As planners, we accept the privilege and responsibility to exceed our client’s or company’s expectations. To achieve the goal of an exceptional event experience there are many critical elements to consider even before the production phase begins. Follow the suggestions below from AJ Bownas, CMP, CGMP, CSI DMC director of event management, and Chana Brisset, CSI DMC senior business development manager, during the pre-production planning stage to help ensure you remain proactive in all phases of your planning.
Know your audience
This means more than just Googling your client! If you are an in-house planner, you theoretically already have this part down. But don’t assume. If you’re working for a group or section within your company that you have never worked with, this could be applicable to you as well. Do your research and ask your client lots of questions—the more the better. Here are some questions to ask:
- Who is your client and what is their shared culture and values? Are they more traditional in nature or are they innovative? Do they embrace teamwork? Diversity? Is CSR a priority? What is a priority to your client?
- Who are the attendees or other stakeholders involved?
- What type of experience are they looking for? Team building? Learning?
- What is the goal and/or vision for the event? What does the client want the audience to come away with?
- What about past events? What has worked well and what failed? Why? Do they want the same thing or something different? Any lessons learned?
- What is the budget and how is that budget broken down?
Asking these questions will help you determine what type of location and venue your client needs to meet their vision, especially when it comes to off-site activities.
For instance, if team building is a goal, you’ll probably want a location that offers fun and interesting group activities that challenge the group. Alexandria, Virginia’s unique combination of history and sophistication provides a setting that naturally energizes, inspires and motivates attendees through activities such as wine pairings, culinary treasure hunts or historical brain games.
Image credit: R. Kennedy for Visit Alexandria
Conduct a walkthrough before the walkthrough
You’ve found what you think is the perfect venue. But is it? One of the best ways to be sure is to conduct your own walkthrough with the site manager before you show it to your client. As a planner, it is essential to be proactive, not reactive, and answering as many of the possible questions in advance, before your client asks, is critical.
Before the walkthrough:
- Prepare an agenda, including a list of questions you need answered about the venue and the staff’s capabilities.
- Share the agenda with the site manager in advance of the walkthrough, so they are prepared to answer every question.
During the walkthrough:
- Make sure you see all the available space. Even if you went to the walkthrough with a particular room in mind you never know when changes will occur or extra space may be needed.
- Check the capacity of each room. Depending on your client’s exact layout requirements, the room may not fit 100 seated as easily as the floorplan states.
- Look for multiple options for use of the space and consider each space creatively. Then when your client sees the space and isn’t convinced, you can make suggestions to fit their needs.
- Check your client’s parking and arrival options. Is there enough parking? Special parking for buses? Valet? Are loading docks available? Restricted entrances?
Always bring these items with you on your walkthrough:
- A camera. Take lots of pictures to refer to later.
- A notepad or some way to take notes. Don’t count on your memory!
- The venue floorplan.
- Photos of previous events at the venue so you can envision what the space looks like full and decorated for an event.
- A layout of the space requirements for your client’s event, including numbers.
- The envisioned program flow so you can walk the space as it will be walked during the event.
- Your client notes and itinerary so you can put all that research you did earlier to work in finding the perfect venue!
Image credit: J. DeLuca for Visit Alexandria
- Build and Implement Your Action Plan
Now that you have all the information you need, it’s time to build an action plan. First, you’ll want to define all the resources you and your client need to engage to make the event successful, from the room for the meeting, to the offsite activities.
As you layout the plan, keep these things in mind:
- You must have a plan B. Rain, road closures, disasters, you name it—there are many things that could alter your perfectly laid plans. Conduct a risk assessment, have a backup plan and make sure the budget is in place or at least that the client understands the costs if contingency plans must be implemented.
- Build in enough time to solve any problems that arise or to handle requested changes.
- Make sure you have collaboration and buy-in from all the stakeholders—vendors and sponsors included.
- Incorporate any lessons learned (either yours or the clients). No use repeating a mistake!
When it is time to implement:
- Create a shared task list of required activities with specific timelines and assignments. This will eliminate confusion, ensure accountability and build the trust of your client as they can easily see what is complete.
- Utilize roundtable communication to engage all involved parties in the discussion and create strong buy-in so everyone feels a part of the plan.
You can apply the guidelines outlined above to any type of event, whether large or small, a sit-down dinner, reception or learning event. Thoroughly understanding your client’s needs and goals; proactively securing answers and information; and ensuring strong communication and accountability from day one is the key to pre-planning the perfect event. Learn more by watching Visit Alexandria’s pre-recorded webinar series.
While the above process can certainly help you plan the perfect event, there’s no need to go it alone. Armed with impactful planning and promotional tools and creative event planning experience, the meeting destination experts at Visit Alexandria make it easy to plan, promote and experience Alexandria, tailoring every step of the process to Extraordinary You!
Insider Tip: Let the pro’s do it! Contact CSI-DMC for a seamless, one-of-a kind event.
Header image by M. Enriquez for Visit Alexandria