THE FEELINGS THAT MAKE AN EVENT MEANINGFUL
WE ALL KNOW THAT GOOD FOOD, A BEAUTIFUL VENUE, A COMPELLING THEME, A GREAT SUPPORT STAFF ARE AMONG THE THINGS THAT AMAZING EVENTS ARE MADE OF. AND YET, EVEN WITH ALL OF THOSE ELEMENTS IN PLACE, THERE IS A CERTAIN SOMETHING, THAT IF IT'S MISSING, YOU REALLY KNOW IT. IF IT'S THERE, YOU MIGHT NOT REALLY BE ABLE TO PINPOINT WHAT IT IS THAT MADE AN EVENT SO INCREDIBLE. IT'S KIND OF LIKE THE HOLIDAYS--IT'S NOT ABOUT THE TREE OR THE MENORAH, THE GIFTS, OR THE LIGHTS. THERE IS AN EPHEMERAL QUALITY THAT IS HARD TO PUT YOUR FINGER ON, A KIND OF MAGIC, IF YOU WILL, THAT MAKES EVENTS TRULY MEMORABLE. SO, IF YOU CAN'T ACTUALLY PLAN FOR AND MANUFACTURE THIS GREATNESS, HOW DO YOU NURTURE THE OPPORTUNITY FOR A REALLY AUTHENTIC AND MEANINGFUL EXPERIENCE? LET'S FIND OUT...
TUG AT THEIR HEARTSTRINGS
You know you've done this: sat in front of your computer red-faced and sobbing because of some viral video a friend shared with you of an animal rescued, a child adopted, a lonely old person. This is a good thing. A) Congratulations, you're not dead inside. B) Now you know how to tap into the feeling of connection to others, our mutual concern about the lives and well-being of our fellow sentient creatures, and you can use this find a way to tap into that emotion to create a genuine experience. Think about the story you want to tell to your attendees at your event. Though you may not want nicely dressed up people weeping openly, at fundraising events especially, this kind of appeal has a tendency to open wallets and hearts. Don't believe us? Watch this.
(Note: there is swearing at 1:35 so please cover the ears of nearby minors or other sensitive people).
THE ELEMENT OF SURPRISE
Few things are as memorable as a truly great surprise--wedding proposals get this honor quite often--but there is no reason why surprises shouldn't be an element of your event landscape. They are fun, they require secrecy and conspirators, and often they also provide some softness and humanity (see heartstrings, above). People LOVE to see a good surprise come to fruition and it's incredibly enjoyable to be the creator of a gigantic happiness bombshell. We often see this in the form of soldiers returning from war, special gifts given, or baby reveals (if the YouTube stats are to be believed). At events, this could translate in a lot of ways: a totally unexpected amazing headliner that will make the audience crazy with glee, a special guest, or a surprise for someone important in attendance where the audience is in cahoots. Zappos did a great job here of turning an otherwise ordinary and sometimes annoying experience of traveling at the holidays into a joyful surprise, gift-filled pop-up event that we are sure left them with many new loyal customers.
WAIT FOR IT...
First we must acknowledge this: All hail the masters of creating anticipation--the folks at Apple. The iPhone 7 series just rolled out mere weeks ago and already they are creating buzz for the iPhone 8. This should show what a powerful tactic it is to tease something that is desired and make people wait for it. The Walking Dead and other popular shows are supremely good at this, also. It's called a cliffhanger for a reason! And, we all know, the most oft-used anticipation builder, movie trailers. Keep people wanting more and they will come back as soon as possible. This tactic is especially useful for annual events. Create a teaser for next year right after a big success, leave them in suspense and your attendance is sure to skyrocket. We love how Heinz Ketchup (before the convenience of plastic squeeze bottles was ubiquitous) capitalized on the user frustration with their packaging and thick product, spun it on its head and made it "worth the wait."
KEEP THEM IN THE DARK
We once attended an event that gave shockingly few details on the promo materials. All we knew about the conference was where we were supposed to be at an appointed time. At first this created some irritation and frustration. We didn't know what to expect. Which, we realized later, was exactly what the organizers had intended. If you don't know what to expect, you cannot dismiss something before you give it a chance. We ended up believing in this as a winning strategy, especially for longer events like conferences where keeping sustained attendance (often with competition like poolside cocktails and lounge chairs) is an enormous challenge. People could look at an event roster and decide, "Hey, I don't need to attend today's speaker panel, I already know all I need to know about XYZ" and miss some really valuable content. So, think twice before you give your guests all the info. Sometimes it pays to keep them guessing. Just be sure that your message is clear or like our friends Key & Peele* here, your intention for good suspense could result in unwanted confusion.
*We're pretty sure they bleeped out all the profanity but just in case, same advice as above.
TICKLE THEIR FUNNY BONES
Maybe this one is just obvious, but in the arsenal of tools of engagement, humor ranks pretty darn high. If you can make people laugh, you get very good things: loyalty, credibility, levity, joy, trust. Laughter is relaxing and research has shown that endorphin release from sustained laughter has been linked to stress-reduction and pain relief. Like the aforementioned heart-tugging, humor gets into a deep part of the human psyche and tends to stay there. So, anything connected to this emotional experience gets a root, too. People become fatigued by all of the busy-ness, seriousness, and pain that life can produce, so giving people an opportunity for unbridled laughter at an event (where they may be expecting to let down their hair a bit anyway) is something to consider for your next big event. Take it from Danny Kaye if you won't take our word for it.
BRING THEM BACK
Sometimes the most compelling thing at an event is to bring a bit of nostalgia in to the mix. If your target audience happens to be in a certain demographic or age group, consider that nostalgia is a powerful way to engage your attendees. Whether it's just a few years ago (the 90's were "just a few years ago" right?) or hearkening back to an era long ago, humans enjoy looking back at the past. A theme is a great way to incorporate nostalgia in any kind of event, from an 80's party to a gala French Revolution era masquerade ball. Also, costumes are fun and anything that increases audience engagement is enriching to the event and to the memories that will last after the clock strikes midnight. We love how the movie The Wedding Singer brought 1980's nostalgia back to us so successfully. It's an easy formula to repeat if you do it right.
SO, DID WE GET YOU THERE, RIGHT IN THE FEELS? WE ARE SURE THAT IF YOU REMEMBER THESE KEY INGREDIENTS, YOUR EVENTS WILL ALWAYS HAVE THAT CERTAIN JE NE SAIS QUOI THAT YOU WANT. BE SURE YOU HAVE PROS LIKE US THERE TO HELP MAKE THE MAGIC HAPPEN. MAKING GREAT EVENTS: IT'S WHY WE EXIST AND WHAT WE ARE PASSIONATE ABOUT. LET US KNOW HOW WE CAN HELP YOU.