Event planning is a team sport: Who is your 12th man?

Event planning is a team sportMeeting and event planning is a team sport, full stop. It requires planners, producers, designers, registration and data support, venue teams and caterers, audio visual, staging, lighting, décor, transportation, sponsors and exhibitors, trade show support, speakers and facilitators, DMCs, CVBs, security and possibly a few others depending on the scope and scale of your particular event. But what about our 12th man, the participant, where do they come in?

When the Seattle Seahawks were interviewed after winning the Superbowl, every single person interviewed talked about the all-important “12th man”, the fan. Each individual was stated as being part of the biggest team, and their reason for being is the audience, their fans. They celebrated in many ways: the number 12 was officially retired, a 12 flag is raised at every game, tags, tweets and more. The celebration of the fan as integral has been ongoing since the 1980s.

I would venture to say that as we plan meetings, mega-events, association conferences and even incentive programs we are not giving enough thought to the individuals, outside perhaps of specific executive stakeholders. There is often simply not time as we dive head-first from event to event. As one example, many DMCs will see the same brief nearly every day “40s to 60s (or a variation thereof), well-travelled, seeking an authentic destination experience that is ‘out of the box and creative’ and offers a ‘unique team building experience they will remember forever’”. While this is great direction at a glance, it doesn’t offer us the specific psychographic information unique to the potential participants that would ensure a program that rocks their world can be created.

Whether we are planning a festival or an incentive, we now have access to so much specific data about our own 12th man, but are we mining and capturing this data and then using it to our advantage in the best ways possible? We capture names and partners’ names, where they work and live, sizes and dietary preferences, and sometimes more. We have the ability to use mobile apps and NFID technology to “see” how people move through our events, the speakers they like, the comments they share on social media and the path they take and which exhibitors are most visited.

How often do we go back to this data and consider how to improve our experiences? Is a rework of our trade show floor needed to create a better flow or allow specific areas of interest to be easily found? Do we need to change up our food and beverage experiences to meet the needs of guests (especially as they share their comments in real time), or do we need to change up our education – speakers or format – to help our participants find solutions to their challenges?

Most importantly, are we using what we know about our participants to create relevant connections and connection opportunities, the real reason people attend face to face meetings? By simply asking guests for their social media profiles, we can now link people with similar interests or who already belong to similar groups but may not know each other. Within our own larger events, we can find and create special interest groups, or simply create a meeting place over coffee for those with similar focuses. We may already break our events into “medical”, “financial”, or other focus areas, but what about going beyond that – “knitters” or “amateur astronomers” and creating spaces for hobbyists with similar jobs to meet?

This is about thinking beyond the breakout to the all-important hallway spaces of your meetings. In yet another example, recently the FRESH Conference in Copenhagen had a hybrid component and a virtual lounge. In this space, two people watching the event from Australia “met” and it turned out they had similar event interests and lived in the same town so planned to meet live for a coffee. It is these serendipitous moments that make our events meaningful wins for our 12th man. How will you begin to use your on-hands data and environments you create to enhance your participants’ experiences?

About the author:

Tahira Endean, CMP, DES, CED, is a curious event producer, passionate about intentional event design and the integration of now-ubiquitous technology to enhance the human experience at events and everyday. Tahira is committed to the industry and has been recognized for a range of contributions. In 2016, she was named a MeetingsNet Changemaker, and nominated in Vancouver for Global Meetings Industry Day Influencer and MPI BC Chapter Mentor of the Year. In 2015 she was named one of the “Top 5 Women in Event Technology”, was inducted into the Meetings Canada Hall of Fame in the Big Idea category, and most recently was one of Canada’s 20 most Fascinating Women in events from Canadian Special Event magazine. Driven by a fascination with what we are learning about neuroscience and the power of the five senses to enhance memory, knowledge retention and improve connections, she is continually seeking appropriate ways to design the most relevant meeting and event environments. An instructor at BCIT, the British Columbia Institute of Technology, she instructs both Special Event Planning and Sustainable Event Management. She contributed to the 9th CIC Manual which provides the framework for the CMP studies. She is the author of Intentional Event Design: Our Professional Opportunity. Tahira also loves cooking, time with her family, and anything with bubbles!

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