Designing Great Events

Published by Richard Hare on

Following some requests from the Melcrum Communicators’ Network, here are my notes from the first London Group meeting back in September.

Great events 1: identify your stakeholders

Who stands to benefit from the event you are holding?

The first part of designing a great event is to consider who the stakeholders are. Our discussion about the event we were attending looked at the following groups:

  • Attendees – the members of the network who’d joined the London group
  • Organiser – Matt O’Neill, communications professional
  • Sponsor – Cordova
  • Host – National Audit Office
  • Presenter – Tony Carey, events management professional
  • Caterer – Afriyad, a newly-launched delicatessen catering business
  • Non-attendees – the people who weren’t there and will hear about what happened

Great events 2: aims and objectives

What do the stakeholders want from your event?

After deciding who the stakeholders are, determine their aims and objectives. Aims are simple statements like “stakeholder X wants to…” completed with a few words. Objectives follow the SMART rule – they are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable/Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bounded

For each stakeholder you identified in the previous phase, decide what their aims and objectives in attending your event will be. This will tell you what to include when you begin designing your event.

Example aims:

  • The organiser wants the event to be successful, to run smoothly and for everyone to leave aving derived some value from attending.
  • The speaker wants to enhance their reputation and to network with the attendees.
  • Attendees want to enjoy themselves, network and make contact with other people and to learn something.
  • Non-attendees want to hear about the event, perhaps basing their decision on whether to attend in future on what they hear about it.

Example objectives:

  • Speaker: gain at least three further speaking engagements via the attendees within the following six months
  • Attendees: meet at least five people they didn’t know previously during the evening;
    contact at least three people they didn’t know previously in the following week

The more details you consider in this phase, the more insight you will have when it comes to designing the event. If you simply design a series of talks and fail to leave enough time for people discuss what they hear or to meet each other, people will get less from attending.

This phase will also give you a guide to measuring the success of your event. By writing SMART objectives, you can easily create measures which show how successful the event is.

Great events 3: design a relevant programme

How do you create a successful event programme?

Having considered the aims and objectives of your stakeholders in the previous phase, you are in a great position to design your event. Knowing exactly what everyone wants, you can create a relevant, useful programme balanced between the needs of all your stakeholders.

If you have identified the attendees’ desire to network as an aim, you will need to allow plenty of time in the programme for them to get to know each other, not simply over a few coffee breaks between a schedule of talks. You might even decide to include a speed-networking session to encourage people to meet others who they haven’t met before.

Once you have created the programme, the next stage it to decide on some measures to indicate its success.

Great events 4: install measuring tools

How do you measure the success of an event?

Having designed your event programme, you should decide the measures you will use to show its success.

As well as surveys which you can hand out at the event, e-mail afterwards or place on-line, consider talking to people to gather feedback, e-mailing them personally and even checking their blogs for comments. Audio interviews are one way to capture quotes about the event. You might even choose to use these subsequently in a podcast.

The objectives you identified in phase two are an excellent source of specific measures. Look at the aims and objectives of each stakeholder in turn and write a series of questions to measure how successfully they were addressed:

  • Did the attendees, organiser and speaker feel the event was a success?
  • Did the attendees meet enough people?
  • Did they learn enough?
  • What did non-attendees hear about the event?

Consider some secondary measures to look at the effect of the event on subsequent behaviour:

  • Did more people attend a subsequent event?
  • Did the speaker get more engagements as a resulting from the event?
  • Did any communities related to the event see more activity as a result?

Other measures might be specific to the event’s topic. If the event related to a particular activity, did that activity increase afterwards?

Once you have gathered your measures, you need to create a report which summarises them.

Great events 5: report back

How do you report the success of an event?

Having held your event and collected feedback from all your stakeholders, you need to report on the success of your event. Your stakeholders will want to hear how the event was received by their peers and by other stakeholders.

Numbers provide a good baseline for you to compare the success of future events (as long as you ask the same questions next time), but on their own they are pretty meaningless.

Instead, provide context using narrative. Tell stories about the event: who met who, who learned what. Use quotes from people you’ve spoken to or whose comments you’ve read. Photographs tell great stories. Include plenty of shots of people interacting.

Make sure you summarise the feedback to all your stakeholders. If you have formal reporting needs, you may decide to write a comprehensive round-up of the project from start to finish, complete with documented learnings for future reference. If your needs are less rigid, you may simply post an informal report on a blog, perhaps including a podcast or vodcast incorporating interviews and feedback.

Once you close the loop at the end of the project, you’re really to start all over again on the next one..!

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