‘Tis the season of festivals and events. From the great state of Texas with SXSW, to the nation’s capital with the American Express Summit for Success, to the infamous Bourbon Street in NOLA with Essence Festival, attendees will spend big bucks to be stimulated by lights, cameras, and action. However, what really makes these events some of the most coveted in the world? Free food? Celebrities? Brand activations from big names like Coca-Cola or Walmart? While those certainly help, the key to a great event is all about location, location, location!
Your leadership team may be laboring over where to host your next national conference or leadership event, but we’ve got some tools that are pretty cost-effective and savvy to get the job done and win over attendees.
1. Research other conferences or events that were held in your ideal location.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” Study past events to discover the different resources and services that are at your disposal. After all, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. From audiovisual production to catering vendors, it’s easy to get the 411 on what went well and what didn’t go so good. In some cases, it may even be beneficial to reach out to the event planners. Sure, they may not share all their secret sauce, but every little bit of information on a new landscape is helpful. Nevertheless, some information is easily accessible. For example, searching a social media hashtag can show you who attended the event, event attractions, and provide candid feedback on the end-user experience.
2. Build community before your guests get there—develop a host committee.
A host committee can be a powerful tool to generate buy-in for your event. One of the most critical ways a host committee can work to your advantage is cultivating relationships with local vendors for services like printing, decor, and swag. They can also serve as event sponsors and generate interest among potential sponsors as well. Because they are local, host committee members have access to a broad pool of potential attendees who may be more inclined to come to your event because they don’t have to worry about travel arrangements. The host committee may also be able to put you in contact with local media to drive your PR efforts leading up to the event. With a host committee backing your event, you can have a corps of stakeholders mobilized long before you even arrive in town.
3. Come from under the rock—current events are your litmus.
One of the keys to successful marketing is being able to grab your audience’s attention. As a type of marketing, events attain mega success when they achieve the “wow” factor—but here’s the secret. Following current trends is not enough. In order to achieve the wow factor, you have to go one step further than everyone else. One way to do that is to find out what’s happening in the cultural, economic, and political landscape of the host city—and shape your content in a way that allows you to connect to those topics. Include local organizations and personalities in your conference to demonstrate that you have your finger on the pulse of your field. Not only will you add an element of uniqueness to the event, but you’ll stand out even more as an credible source of thought leadership.
4. Make it sweet for your attendees—where are most of your stakeholders located?
A prime incentive for your stakeholders is the ability to experience a conference without fully amassing all of the traditional expenses–lodging, per diem, travel, etc. From sponsors to members, it is imperative to assess your data and understand where the majority of your stakeholders are located. Keeping your potential attendees at the forefront of your decision will incentivize your event. You will add immediate value and create a win-win situation. Stakeholder participation is likely to increase when associated costs are drastically reduced.
5. Lodging, flights, and entertainment—who wants to visit a boring town?
Conference headliners and topics undoubtedly draw a crowd. However, equally significant is the surrounding area. What better way to seize a networking opportunity than to explore a newly established relationship at a prime eatery or downtown social scene? Relatability in a relaxed environment is a sure way to foster lasting bonds. Robust surroundings will further seal stakeholders’ interest in attending your conference. The possibility of networking or doing business while enjoying the ambience of the surrounding locale is sure to lure. Business is relational. Choose your next location wisely, as the immediate buy-in is in the networking opportunities your location presents.
6. Visit for yourself—try before you buy.
The “try before you buy” concept doesn’t just apply to Warby Parker, Harper Wilde, and Stitch Fix. While online reviews and personal referrals are a quick kickstarter to your coordinating efforts, it does not indemnify your organization from a meeting planning nightmare. Touring the facility, having a bite to eat at an on-site restaurant or local eatery, or hosting a smaller event to gain insight into the customer experience are low-cost and low-risk opportunities to gauge the success of your site.
7. Secure commitment from local government and civic leaders.
The political landscape can be rather difficult to navigate. However, if you are an organization that provides advocacy and lobbying support to your members, it is no secret how imperative it is to demonstrate strength in those relationships. Even if public policy isn’t a part of your organizational agenda, having the support of public servants yields access to critical resources like relationships and information. Welcome letters in your conference or event booklet are great, but stepping it up with an opportunity for political leaders to provide opening remarks, serve on a panel, or even provide the keynote can truly impact the perception of your organization and its effectiveness.
About Corey Briscoe
Corey Briscoe is a thought leader who transcends industries. Briscoe is the Managing Partner for Internal Operations and Talent Acquisition. He oversees daily operations and human capital strategy. Known as “the company culture guy,” Briscoe specializes in molding leaders and uniting people around common goals. His ability to drive strategic agendas has privileged him to work with leaders across various sectors.