No matter what kind of business event you’re running’ – from a sales conference, team building, or AGM through to a customer seminar, exhibition or staff celebration, the same amount of preparation is required to ensure it hits the right note.

Staging a conference, running a customer or staff event, or even attending an exhibition, is a major business decision for most companies, not least of all is because it can take up a significant amount of budget, time and resource to doing it well. The secret to success is starting with the end goal and working backwards to ensure that you have everything in place to achieve that. Also, define your key messages and ensure that they are clear throughout.

One of our favourite challenges thrown at us by our clients is organising an event. – whether it’s a charity dinner dance or a staff conference, we just love it. And over the years we’ve done quite a few… so we know the pitfalls and we also know some handy hints and tips to get you started on making your event the best it could possibly be.

Know the event’s purpose – it sounds obvious, but we often get asked to help run an event that has no clear purpose, no objectives / expected outcomes and no clearly defined budget, audience or theme! Which is usually why we get called in! So it always helps to understand what your business is trying to achieve by running the event – is it to raise funds for a charitable cause? To increase brand awareness? To launch a new product? To celebrate success with the team? To share news with customers and / or a staff? This helps shape the event. Everything else flows from the purpose.

Who is the audience? Are you running a staff party or is this a high-end event for your top 20 customers? Understanding the audience will help when it comes to defining your theme, venue and even potentially down to the budget. It also pays to consider the adage and tastes of the people who will be attending and design your event with them in mind. Also critical is to consider any religious views – will alcohol be required or should you cater for both drinkers and non-drinkers?

Budget setting is critical. This can make all the difference to the event: from the venue through to the number of guests you can cater for – if budget is limited, is it better to cater really well for a small group of people, or run a budget-friendly event for everyone? Is it critical that you provide free alcohol, or is it better to impress with the venue, catering and ‘entertainment’ and let guests pay for their own drinks if they wish to drink? Do you need to cover the cost of any overnight accommodation – this may be the case if you’re running a two-day conference. Consider start and finish times – if you start your event mid-morning, you can simply provide tea/coffee and biscuits/pastries rather than breakfast. And if you finish before 6pm, there’s no need to cater for an evening meal. How important is the content / entertainment aspect? Do you need external resource for this or will your colleagues / clients / suppliers be the only guest speakers? Factor all these elements in when setting the budget before you even send out your first invitation.

Location, location, location. As with many things, your location is key to success. It’s a good idea to know exactly what you want before you start visiting potential venues. Go on a recce armed with a your phone to take photos (so when you get back to the office and you’re thinking about the rooms you’ve seen, you’re not just relying on your memory!), a tape measure, note pad and pen and a list of questions (the deal breakers you need to check first). And don’t be afraid to go back for a second look once you’ve narrowed down your choices. There are obvious factors to consider initially to narrow the options down: are you running a team-building event that requires plentiful outdoor areas? Or is it a celebration event, where glitz may be more important? If you’re running a seminar or a conference, do you require break-out rooms as well as the main room? If your delegates are attending in their car, ensure there’s parking. But if it’s a social event, where people are more likely to be drinking, is there easy access to. public transport or taxi services? Does the decor and style of the venue match the look and feel you are going for with your theme? You could even consider whether the venue suits your brand (if you’re a high value brand, running an event at a budget venue wouldn’t necessarily sit right). As well as logistical, budgetary and style considerations, it’s also important to consider external factors – is your event being run during wedding or festive seasons? If so, your preferred venue is likely to be booked up well in advance. Have you consider somewhere more quirky or less run-of-the-mill (think a converted barn or chapel, a vineyard, a farm? There are advantages of course to going with the tried and trusted venues, but sometimes something a little different can really make your event stand out in the mind of the attendees. Is price the only deciding factor? Or is location, size or accommodation availability more important to you? And remember to do your research – does this venue have a great reputation? Or have you heard negative feedback about it?

What theme do you need to tie everything together? Much of this will depend on what kind of event it is. If it’s a charity event, you could have a simple yet stylish black tie, or you could have an Oscars-styled event, or a casino / James Bond styled event. Even if it’s a fun and relaxed team building event, it’s still a great idea to have a theme. A staff celebration – or even a sales conference – could have an 80s theme. Is the company celebrating a special anniversary? Theme the event accordingly. And wherever possible, a great event should carry that theme throughout – from the invitations to the dress code, through to the venue styling and any giveaways that the recipients receive. Themes allow the creative juices to flow – and often it’s how some of the best ideas for the event come to life.

