Sad but true: Not everyone tasked with planning a corporate retreat, a class reunion or a charity fundraiser has the business acumen to generate excitement and actually make it a success. Some fall into the job by default (i.e., “You’re the most recent hire so you have to do the annual fill in the blank campaign”). Others are guilted into volunteering (i.e., “Don’t you care about the plight of endangered muskrats?”). Some see the title of “organizer” as a fast track to the popularity that has previously eluded them (i.e., “They’re finally going to know my name.”). Then there are those who shamelessly wrest command on the basis of their social clout; would anyone in River City, for instance, challenge the entitlement of Mayor Shinn’s wife to direct the Ladies Auxiliary Dance Committee?
All of these scenarios have one thing in common: If the person in charge has invested either too little heart or way too much ego, the event will probably fall flat.
Let’s start with corporate off-sites. Like a summons for jury duty, it’s always a mandatory event. And – like jury duty – “mandatory’ is not synonymous with “fun.” While it’s time spent away from the office, the work will continue to pile up in one’s absence and, thus, create a stressful return. Depending on the venue and duration, it’s time spent away from one’s family as well. This, in turn, disrupts the home-life routine and fosters grumpiness. Lastly is the question of why corporate off-sites are even necessary. According to the pricey facilitators brought in to run them, it’s all about team-building and the loopy premise that group hugs, tearful disclosures, and role-playing games will cause everyone to suddenly become besties when they’re back at the office. Seriously? I have yet to see this happen.
Even if your participants aren’t a captive audience and can exercise free will insofar as attendance, five critical considerations should go into the event planning process:
Incentive aka “What’s In It For Me?”
Your employees, classmates or prospective donors are more likely to embrace your vision if they can see a correlative benefit to their own lives. Will it provide them with exciting networking opportunities? Will they glean knowledge on how to achieve their goals? Will they be served an incredible meal? Will they feel better about themselves for supporting a cause that’s dear to their hearts? Never lose sight of the fact that your event likely has plenty of competition for your participants’ attention. If it’s something that’s going to take them away from their loved ones, cause them to miss another event scheduled for the same weekend, or require them to ask for time off from work in order to fly or drive, it will always be easier for them to RSVP with a “no” than a “yes.”
The current economy has given rise to a whole lot of belt tightening. In the business world, the use of teleconferencing, webinars and podcasts has proven to be a cost-effective alternative to physically sending staff members out of town. If it’s daunting to think about paying for a large group’s transportation, lodging and meals, consider hosting a virtual event that takes place on a technology platform instead. For events in which prospective participants are paying out-of-pocket (i.e., a writers conference), be sensitive in developing a pricing package that is realistically within their reach. You might also offer an “early bird special” in which those that register by a certain date can do so for a lower fee.
A colleague of mine is skipping his upcoming college reunion. Although it’s a landmark decade – and, accordingly, a steadily shrinking alumni – the reunion committee chose a venue that is 75 miles from the closest airport and has no nearby hotels. Further, it didn’t put any thought into a formal, themed program beyond a no-host bar and just sitting around. In a nutshell, the only attendees that have thus far signed up are the committee members themselves (who didn’t want to travel outside the comfort zone of their home zip code). Whether your own event is scheduled for a few hours, overnight or a weekend, you need to address factors such as (1) how do participants get there, (2) where do they park, (3) is there a shuttle service, and (4) will the hotel offer a group discount.
Weather Or Not
I used to belong to a national writers group that held their annual conference every July. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many places in the U.S. that are particularly enjoyable that time of year. Nonetheless, quite a few events do get planned for June-August, the primary draw being that attendees with families can build a vacation around it without having to take the kids out of school. If it’s the peak season at your intended locale, it’s going to be more expensive. If it’s off-season, you can usually score some perks. And, of course, never schedule your event around or near a major holiday or three-day weekend where your attendees will have to contend with heavier traffic.
If it’s going to be a recurring event (i.e., the annual Founders’ Day Social), it’s essential to find out what worked (i.e., the music), what didn’t (i.e., Mrs. Shinn’s Grecian Urn Tableau), and what everyone would like to see next time around (i.e., more food). Make it as easy as possible for participants to share their two cents. MailChimp.com, for example, lets you create a free, online survey without your respondents having to go find an envelope and a stamp. While backend feedback is useful for future improvements, it’s just as valuable to ask for input prior to an event’s implementation (i.e., “Where should we hold our first auction?”). If, however, you reject every idea that’s presented and, instead, go with whatever you wanted to do in the first place, don’t expect such decisions to be met with feelings of unmixed delight and esprit de corps.
My savvy guest bloggers this month include:
How To Increase Employee Engagement on ‘Dirty Jobs’ – By Dana Barker Davies
Were You Born To Do Something Great? – By Marlon Smith
Reduce The Complexity When Franchising Your Business – By Brian Keen
The Science of Social Media – Better Engagement/Better Measurement – By Sam Reader
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