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Events: The Guest Experience

As an event planner with almost two decades of experience planning fundraising galas, award dinners and client appreciation events, being a GUEST at an event is sometimes challenging as my trained eye pays attention to every detail and I can quickly see what's working well and where they missed the mark.

I recently was a guest at my husband's annual company anniversary event that truly impressed me because every detail had been thought out to ensure I had a delightful and memorable experience as their guest! This week, I was looking at the gift I received during that event and it reminded me of a constant myth in the meeting & event industry: That event planning is easy...and it's not! In my own experience, I've found the aesthetics of planning are the easiest: Linens, centerpieces, menus, gifts...the fun stuff!

It's all of the detail and thought that goes into what's going to transpire from the moment guests arrive until they say farewell that's the HEART of an event. Think of the last event you attended where everything was perfect... You walked up to the registration desk and were greeted by poised staff who quickly found your name and gave you clear direction of what to do next. (Because this is the first "touch" with guests, we organized the desk to be efficient and we double-checked every guest name to make sure no one was left off the list; we know how off-putting it is when a guest walks up and their information isn't found) During reception time, there was ample food & drink available,it was easy to find and displayed attractively. "Signature" cocktails with clever names that complemented the event theme gave you a chuckle and were quite tasty. (We let the CEO's wife come up with the names. Just a fun way to pull her into the event planning) Perhaps you didn't know many people; but that's okay because the gracious staff saw you standing alone, came over to say hello and then took your hand to introduce you around. Talk about being made to feel welcome! (With delicate conversations during planning, we advised the internal team there would be some VIP's in attendance who didn't know many people and to expect to be interrupted during reception time to be introduced.) When the ballroom doors opened, high energy music was pumped up to get everyone in the right mood, the lighting was dimmed just so to the perfect level and candles flickered everywhere, giving off a soft light that made everyone look gorgeous. (Of course we collaborated with the banquet captain about candles and fire hazards, and spent about 45 minutes dimming the lights at different levels to make sure the lower light didn't interfere with any of the stage lighting) Staff was available to help find your table and as you sat down, you were pleased to see such an elegant, thoughtful, overall look: the place settings, the centerpieces and the textured linens (those aesthetics I mentioned)...And of course curious about that pretty little wrapped gift box tied with ribbon sitting in the center of the charger plate. (We combined elements the venue already had in-house with elements we ordered. And we planned for the centerpieces to be given to specific guests to take home at the end of the evening. A very warm final touch) Almost as if by magic, the banquet staff began serving without intruding on conversations. And when the lighting shifted a bit, your attention turned to the stage where a fully rehearsed emcee welcomed you and got the show started. (Our team went back and forth during strategy meetings to make final decisions on the timing and flow of the show and who would be on stage presenting) Fully engaging the audience, the words you heard were impactful and the huge screens flanking behind the stage reinforced powerful statements being made. (Script production took about a month to finesse before the event date. The "final" script was finished two days before the event...and some changes were made during rehearsal time to both the script and the Power Point content)

You LOVED how every so often the screen showed a closeup of the person on the stage as it really pulled you into the presentation. (IMAG rule of thumb: If you have more than 200 people at the event, bring in the cameras as a courtesy to the people in the back) You almost didn't even notice the banquet staff had replaced your salad plate with an entree because they were so quiet. (We spent an hour collaborating with the banquet captain and staff during setup time to get the timing down perfectly and remind them to be as quiet as possible) And then the emcee told everyone to please enjoy their dinner and get to know everyone at the table and the show would continue shortly. (We worked with a timeline to make sure we stayed on schedule to hold the attention of the audience) So you did. And you met new people with interesting things to say. You had a great experience. You felt "a part of" something. ....And every single detail was carefully thought out by a PROFESSIONAL planner who collaborated closely with internal and external teams to ensure the entire event experience was welcoming for each guest... It was deployed with HEART.

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