What works and what doesn't work in event planning? Here are tips to help you avoid learning what doesn't work when planning your next event.

1. Effective Promotional Copy

No matter what type of event you're planning, it's your promotional copy—and how it's written—that is going to get people to sign up. If you don't have a direct marketing copywriter on staff, invest in a good freelance writer. Doing so will pay for itself in increased attendance.

What Doesn't Work

  • Assuming your audience knows why they should participate. When copy is short on details, it doesn't give people enough reasons to attend.

  • Not understanding your audience and their problems or pains. People will not respond to a thinly disguised commercial for your company or products.

  • Grammatical errors, incomplete information or broken hyperlinks (in email announcements). No excuses. Ever. Invest in proofreading.

What works

  • Generate excitement with benefits built into your headlines and promotional copy:

    • "Six mistakes that can cost you big bucks… and how to avoid them"
    • "Evaluating new suppliers: how one company did it right"
    • "Avoiding inventory nightmares—or 10 tips for getting your inventory under control"

  • Write long copy. Make sure your promotional copy is long enough to spell out all the details and benefits of attending your event. However, long copy needs to be easy to skim for those who want to get right to the bottom line: use subheads, bold fonts, bullets and call-outs.

  • Sell the event, not your company. You need to focus on selling the benefits of attending your event, not on selling your company and its services. Be sure to include information about what they'll "take home" in terms of new knowledge or something tangible, such as workbooks, white papers or checklists.

  • Provide certificates of completion and continuing education credits for technical people and professionals like lawyers and CPAs. It gives them another reason to attend.

  • Ensure that your promotional copy includes all the following information: location, date, time, cost, how to register and how to get additional information.

2. Getting the Word Out

Get your information out early if you want to get onto the calendars of time-stressed executives, managers and technical people before they are booked up with other obligations.

What Doesn't Work

  • Relying on one method of communicating—i.e., only direct mail or only email. Sometimes direct mail won't get the message through, or emails will get filtered out before being read.

  • Poor timing: Promoting your event too far in advance, or waiting until the last minute to promote your event. You need both to promote well in advance and to remind prospective attendees again shortly before the event.

  • Using "wedding-type" or formal invitations and postcards. Generally, response plummets when these types of communication pieces are used, because you don't have room to list all the details and benefits of attending.

What Works

  • Using an integrated marketing communications approach that includes postal mail, email, telemarketing and your Web site.

  • Persistence: Hitting your audience more than once with promotional messages. Test for yourself, but three times seems to be the magic number. First, well in advance. Second, two or three weeks in advance. Third, as a last-minute "last chance" reminder.

  • Buying text ads in the e-newsletters your customers and prospects read, and posting event information to online event calendars and industry or other relevant business publications.

  • Following up with key prospects via telephone (if your budget allows).

  • Sending last minute "See you there!" reminders to registrants.

3. Considering Your Audience

Consider your audience, their jobs and their schedules. Plan your event format around your audience type. Executives, especially C-level types, have limited time and generally won't attend an all-day conference, while technical people or users who need lots of detailed information will.

What Doesn't Work

Holding live events on Monday mornings or Friday afternoons. Doing so will usually cut your attendance dramatically.

What Works

  • Short "Executive Briefings," "Executive Breakfasts" or Webcasts for C-level and other time-pressed executives.

  • "Lunch and Learn" seminars or half- or full-day meetings or conferences for technical and administrative types.

  • Holding your live events at new or "in" restaurants or hotels, or at an interesting location such as a client's factory or party boat for an "Executive Briefing and Harbor Cruise."

  • Mixing happy customers with prospects. Happy customers will often sell your prospects on why they should do business with your company.

  • Timing your event for Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday—days people are more likely to attend, and days that give you time to deliver last-minute reminders to attendees. Friday morning events also work well because people then will take the afternoon off after attending your seminar, to get an early start on the weekend.

4. Location, Location, Location

Like a retail business, the location of your live seminar, workshop or other event is important.

What Doesn't Work

  • Venues that are difficult to find or get to (e.g., a busy downtown location on a one-way street).

  • Not supplying easy-to-follow or complete directions.

  • Venues that don't include accessible parking close to your event. If your budget allows, consider prepaying attendees' parking fees.

What Works

  • Using company facilities, your own company's meeting rooms or a customer's facilities. If these aren't available, book a room at a large hotel or meeting center easily accessible from the highway. (Or use Webcasts or Web seminars instead.)

  • Ensuring that the venue is accessible and the directions are correct by driving to it yourself, parking and then walking to the building. Supply maps and directions with the best routes to take.

  • Paying attention to the location of parking lots and garages: women attendees, in particular, likely won't want to walk by themselves to an out-of-the-way lot or garage, especially after dark.

5. Electronic Events

Webcasts, Web seminars, teleseminars—whatever the name or format—these "virtual" events require just as much planning and promotion as a live seminar or presentation. In addition, because of their virtual nature, they come with their own special considerations, so it pays to keep in mind the following:

What Doesn't Work

  • Using untested or bottom-budget technology that causes glitches during your event.

  • Waiting until the last minute to hold a trial run-through, or not doing one at all.

  • Poor audio, which can cause attendees to end the call. For example, you may want to automatically "mute" those who dial in, as background noise coming in over multiple-participant phones can be a real problem.

  • Keeping people on the computer or phone for more than an hour.

  • "Lecturing" the whole time. Web seminars can be great, but no one wants to listen to someone drone on and on. Make your presentation as interactive as possible. (This goes for live events as well.)

What Works

  • Limiting electronic events to one hour or less. Give attendees a 45-minute presentation and a 15-minute Q & A. Those who want to can leave as soon as the presentation is over. You can stretch it a bit by concluding the formal presentation at an hour and offering attendees the option of staying on for more questions and answers.

  • Scheduling electronic events in midday time slots. Clients have seen their best results when scheduling their events between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. in their attendees' time zones.

  • Conducting a trial run-through or rehearsal of the event to ensure that you understand how the technology works and how the presentations will flow. This is a great stress reducer and can have a significant impact on the quality of the presentation. (Again, this applies to live events as well.)

  • Emailing supporting materials to attendees before the electronic event. Keep in mind that attendees may not be at their offices or desks when phoning in or logging on. Allow people to download materials at their convenience and have the materials ready when you refer to them.

  • Providing access to your electronic event after the fact—especially if your main goal is to generate high-quality leads. Send to attendees, no-shows and those you invited but never heard back from a special link to a recorded version of the Webcast or teleconference.

The bottom line? Events are a great way to increase leads and move prospects along the sale cycle. Ensure your events' success by planning and promoting them well, keeping your target audience in mind when determining the type of event, finding a good location and understanding the differences between "real" and "virtual" events.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

M. H. "Mac" McIntosh is president of Mac McIntosh Incorporated, a sales and marketing consulting firm. For more information, visit www.salesleadexperts.com.