"Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd."
-- P. T. Barnum
Having participated in many on site events and done them myself, I have learned many things about how to make them work. I learned mostly from watching what I did and what others did and thought about how to improve that. As an example, I once sent 10,000 flyers out for an event that drew 50 people and most of them were not among the 10,000 addressees. Sad affair, and I had the factory rep there too. I went all out to have the event staged, but it didn't help.
Then, I have seen successful events and paid close attention to the differences in timing, the day of the week, the hours and you name it. So I learned a lot of things by seeing them done well too.
Here's some questions I like to ask those who are planning an event:
- Why? What is your objective in having this event?
- If it were a perfect event, after it was all over, what would it look like or what would have transpired or been achieved?
- Are you willing to spend a bit more to have a much better result?
- Who is your target customer? Who are you doing this for?
- Think about how busy you are all day long. What would make you really want to spend the time and energy to attend your own event? In other words, what's in it for them? How will it benefit them?
- Get the biggest draw you can afford to help get people there, even if they are not your target audience. This may be a monster truck, race car, clown show, 100 lbs of barbecued tri-tip, a football star, some celebrity, and more. Something very popular would be best. An open house at your store is a very weak draw typically. The draw is the key!
- Marketing the event. If you have event marketing people in your area, hiring them can really help you get more people there. Set your advertising to tease 2 to 4 weeks out and then stronger near the event. Target your key clients through telephone, email and personal contact. If you have a newsletter, advertise the event 8 to 10 weeks out. Consider radio remote broadcast. If you're a member of the local Chamber of Commerce, you can advertise at their events and through their venues, and more. Get the word out often and as effectively as possible.
- If you're serving food and I hope you are, then spend a little more and make it quality food. Cooking hamburgers and hot dogs yourself is not a draw, and it is not quality--it's cheap. My best advice for a successful event is to have it catered where they come and cook and serve and clean up the mess and you don't need to be involved in it. Delegate. Hire it out and get a good one. If the budget is too small, I highly recommend not having the event.
- Have music. I highly recommend that you hire a sound person and/or DJ to take care of this by bringing good equipment, taking care of the music and having a quality mike to give announcements so everyone can hear them. This is the point most events miss in my experience and I think it is critical. You want to be able to communicate with a crowd, since that's what you are going to draw. Upbeat music is energizing, soothing and fills the empty space. Not too loud, not too soft, and the sound people know how to do that best. It is very important part of a great event.
- Vendors. There's not much worse than inviting vendors to an event--especially if you are asking them to pay for the privilege and/or bring raffle prizes--and then have a poorly attended event. Wasting your own time is one thing, but wasting all your vendors is another. You will need to insure your event is set up in such a way that the vendors are centrally located so that people at the event are drawn to the vendors, or that tickets are issued where each vendor has to sign off in order to qualify for the raffle, or something like that. Use your sound system to make announcements regularly.
- Insure that things start on time and move smoothly. Timing of things must be orchestrated by someone, so make sure someone is assigned that duty.
- Raffles. Calling numbers and having people not be there is not good. Have raffles throughout the period of the event so there is always something going on. Have a lot of raffle prizes even if many of them are minor prizes or logo-branded give aways. I recommend about every 15 minutes and stay on track with the time. If people must be present to win, you might want to have the raffles in a time frame where most everyone is there, so it won't be at the end of the event.
- If you're having various presentations, announce those to help direct people to the right place at the right time.
- If it is a large event, consider having some entertainment. This could be an artist drawing caricatures of people, walking magician doing little tricks moving around, clowns with balloons if there are younger ones, musicians, and such.
- Think of it this way: the event should be full throttle from start to finish without stopping or slowing down. As soon as the event opens, it is full on, music, food smells, events going on, entertainment, vendors, announcements, raffles, etc. and keep it going right up to the final bell. Most events I have seen have peaks and valleys and more valleys than peaks. The best events peak throughout. This requires thought, planning, delegation and care. It will be worth it.
- It is a great idea to filter people through an introduction area. You might even then get their information including company, name, email, etc. for follow up. It is also a great idea to have name tags so people can network with each other more effectively, or communicate more effectively. If you do this, it must be able to handle the flow of people so that there isn't a line. Nobody likes waiting in line and especially to just get in to your event.
- Another great idea is to filter people through an exit area. This is a perfect time to give them some of your materials, handouts, parting gifts, etc. and to quickly thank them for taking the time to come to your event.
- Having your people in full force and mingling throughout the crowd is important and will help the event perhaps be more effective for you. Your people can make sure things are flowing and that people are having a good time and answering any questions that they may have, such as where the bathroom is, etc. Speaking of bathrooms, make sure that is covered in such a way as people can be comfortable.
- Have lots of good drinks available and ideally in several areas so people can partake as they desire.
- Usually, the longer they stay, the more opportunity you have, so a boring event or poorly run event will cause people to leave quickly, whereas a well run event, people stay sometimes throughout the time.
- Lunch time is a very good time where people can legitimately leave their work for a time during the week. 11am to 2pm is a good window of time. That's three hours to stay at peak performance and serving food the whole time, or you could state that food will be served from 11:30am to 1pm while the whole event is 11am to 2pm, although, I think having food the entire event time is best. Many times when the food goes, so do the people and then your event will fizzle from there.
- Make sure there is adequate and effective parking. You might even consider a valet service or if it is a large event a shuttle of some kind.
- Weekend events would be best only for general public things and you will need a strong draw. For businesses, I think the weekday is best and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are the best days of the week from my experience.
- Breakfast events are much harder to do well. Dinner events are great too, but they will require a bit more budget and more entertainment and other unique draws.
- Have vendors please stay to the end. As soon as they start packing, the event is over. Keep it full on start to end.
- Partner with others when you can. One commercial truck dealership partnered with a Lowe's Home Improvement store and used their parking lot a half a block from the dealership. This allowed Lowe's people to have give aways, and supply vendors for some associated items and to be an effective partner. That worked really well and they usually have a great event there.
- Follow up and follow through. Send thank you's to all vendors and partners and your own team members for their help and their valuable time and skills. Follow through with quotes and other activities that you created at the event.