This past weekend I attended a conference with my husband – it was a personal commitment, not work-related. However, as an event manager, it is easy to be distracted by the elements of the event and how the logistics were planned, and constantly assess what you would have done differently if you had planned it yourself. Unintentionally you get diverted from the reason you are there: the content. Thankfully, I was able to focus on the speakers. However, I was surprised at how many other takeaways I left the weekend with. Being an attendee refreshed my perspective as an event planner. I left encouraged by the content but also feeling convinced that every planner should make it a goal to attend events planned by others. Here’s why:
Empathy – I had a few moments throughout the 2.5-day conference where I thought to myself, “so this is how attendees feel.” We received name badges upon arrival, and I attached mine to my sweater, as I watched my husband sheepishly put his into his pocket. I, of course, know the value of name badges: they help you network, giving those around you a visual tool to remember your name; they help the event staff get your attention or confirm that you are an event participant, etc., and yet as Northerners (stereotypically very content not speaking to strangers), my husband and I were not there to make new friends or meet new people, we were there to absorb the program material. At many of the corporate events Castle executes, name badges are required, and there are always a stubborn few who refuse to put their badge on. Having to walk around in a group of strangers wearing a name badge myself, it reinforced my understanding of the need to be patient with attendees who don’t like them. This is just one small example, but in so many cases, being able to see, hear, and feel something for yourself, can bring empathy to the variety of attendee experiences we witness and onsite problems we solve as planners.
New Ideas – At this event, the photo booth and resource center were in the foyer space next to the bathroom. During each session break, when a line naturally formed at the bathroom, people also took photos or engaged with the staff in the resource area. While it seems logical not to put things near the restrooms, I thought it was clever how the planners utilized what could have been an empty space to encourage attendee engagement. They captured attendees who may not have sought out this event activity, while they waited in line or waited for their friends.
Good Reminders – Being an attendee reinforces what you already know as a planner. At the private continental breakfast buffet, there were individually packaged cereals mid-buffet, followed by milk. As no one is going to fill a bowl with milk and add the cereal after, a slow-down started as each guest would unpackage their cereal and pour it into the bowl before moving on. Adding to the traffic jam, the trash cans to dispose of your individually-portioned cereal box were on the other side of the room. This buffet experience emphasized the importance of thinking through the flow of the buffet line when planning menus and floorplans. As event planners, it’s our job to think these things through on behalf of our clients, and ensure everything from breakfast to the after party runs smoothly! Another good reminder was seeing how effective the count-down clock and accompanying music were in getting guests back in their seats after a short session break. The clock helped set expectations and gave everyone a clear understanding of how long they had until the session started back up. The “voice of God” and on-screen visual sent a clear message to the large group within the room and in the hallway, without requiring the speaker to repetitively call guests to their seats from the stage. This kept the program on schedule.
While these anecdotes may seem inconsequential, the overall experience of being an attendee gave me new appreciation for my own talented team of coworkers and the thought we put into every element of our events. Walking a mile in our attendees’ shoes and getting a refresher as to what it’s like to be in the audience, only helps us better accommodate the needs of our clients and guests. Whether you are an event planner, a marketing manager, or a decision-maker at your company, I encourage you to make the time to be a guest yourself; it will make you a better host and planner.