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How to run a successful event, according to 2 experts

How to run a successful event, according to 2 experts

There is something to be said for the bonds that form when you meet someone face to face. In a professional (or in fairness, non-professional) setting, that can come from hosting and attending events.

In a survey by event software Bizzabo, 95% of marketers said they believe in-person events can play a critical role in reaching business goals, while 85% of company leaders consider those events paramount for their company’s success.

There's also incremental benefits — it's key to growing your network, a crucial step when launching and growing a side business.

“Events build relationships,” says Melissa Mleczko, Senior Events & Partnerships Manager at Chartbeat, an analytics company designed to serve major news media outlets. “It’s how people put a face to the name. You become more trustworthy when you meet someone because you build a connection, and making a human connection—that’s the main objective for any event.”

So what does it take to ensure your event meets the goals you set out to achieve? We spoke to two senior events experts to help us understand the makings of a successful event, and what they’ve learned along the way.

How to plan for a successful event

Here are seven tips for planning a successful event, whether that’s a three-day conference or a 30-minute webinar.

1. Establish your goal

“Events can mean nothing if you don't have an objective,” says Lisa Day, an event marketing manager at Amazon Business, who orchestrates the company’s events in North America, Europe, and Japan.

Mleczko agrees: “The first question I always ask before starting any event is: what is the goal? Is it to increase sales? Introduce new product offerings? Engage with current clients? Attract new ones?” Once you figure out what those goals are, write them down so you can return to them throughout the process.

“Everyone has stakes in this: the marketing team wants brand exposure; sales wants to sell; executives want networking. Getting buy-in from everyone is so important.”

It’s also imperative to make sure your goals are aligned across your team.

“Everyone has stakes in this: the marketing team wants brand exposure, sales wants to sell, executives want networking,” Mleczko says. “Getting buy-in from everyone is so important.”

2. Stay organized during the event planning process

Throughout the planning process, be sure to keep everything documented. Create an event overview that chronicles the major details—date, time, venue, vendors etc.—and save all invoices and emails with your team and vendors so you can reference them as needed.

“I keep a full event plan and share it with all the executives involved,” Mleczko says. Keeping everyone up-to-date and aware of their responsibilities will help the process run smoothly.

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3. Choose the appropriate event type

Not all events are created equal. In fact, there’s a huge difference between, say, a 300-person gala and an intimate dinner party and a booth at a conference. “Start small,” Day says. “Maybe that’s hosting some dinners in a hot market or showing up at larger trade shows. Even just being an entry-level sponsor can help you get brand awareness.”

And while a recent study found that 95% of trade show exhibitors prefer in-person events to virtual ones, there’s a time and place for both. “Oftentimes, small businesses are extremely busy and don’t have a large budget,” Day says. “They’re looking to improve their ROI, but don't have time to travel to huge events.” That’s why Day’s team at Amazon Business hosts a free, virtual small business summit, allowing these founders to network and learn without having to spend a lot of money and time to get there.

Whatever event type you land on, be sure to clearly communicate what attendees can expect: “You don’t want them to be expecting a happy hour and walk in to see people sitting down for a presentation,” Mleczko says.

4. Pay close attention to the calendar

When scheduling your event, be realistic about your timeline. Especially if this is one of your first forays in the event world, it will likely take longer than you think to get things off the ground. “Build in a buffer,” says Mleczko, who plans more than 40 events in a typical year.

This also means planning around local holidays or other happenings in the area. “Once, I was going to an event in Vienna and it took me two hours to get from the airport to the event because the city’s marathon was the same day,” Mleczko says.

5. Know your event budget

Throughout the entire planning process it's important to keep your budget in mind, Mleczko says. Understanding how much you can spend will dictate almost everything about the event itself. “You want to be ROI positive, and to do that, sometimes that means you need to start small.”

Reference your list of goals to help you prioritize which aspects of the event you should invest most in, and use your network—or sites like the Vendry—to locate venues and vendors that fit your budget.

“Meeting your clients where they are is [events] 101. You’ll get so much more out of that, versus making them come to you.”

6. Target your ideal audience, then design the event around them

A fundamental goal of any event should be reaching the right people. “Make a list of who I think should attend—not necessarily specific people, but rather the positions and job titles you’re targeting,” Mleczko says, and then tailor the event to them.

“Meeting your clients where they are is [events] 101,” Day says. “You’ll get so much more out of that, versus making them come to you.”

Mleczko agrees: “I’m not going to invest in an event that doesn’t completely focus on our client base,” she says. That means choosing a location near where they live or frequent, a time of day that’s convenient for them, and a level of formality that feels comfortable to them.

In Latin America, for instance, you might schedule a dinner for 9 p.m. local time. In Norway, that same meal might be at 6 p.m. “Put yourself in their shoes,” Mleczko says. “If you were the person attending, what would be the best for you?”

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7. Recap & retro on the event

After the event ends, you still have one more essential task: recap. Evaluate the event’s success in measurable terms so you can determine if it was worth the investment, and use that data as a launching point for the future.

“If you don’t have a way to measure the success of an event, you can spend a lot of money and walk away and not know how it went,” Day says. But measuring doesn’t have to be rocket science. “Measuring success can be counting the people who attended, or just knowing the titles of who's attracted to your event.”

Most importantly, revisit your event overview. Did you reach your target audience and achieve your goals you set at the start?

And be sure to take feedback from your team, vendors, and attendees. “In 100% of the events I do, I would change something afterwards,” Mleczko says. “Thinking critically about what went wrong or what went really well and learning from that is what has made our events so successful.”

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