If you want to create memorable meetings and events, there are many ways to do so. All you need is a little ingenuity and inspiration. Plan Your Meetings spoke with meeting planners across the country to find out what advice they had for livening things up and engaging attendees.
Incorporate the element of surprise
“Think[ing] about audience demographics is very important. Marry the concept to the age group, and make sure the music, food, drinks and diversions around the room are fun and interactive. Create spaces for interactive activities as well as areas that are conducive for networking, such as seating clusters in corners where it’s not noisy.” — Mike Lyons, executive vice president, AMR Meetings & Incentives, Newtown Square, Penn.
“Ho-hum is not an option as event planners, designers and producers. It is up to us to find new, exciting props and make sure there are unexpected surprises. I have done a laser show as people exited out of an event thinking the event was over. I have changed the entire interior color of a venue, [and] changed drinks and food every hour, as well as the music. As soon as they thought they knew where the event was going, it went somewhere else. Something new was introduced to them every hour on the hour until they walked out of the event.” — Leslie Short, owner and chief executive officer, K.I.M. Media LLC & Design by K.I.M., New York City
“[Have] unique party favors, engaging entertainment that pushes the envelope, food and beverage that is easy to get to, and great sounds and smells upon arrival.” — Lynne Wellish, CMP, PHXproductions, Phoenix
Stay on top of trends
“A major trend is Corporate Social Responsibility programs, where meeting participants engage in some kind of effort during their stay in a city to give back or leave an imprint in a positive way. This could be through participation in a Habitat for Humanity type of activity; silent auctions to benefit local charities; cleaning up a neighborhood in a downtrodden part of the city; or doing a team-building event where teams build bicycles against the clock and donate the finished products to underprivileged children.” — Mike Lyons
“Themes or trends that are hot include turning the event into something that benefits a charity or non-profit (it doesn’t appear lavish or self-serving); surrounds pop culture; is eco-friendly, green in nature; and provides more networking opportunities for attendees than ever before.” — Greg Jenkins, partner, Bravo Productions, Long Beach, Calif.
“Modern minimalism is big right now. Clean lines and multiple uses are both green and budget-friendly.” — Richard O’Malley, president of The O’Malley Project, New York City
Think thematically and get creative
“Karaoke parties are great. Anything where people are almost forced to do things like interact and play games always makes for a better event.” — Arash Afshar, consultant, Redefining Entertainment Inc., San Diego, Calif.
“I like to reinvent themes that have been done to death, such as casinos, ’80s parties, movie themes and the like. These themes come with general expectations by attendees and I love to see the surprise when we produce the event.” — Richard O’Malley
“[Consider] circus themes, also dream and nightmare juxtaposition parties. … People nowadays are looking for something hands-on and both emotionally and mentally stimulating. We’ve done everything from fire-breathing workshops to showing guests how to play the didgeridoo.” — Kyra Deutsch, director of marketing, Surprise Industries, New York City
“My favorite event themes are ones that are created out of thin air. For example, it could include just taking a simple color such as orange and creating a ‘paradise’ theme. Other favorites for me involve creating lounge interiors and things that are taboo.” — Greg Jenkins
“[Create] events that get people involved [using] interactive themes such as ’50s parties, where people choose their costumes from a ‘wardrobe room’ and have their hair and nails done in the ‘salon’ made available to them at the event. Though these have been done for years, they are still extremely popular and fun.” — Mike Lyons
“For a recent Bar Mitzvah with a ‘Glee’ theme, we had a vocal group sing all the candle lighting songs. For an ’80s-themed corporate after-party, we created an Othello[-themed] lounge with all round black-and-white seating, placed on a green grid rug. — Richard O’Malley
“We did a truck stop event for 1,000. We [planned] the event to match the trade show booth, which featured a 45-ft. semi-truck. The event was the kick-off for the conference and [was] sponsored by our client. We even had billboards and built awnings that resembled the old gas station islands.” — Lynne Wellish
“We did a fabulous closing party for the annual PCMA event in Philadelphia called ‘Music Through the Decades.’ We wanted to create a really memorable send-off for the attendees where they would actually say ‘wow’ as they entered the space through a ‘time tunnel’ that took them back 50 years. Five different rooms were made up to look exactly like the last five iconic decades: There was a 1950s diner; a psychedelic focus to reflect the 1960s; a disco dance floor for the 1970s (complete with a John Travolta impersonator) plus the real Village People performing; breakdancers for the 1980s; and another room that exuded the stark lounge trend of the 1990s. The costumes, food, décor and drinks all matched up with the decade you were in. People raved about it and they are still talking about this event years later.” — Mike Lyons
Don’t forget to be strategic about goals and procedures
“In this economy, the client must be part of the creative process. We find that we are pitching concepts and then flushing them out. It’s time to go back to the basic questions: What are you goals and objectives? What is the content you want to convey? Who do you intend to convey it to? And, to what extent do you want to deliver the message?” — Lynne Wellish
“It is all about ROI and quality. No longer is it a blank check and a big smile when it is over. Businesses are being held accountable and so are we. Also, we love to turn events and meetings ‘on their heads,’ because when people are stimulated, they are productive. We always remind our clients that that is why they are paying for this in the first place — to get results.” — Richard O’Malley
“The less your client is expecting, the better. Under promise, over deliver and never forget to stay playful!” — Kyra Deutsch
“Something will always go wrong. To be in this industry, you have to keep a cool head and just accept that something, at some point, small or large, will not go according to plan. Chill, fix it and move on. The attendees are almost always oblivious to it as long as you stay cool and they’re having a good time.” — Arash Afshar