making me super-organized and worried about the tiniest event detail. When planning your customer event, prepare for the “what ifs,” even if nothing goes amiss. Here’s what I mean, in no particular order:
- If you have an outside speaker, what’s the contingency plan if he or she doesn’t show up?
- Have you confirmed all of your AV needs and tested out the equipment?
- Do you have enough staff on hand, and are they trained to answer questions?
- Do you have enough handouts? How about pens and paper?
- Do your guests have driving directions to your facility?
- Did you send all confirmed guests a reminder email on the day or two before your event?
- Do they have an agenda of what to expect?
- If you’re serving refreshments, is the order complete and the delivery confirmed? Did you check ahead of time to see if food allergies apply to any guest?
- Are you using nametags, and are they ready?
Isn’t your goal to have your attendees say your event rocked? Well, I promise these 6 tips will help as you plan your seminar, open house, educational seminar or conference. Your event will be more successful, garner better reviews, and your attendees will count the days, or months, till your next one. Happy planning!
(c) 2014 Margie Dana.