Ask the Experts: Event Planning 101
A successful conference or meeting can be a valuable asset to your business. But as anyone who has attempted to execute one knows, it’s not as easy as it looks. We’ve reached out to a panel of experts to learn what it takes to plan, prepare and execute a smart, interactive and stress-free event.
James Paone, General Manager of Front of House and Rentals, The Music Hall. themusichall.org
Paul Hartnett, President, Axis Coach Transportation. axiscoachusa.com
Wendy McCoole, Community Engagement Manager, Strawbery Banke Museum. strawberybanke.org
David Swillum, Marketing Manager, MFI Productions. mfiproductions.com
Corinne Breton, Special Events Manager, Currier Museum of Art. currier.org
Q. What’s the single most important detail to consider when choosing an event venue?
Paone: “Flexibility is a big one in my book, because you want to make sure the space works for you and your needs. Does the venue offer layouts and plans? Are there enough chairs and tables for your event? Having a good blueprint to build from can make all the difference. The Music Hall has two very versatile spaces which can be adapted easily.”
McCoole: “The first priority should be the comfort and engagement of the attendees. Make sure there’s enough space for the group and appropriate lighting and acoustics, accessibility and amenities. It’s great when the venue stands out either because it adds to the purpose of the meeting or mission of the group, or because it’s a unique, memorable and authentic space. Strawbery Banke Museum offers historic spaces and is dedicated to being ‘a place to learn, a place to gather and a sustainable resource for the community.’”
Breton: “I always suggest looking for unique venues that offer guests an experience additional to the actual event itself. The venue says a lot about the quality of the event, so choosing an exceptionally interesting venue will set your event apart. The Currier offers exclusive gallery access included in all facility rentals and can even offer art-making experiences for team building, networking and social events.”
Q. In what ways can someone benefit from a site visit, rather than relying on online impressions?
Paone: “The beauty of our Historic Theater is hard to capture in a photo or online. With a site visit, clients can see the majestic theater itself as well as all the spaces behind the scenes, the bar areas, and the whimsical lower lobby and box office.
“Our black box theater, The Loft, provides an intimate setting and all the same care and offerings as the historic theater. There’s also something about meeting the staff who will be on hand that day and getting a feel for the accommodations.”
McCoole: “In addition to meeting a venue’s contact person face to face, visiting the actual rooms or buildings fosters an understanding by both parties on what’s possible and imagining ways to accommodate to needs you hadn’t thought of.”
Breton: “Seeing is believing. I find that being in the space will tremendously help planners visualize the event. Additionally, having an event expert specific to the site you are visiting makes all the difference in collecting venue information efficiently. You may also discover other possibilities while on a site visit that brochures or online marketing may not be able to convey in so many words.”
Q. What recent technology changes are available to help a client add value to an event?
Breton: “Projection mapping and advanced lighting systems at events add so much atmosphere and really make a lasting impression for guests. The Currier works with only the best AV and event design companies in the business, which makes all the difference.”
Q. What are some of the elements that make your venue ideal for events?
Paone: “We [The Music Hall] offer a diverse range of elements, from two different theaters to choose from; accessibility; location in the lovely downtown Portsmouth; latest technology, projectors and screens; and an expert and knowledgeable staff. As beautiful as our spaces are, it is our fantastic events team that truly make each event a successful and memorable one.”
McCoole: “Strawbery Banke Museum is a 10-acre living history museum that tells the story of one waterfront New Hampshire neighborhood over 300-plus years — in original buildings and gardens that span the centuries. The setting offers a unique and authentic historical backdrop for your event — whether it’s a personal milestone, a company retreat or a group event.
“The museum offers visitors free parking, ADA-compliant access to meeting spaces, café and restrooms, and can add on tours of the historic buildings. The museum’s meeting spaces also offer limited catering kitchen facilities as well as on-site catering capabilities.”
Breton: “The Currier Museum of Art is one of the region’s most unique venues offering gallery access, docent-led tours and event spaces that incorporate the museum’s most iconic works of art. Additionally, the Currier has recently expanded its scope of event services with artfully crafted in-house catering, expert on-site event planners and inclusive package pricing for a seamless planning process. The Currier holds events to a museum-quality standard, so no detail goes unnoticed.
