August 11, 2009

How to Develop and Lead Exceptional Events

three women on a panel

If you are like most professionals, your job involves creating events for others. Events range from annual meetings to planning retreats to formal three-day conventions and more. Given the time they take and their cost, wouldn’t you like the events you plan to be exceptional? If yes, what are the secrets of developing extraordinary events? To find out, I interviewed people who attended numerous events each year.

Stand Out: Few and Far Between
“How many exceptional events did you attend last year?” I knew I was on to something interesting when I received answers to this question like these:

“Not very many, if any…”
“Maybe one or two… maybe.”
“I really have to think. Doesn’t that say something?”
As I asked more questions, it became clear that exceptional events were memorable and infrequent. Extraordinary events created consistent and enthusiastic responses. Here are three ideas to use when you plan your next event.

Idea One: Presenters that Wow
Look for “highly engaging presenters – who are generally well-known and sought after,” suggests Jim Rindelaub, Executive Director of the Choristers Guild in Garland, Texas.
Seek “excellent keynotes and excellent workshop presenters,” encouraged Irene Flynn, Director Florida-Bahamas Synod Resource Center.
“I look for people that will be top-notch, not the typical institution events,” shares Julie Aageson, Director Eastern North Dakota Resource Center.

Investing effort in securing first-class keynotes and leaders is critical. Before the event, their names and topics draw reluctant attendees to click on registration. An outstanding keynote supports the quality and quantity of your attendance. At the event, leaders get everyone thinking about ideas. They stimulate conversations between attendees in rooms, hallways, and at meals.

Idea Two: Meet Personal Goals
“I look for inspiration and challenge,” states David H. Webb, Brigadier General from Bradenton, Florida.
“I want to be stimulated and challenged intellectually. It’s content, not technique,” said Aageson
“The reason for getting together is meaningful and educational. That being said, I go to learn something new-ideally about being a better person,” shared Clarence Caldwell, Assistant to the Bishop, Florida-Bahamas Synod.

Plan your events to give attendees opportunities to achieve their objectives. Naturally, goals will vary. As you plan, identify a handful of likely objectives–ideally by interviewing people. Interweave opportunities to meet these objectives throughout your event. For example, provide a certification, offer continuing education units, and have works-in-progress reviewed. Don’t be afraid to challenge attendees to use the event as a turning point in their lives. Attendees, in fact, often hope for this outcome.

Idea Three: Plan the Details
Planning an exceptional event takes place on multiple levels. Besides great session leaders, the opportunity to meet personal objectives, the mix of facilitators, event pacing, and entertainment all come to play.  Your details might be the key to your attendees experiencing an exceptional event. Don’t ignore opportunities to be creative with break activities, commercial vendors placement, registration, and pre-event communications.

“I can put up with mediocre food and facilities, but the meeting needs to be well planned and focused,” explains Caldwell.
“The event contained many creative touches. People planned how to make the experience special and fun,” Flynn concluded.

For help organizing and running meetings, or organizing special events read:

Most of us, sometime during the year, are involved in planning events for others. Follow this link to learn more about Karen’s presentations.

For more answers, check out this Nonprofit  CEO Library.

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Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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