The five elements of a great event (and the sixth thing no one talks about)
Updated: Aug 7, 2019
There are five things you need to get right to deliver an outstanding event: Strategy, Planning, Logistics, Content & Delivery. In this article I’ve summarised each one of these vital steps to provide you with a framework for your next (best) event.
There is also a sneaky sixth consideration that event organisers hardly ever talk about. Read on to find out what it is any why your event is doomed without it ...
Your event strategy begins with why you want to run this event.
Getting the strategy right sets you on a path to deliver your event smoothly. Don't skip this step! It's important to deliberate before rushing in and starting to plan.
We approach the strategy stage by making a cup of tea and asking a lot of questions.
Here are some of the most vital questions you need to be able to answer about your event:
Why are you doing an event?
What's the single most important objective of this event?
What's its purpose?
Who's it for?
What makes your event interesting/different/exciting/worth attending?
What's the competitive landscape like?
True event strategy will be brutal in its exposition. Far too many events are launched based on gut feel, a belief that a “unique” idea has been uncovered, in reaction to industry hype or to mirror a competitor.
However, events are particularly sensitive to the market forces of supply and demand. A pattern we see repeated often, and have nearly fallen victim to ourselves, is:
Emerging technology/trend starts getting mainstream interest; demand going up
Loads of exciting new events get launched; supply going up
The hype dies down (usually rapidly!); demand going down
Low value/high volume events like trade shows get the diminished audience (because they’re cheap to attend); supply now far outstripping demand.
The result is a graveyard of small events and a handful of large scale trade shows owning the remaining market share.
That’s why the strategy phase in event planning is the most important. You need to think beyond your event idea to understand the wider market conditions and likely risks months or even years ahead, when you’d like to be scaling but could find yourself back-pedalling instead.
Everyone knows that events take lots of planning. But it's important to do the right sort of planning for your event, and not to get muddled up with strategy and logistics, which connect either side of the planning process.
Where strategy deals with high-level questions, the philosophy of the event if you like, and logistics deal with the physical realities of the event (see #3 below), planning is all about the nitty-gritty detail that takes place on paper before the event goes live.
Planning involves working out absolute details; things that need to be decided at the beginning and may not be easy to change once the event is launched.
Each one of these cascades a series of additional questions. There's a lot of overlap between each one too e.g. revenue and costs become budgets, and budgets dictate marketing.
Logistics are the physical aspects of the event. There is an entire industry dedicated just to the staging and audio/video production side of events, but this is just one aspect of event logistics you'll need to consider!
The vital logistical considerations are the:
VenueAudio/Video (AV) StagingLightingSetup/take-downExhibitors & sponsorsTickets/badges
The venue alone is a veritable Pandora's box of logistical concerns. In fact, the venue largely dictates everything to do with the event.
The venue you choose will determine:
How many attendees you can have
How many exhibitors and sponsors and the layout/size of their spaces
Whether catering is essential or not, and if it is provided by the venue or limited to preferred suppliers
The type of content you can deliver
The number of stages/tracks you can offer
...And many more besides.
In our noisy, fast-paced, excerpt-skimming digital world, the value of content delivered at an event can be extremely high.
Content can largely be understood to mean the information imparted by your speakers. Most events, particularly business-to-business events, are attractive because they offer interesting/engaging/useful information, delivered in a way that's digestible and actionable by attendees.
But content is also about the flow of the agenda; how logical and smooth the running order is and how well it is managed from one performer to the next.
So when considering your event content, you'll need to think about moderators and emcees as well as the level of audience interaction and how this is managed.
The final aspect of content is networking. Networking is a slightly dreadful word to describe people talking to people, and it's best to focus on that so you don't produce a forced networking experience that's awkward and stilted for those involved.
Delivery is the on-the-day side of the event. Essentially it's the event itself, but given the enormous amount that will have gone into the event by this stage it really it the proverbial tip of the iceberg.
However, your event will be judged most harshly by its delivery. Whether attendee numbers where as advertised, the quality of your staging and AV production, the content, the networking ... everything that happens during your event will be subject to scrutiny at a level that's almost unprecedented in today's siloed, digital world.
There's an honesty about events insofar as there's nowhere for events organisers to hide when things don't go well. That exposure is also the most terrifying thing for people involved with events, and is why it pays to hire in an agency if you don't have a dedicated team in-house.
6. The secret that will determine whether your event will fizz or flop …
There really is a secret to running a successful event, but it’s not often talked about.
The secret is: AUDIENCE
The biggest mistake anyone organising an event can make is to delude themselves into believing that if they build it, they will come.
Regardless of how fancy your website it, how slick your collateral, how experienced you are at running events, how engaging your marketing campaign ... if you don’t have ready access to your core audience, your event is doomed.
You need to have clearly defined and identified your audience. And by ‘audience’ I mean attendees, speakers and sponsors i.e the people who will be at your event.
Then you need to have built a community for them already.
Your community might be any number or combination of channels, such as
Email/newsletter listsWhatsApp groupsSocial media groupsRegular small events like meetupsEngaged website visitors or site members
And so on.
It’s imperative that this audience has been created before the event is launched, otherwise you’ll be trying to reach a ‘cold’ audience at a high marketing cost while under the intense pressure to work through points 1-5 above.
My top tip: build your audience before you start your strategy.
Audience is last on the list but should be first in your approach. Spend the most time on audience development (we typically spend 12-18 months building a digital audience within a niche before launching an event into that space).
Strategy is about challenging your ego as much as scheming for success. Ask yourself tough questions, and don’t allow yourself to give nebulous answers.
Planning and logistics is about detail. If you’re not a detail person then either hire someone who is, or use technology to force you into a detailed approach.
Delivery is what happens at the event. Nothing ever (ever!) goes perfectly to plan during an event, there are too many variables, so remain relaxed and be prepared to think on your feet.
Content is value. Your event is nothing without good content so make sure you build the best agenda you can.