Stop what you're doing for a second, check the program of your next event, and ask yourself, "Is there something I could improve to enhance the attendee experience?"
At first glance, everything seems fine. You included several round tables and parallel sessions, made sure there’s enough time for the Q&A portion, and packed in multiple workshops to fill the time gaps between the main activities. It sounds like a well-structured event, indeed. But let’s take a closer look.
Take out a highlighter and mark all the social and incentive activities you intend to offer your guests during the event. Is there anything other than brief breaks for the attendees to change rooms? You see, designing an intense schedule to help your guests "get the most out of the event" can actually backfire.
As an event planner, you have to entertain and incentivize your participants by providing them with different types of activities. According to Anton Shone and Bryn Parry, authors of Successful Event Management: A Practical Handbook, in addition to core activities, "the planning and organization of the programme may also cover opening and closing ceremonies and the social and support features such as local outings, a gala dinner or a farewell crew party."
As Tony Rogers notes in his book Conferences and Conventions 3rd edition: A Global Industry, designing a series of engaging social activities is a great opportunity for organizers to produce memorable events. As the author explains, "The social program should allow delegates to mix informally and network (for many this is often the most worthwhile part of the event), but also to experience something of the destination in which the conference is being staged."
As an event planner, apart from planning valuable core activities (such as round tables, panel sessions, workshops, ...), you have to provide engaging social experiences for your attendees. Here's how you can do it.
Tip 1. Define the goals of your next event’s social program
A powerful social program allows you to do much more than entertain your guests, so don't limit yourself when deciding the goals you want to achieve.
Is your goal to enhance the event networking experience? Is your intention to unleash the creative power of your guests, subsequently engaging them in core activities? Are you searching for an interactive way of presenting your event sponsors’ products?
These questions aren’t even scratching the surface of the endless possibilities a powerful social program can offer. Thus, before planning the social activities for your next event, take extra time to analyze and define your event goals, and then design a social program based on your intentions.
Tip 2. Incorporate the social program and core event activities effectively
Establish specific time frameworks for the social and main dynamics, and integrate them wisely when planning the event. For example, invite your guests to participate in fun activities (such as coffee breaks, guided town visits or museum visits, etc.) to energize them and boost them up after intense panel sessions or workshops. Design social program dynamics as experience-enhancing elements to keep the core event activities as equilibrated as possible.
Tip 3. Create enough space for interaction
One of the main reasons why people attend events is to meet potential clients or business partners and build new connections. Help them with that by providing enough space and time for networking. But keep in mind that coffee breaks aren’t enough for people to get to know each other. Explore the potential of social activities to increase interaction opportunities. Plan activities (such as city guided tours, gastronomical tours, interactive games, etc.) to encourage a shared experience, which will foster a deeper connection.
Tip 4. Don't ignore the local cuisine
If you are planning an event for international guests, consider offering gastronomical experiences. No doubt introducing your guests to the local cuisine will be highly appreciated. Organize special degustation sessions or visits to local restaurants. Also, be sure to prepare city gastronomical maps for the attendees for additional exploring options.
Tip 5. Be aware of the cultural offers the city has to offer
You don’t have to design social program activities from scratch. Take a look around and see what the city has to offer. Museums, festivals, concerts - all of these activities may be an enriching addition to your event. Help your international attendees explore the cultural dimension of the city by incorporating activities into the social program of the event.
Call to action
Tony Rogers highlights that "Social programmes present an ideal opportunity for organizers to bring something distinctive and memorable to an event." So don’t hesitate to start with your next planning project.
Take some extra time and define the goals you'd like to achieve. Then, decide which social activities have the potential to provide the desired outcomes. Combine the social program with the core event activities wisely, and don’t forget to create enough space and time for attendee interaction. Explore the local gastronomy and cultural offers and integrate them into the social program. Design a balanced experience your attendees will enjoy and make your event truly memorable.