“With the help of the Currier Events Team, your special event will become a work of art from beginning to end. The Currier is centrally located in the heart of Manchester with private parking, state-of-the-art facilities and security for the duration of your event.”
Q. What are some of the benefits to providing transportation for attendees at my event?
Hartnett: “Safety and liability are important when having an event. With a professional transportation company like Axis Coach Transportation, you are hiring a professionally trained chauffeur with a background check, someone who you can trust with your safety and is familiar with the area. You will be guaranteed that a vehicle will be there on time and you will not have to wait. Also, your company will look professional hiring a reputable service to transport your guests. You will not be leaving safety to chance by using app-based ride share companies that are not safe.”
Q. How do you work with potential clients to help them stay within their event budget?
Hartnett: “To stay within budget, we have an option to group together guests and can do a point-to-point trip, or if there are a large number of guests we can do a continuous shuttle from the venue to the next destination or hotel. This sometimes saves money. At Axis Coach Transportation, we try to work within your budget.”
Q. What event planning elements will a transportation service alleviate?
Hartnett: “When you hire a professional transportation company like Axis Coach Transportation, we will figure out the logistics of what you need. We can provide an on-site coordinator to help route your passengers to the correct vehicles. Your guests will arrive on time for the event and, especially if alcohol is served, they will be transported back in a safe manner.”
Q. What’s the most important thing to look for in an event production company?
Swillum: “The most important thing to look for when choosing your event production company for your special day comes down to how that company is perceived and its reputation in the community. Do they work with reputable companies, venues and events? Are their recommended event partners highly regarded in their fields? When looking at a production company, without an understanding of AV yourself, it’s important to understand their reputation and ask if they are a full production company with technicians on staff to handle those aspects or do they work in conjunction with other companies? A reputable AV company will typically have a reputable family of vendors and sub-contractors to recommend. Knowing who is working for you, and if they truly hold the technical skills required to deliver everything promised for your event, is a must.”
Q. What type of design preparation can help add value to an event?
Swillum: “When looking to add value to an event, it always comes down to those little details that create a takeaway or memory for your guests. An example might be adding CART (communication access real-time translation) to allow those who are hearing impaired to be included in your message. Another way to make your event have greater reach and depth may be streaming your event live for guests unable to attend or company members in other locations and recording it digitally to lend itself to post-event education, digital marketing or training.
“Adding value to your event often derives from not allowing technology or effects to overcomplicate and take over the show but understanding the audience and the message and introducing concepts that heighten your message and meaning.”
Q. How can you help make your client’s event interactive and why is that important?
Swillum: “Making your event interactive is crucial to keeping your guests engaged and excited about what you’re trying to say. Audience response systems can be put in place to allow your guests to answer polls anonymously and display on-screen results in real time or even ask vetted questions through Twitter for a live Q&A with the speaker. If you’re looking to interact with multiple office locations or branches for a kickoff or communicate with outside sponsors or investors, you can incorporate picture-in-picture webcasting displaying the presenter hosted with their slides through a webcast. If you have multiple locations in your venue where guests are present, you can display a compilation of talking points from the current presentation extended onto monitors in other portions of the venue to keep your audience active and aware.”
Q. How do you work with potential clients to help them stay within their budget and create a memorable event?
Swillum: “Budget is always something to keep balanced between accomplishing the image and message your company wants to represent while staying attentive to its financial interests and limitations. We like to keep it simple by finding out what our client’s vision is and looking at what they need and what would be nice to have.
“Oftentimes, an AV package that was used in a similar venue or for a similar sized event that the client may have recently attended is a great place to start. Identifying the client’s specific needs can help add and subtract equipment and labor for their exact event. Truly taking the time to listen and understand the purpose of the event, and how our clients want their guests to feel leaving it, gives light to what ideas do and do not help accomplish the overarching goal.
“There can usually be savings found by working with existing venue’s architectural, acoustic and cosmetic traits to enhance and build out the show rather than adding additional labor and materials to work against what it offers. Using an existing line in the room to organically drape or maybe using a static camera for your video feed instead of a manned camera with an operator, which is more labor intensive, are examples of cost saving we have used in the past to reallocate resources for your company’s key priorities. Understanding the vision and prioritizing will always lead to creating a memorable experience with a controllable budget.”