A great way for any business to increase its likeability is by hosting a customer event. But be cautious: Events are live productions and must be done well. Here are ten tips on how to throw a good business event:
1. Select the right venue and the right guests. There are three factors that influence attendance: the content, who's hosting and attending, and of course, the venue. The first two make sense, but venue is something that is often not given the consideration it should be. If you are selling a high-end product, don't select an airport Holiday Inn because it is convenient. People will travel to an 'aspirational,' trendy or interesting venue and associate it with your brand, but you need to know your audience.
2. The 4-1 invite rule: I have had many clients tell me they are expecting 100 people only to find they have invited 120. They are then dismayed when only 30 RSVP. We consistently see a 4-1 ratio of invitees to attendees at customer-facing, free events, so if you want 100 guests, you need to invite 400, or adjust your expectations accordingly. This does vary slightly by content and employee-facing events can be slightly higher but a good rule of thumb when determining the size of your event and invite list.
3. The 7-minute rule: Did you know that every attendee, regardless of how outgoing they are, arrives with a slightly elevated heart rate and measurable low to mid-level angst? It's human nature: the fear of walking into a new environment with new people. Make your audience comfortable in the first seven minutes. It will impact how and if they absorb your message. Physically walk through your attendee experience – from the parking-lot to the entrance. Make sure you have adequate signage. No one likes getting lost on their way and they will arrive flustered. Use human signage too. Live events are about getting people face-to-face, a human experience. Position representatives at key locations to greet, direct, answer questions or just smile. And please make sure you have a coat check that is organized. Nothing creates angst in attendees like the fear that their coat (containing their house and car keys) may get lost. The sooner you make guests comfortable, the better your event and their retention, the vibe and overall success.
4. The in-hand rule: Humans are just more comfortable in a new environment when they have something in their hands. Cigarette companies have capitalized on this for years. But this in-hand rule applies only to beverages, not hand-outs. If you are hosting a cocktail event, do a "pre-pour" so that waiters greet guests with trays of drinks on entrance, ensuring they have something in-hand sooner and decreasing the risk of bar line-ups. If it is a breakfast event, ensure the coffee station is close to the door and well stocked. People immediately relax when they have a beverage in hand. The opposite is true of hand-out materials. Place them on the chairs, give only what is relevant, provide something to carry them in and if you can, replace with mobile apps that download info to their smart phones or drive to on-line to retrieve materials. Your guests and the environment will thank you.
5. The 20-minute standup presentation rule: If there are presentations longer than 20 minutes, you must provide seating for everyone. Also, placing screens around the room will ensure less talking in the back of the room, from those who feel removed from the presenter.
6. The death-by-PowerPoint antidote: No tiny fonts, complicated charts and graphs and follow the three-to-five bullets max per slide rule. Show video only if you are confident it will run and have rehearsed it with the AV provider. Use a bumper slide and a switcher so that you can transition between presentations easily, avoiding the desktop image, or worse still, your screensaver of you in a bathing suit at the cottage with the kids. Keep the content short and relevant. Show, don't tell. Don't give customers the infomercial on your services at an appreciation event. Give them an experience. The rest will follow with affinity for you and your brand.
7. AV is VIP: Music and lighting are the cheapest and most effective tools to set a mood, whether it is a day or evening event. Use them effectively. If you are staging a presentation, remember the screen is the next most important thing in the room. Everyone is staring at it and they expect it tell them what is happening and when. It is a focal point and reflects your competence as a company. Mitigate AV/technology glitches together with your AV provider and go through a rehearsal and an AV checklist e.g. insist on new batteries for all wireless mics and new bulbs in the projector at the beginning of each session.
8. Brand ambassadorship: Ensure every staff person at your event is a brand ambassador. Not just the members of your own staff, but all the staff in the room. Even if they are just the bartender or a waiter, arm them with information about the event, the objectives, the message, key customer info and all about your brand.
9. The chat & chew rule: Don't make hors d'oeuvres too big (lady-like, bite-sized only), too sticky or too smelly (garlic should be used to flavour slightly not overwhelm conversation) and provide scattered leaning and seating options at a stand-up event.
10. Follow up: The event is the middle. Pre and post event interaction is critical to extending the experience and your ROI. Your first impression is the invitation and the RSVP process and a "thank you for attending" e-mail following event, with relevant information if possible, tells them you cared that they came.
Lastly, have fun. If you are stressed, your guests will be too. Remember the objective of any event is about building likeability. So even if things don't go perfectly, it is the way you handle the situation that will matter. Gather everyone together right before you open the doors and empower them to enjoy themselves, smile and build relationships. Getting your brand face-to-face with your customers - and having fun in the process - will build loyalty, likeability and grow your business.
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