As is often the case content is king. Some of this goes back to both the purpose and the theme of the event. But it’s essential that you get the content right – otherwise your delegates will leave the event with no sense of purpose having been achieved. What do you want them to take from this? There are some obvious things to include: if it’s a sales conference, celebrate the previous year’s success, but focus on the upcoming year’s targets and key drivers. Speakers are likely to be directors from within the company. If it’s a new product launch speakers could be from the company, suppliers / partners or even a customer who has taken a beta version of the product. (If you need some help pulling together any presentations, why not read our hints and tips article) You could also have product demonstrations in the room. Don’t just think about speakers either: what about videos, awards presentations can make the event more interesting for the audience. If it’s a top customer event, how about a roundtable – so you would have key industry speakers with breakout sessions to allow the delegates to share their views on what’s happening in the market and perhaps work with you to shape future company initiatives. A great staff conference that we helped with a few years ago had everything from fun ice breakers and directors presenting the key business updates as a news programme with roving reporters and interviews with the chief exec, through to workshops and team building events, culminating in all the delegates in small groups presenting back key business objectives in the form of a pantomime, with the performance that was voted best receiving a prize and mini Oscars for each of the performers. The key takeaway was that not only did the delegates rate it the best staff conference they’d been to, but importantly, everyone could remember the company’s key strategic objectives and their revised values & beliefs. Success.

Speakers – just remember, if it’s a social event, the tip here. is to keep speeches as brief as possible. For more serious business events and awards ceremonies, an after dinner speaker with a great profile is a good option. If it’s a seminar or conference, people with industry credibility running plenary sessions work well. Once you’ve decided on who is going to speak, ensure you have briefed them (to ensure they understand the purpose, any key messages and the audience beforehand) – and agree the content to be delivered upfront. And get any slides they are using prior to the big day to run through them and make sure the. file works correctly. And on the day, don’t allow speakers to overrun the slot allocated to them!

Then there’s the entertainment to consider, from the standard bands, DJs or singers, through to magicians who wander around the room to keep guests entertained. You could also consider a casino area with free ‘money’ to get everyone started. Or how about a cartoonist to give people a funny keepsake? And of course a photographer – or would it make more sense to have a photo booth (remember to provide props) or a bunch of branded (in theme) photo frames dotted around the room with an appropriate hashtag to encourage your guests to share their photos on social media. And if you’re hosting an auction or a raffle, remember not to allow it to drag on for too long as people will quickly lose interest. If you don’t have a recommended cabaret act, you can always check with the venue to see if they have a preferred one.

Rental equipment. The one thing that often gets left until the last minute! Consider what AV equipment, PA systems and lighting will be required; if you have entertainers they’re likely to have their own equipment (still worth checking with them though). If you’re running an awards ceremony, or a charity event where you’ll be playing a video to demonstrate the charitable work, ensure you have the appropriate equipment available. Also, if you’re running an outdoors event (perhaps team building, or a customer event which includes clay pigeon shooting or archery) what provision have you go in place for inclement weather? Is there a marquee or an indoor space you can use? And even though catering is usually part of the venue hire, it’s still worth considering all your requirements – is it table service? Or do you require buffet tables to be set up? How many coffee breaks are you allowing for? Do you need to hire in any related items, such as table numbers if the venue doesn’t provide them. Does the venue provide seat covers or do you need to hire them from an external supplier? At the same time, consideration should be given to any room styling / decor equipment that you will need in addition to anything the venue / caterers can provide. Once the venue is set up, ensure you check sound and lighting prior to any guests or speakers turning up.

Equally important is room layout and seating plans. If it’s more of a ‘tell and learn’ type of session, theatre style is good. If you want delegates to work together within their group / table, then cabaret style is useful. In terms of seating, we’d always recommend doing a seating plan for everything other than something like a staff celebration or Christmas party, where you should allow attendees to choose where they want to sit. When doing a seating plan, consider elements such as speakers – ensure they have easy access to the podium – no-one wants to wait for a speaker to have to come from the very back of the room! Is there to be a ‘top table’ with dignitaries? If it’s a staff event, do you want your attendees to be relaxed and informal, therefore, sit them with their team / co-workers? Or if it’s more about team building, then it’s a great idea to mix them up a bit to get to. know someone they don’t normally work with. With a client event, consider carefully who you want to sit where – it’s usually appropriate to have someone senior from your organisation with each table of clients. And if it’s a charity event, the seating plan is more about ensuring you keep track of sold tickets – people may book a table, or simply a couple of individual tickets (therefore place all individuals on a couple of tables together).

Other things to think about our expectations: if you’re running a client event, it’s important that staff attending understand that it’s still a business event, where normal business behaviour is expected.

Remember to rehearse or at least have a run through to see that things go smoothly. Ensure the venue is set up the day before to allow for any last minute adjustments. And when it’s over, sit back, relax and congratulate yourself on a well-run event!

And finally, consider how you are going to evaluate the event’s success: is it the number of invitees who attend? Are you asking for their feedback at the end of the event? (the best way to capture feedback is at the event – so leave a short survey on each chair, or have a digital response capture as delegates are leaving). Or is it more around their understanding of the key messages you wish them to take away? Or is the measure further down track, such as how many new products are sold as a result of their attendance at the launch event? What would’ve been the outcome if you hadn’t run the event? If it would’ve had no difference, evaluate whether or not the event provided any benefit. Then there’s a cost benefit measure to review.

Good luck with your next event! And if you need any help with organising your upcoming event, give us a call on 01482 672742 or drop us a note on