How to Host an Event People Actually Want to Attend

by Lindsay Irvin  on Monday, Nov. 7, 2011 12:00 am  

Stop pretending you can engage your staff with the promise of doughnuts and coffee in the conference room. That’s not the room, nor the right food, to get folks amped for your annual brainstorming seminar or quarterly progress report. Take them somewhere fun — do something fun — and feed them something good. After all, you like these people, don’t you?

Seriously, there really are so many creative ways to engage your audience no matter what event you’re planning or its purpose. But don’t take it from us; steal (or be inspired by) the following ideas from your Arkansas peers: facility managers, event-goers and party planners who’ve seen firsthand how creative events yield incredible results.

Play with your food.

In spite of industry statistics and expert testimony claiming certain types of food shouldn’t be served during certain corporate functions because of dreaded food-weariness or crashes — it’s usually the stuff you actually want to eat that they don’t serve — the staff at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers believes the menu is an important way to excite attendees and entice them back for future events.

“We hosted a Blue Moon Dinner for Miller/Coors,” said Carole Schultz, director of events at PCC. “They flew the creator of Blue Moon in and we paired food with Blue Moon and several other beers he had created.”

Jennifer Boulden, communications and event services manager for the Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau, said that in light of the recent hit Hollywood remake of “True Grit,” the bureau has been putting on more “True Grit”-themed events. For instance, at the Fort Smith National Historic Site, “We had a national convention a few years ago that had dinner in the original ‘Hell on the Border Jail,’” she said. “[We served] a dinner of stew and cornbread and sweet potatoes with molasses on tin plates, as men in the 19th century might have. This summer the Hell, Grit & Justice on the Border Conference also recreated one of these dinners in the jail.”

Beth Boyd, corporate director of sales for Crowne Plaza–Little Rock, recalled how one company’s safari-themed event lent itself to fun with food. “We sold Safari Breaks where we made ‘huts’ out of straw/bamboo and served macadamia nut cookies, skewers of marshmallows, brownies, tropical fruit and, to top it off, we had someone in a gorilla suit handing out bananas,” she said.

Skip the silent auction.

Fundraisers have grown rather predictable these days. Silent auction, golf scramble, raffle tickets, live auction during dessert — it’s time for fresh fundraising ideas for your next event. Patrick Hall, general manager of Fred’s Hickory Inn in Bentonville, touts a particularly popular fundraiser hosted at his facility: the Bentonville/Bella Vista Telethon Executive Lock-up.

“Local community leaders and business owners are pre-recruited to join us at the Inn to participate,” he said. Recruited participants, otherwise known as “jailbirds,” are picked up by local officials (fire fighters, police officers and sheriff deputies) and brought to the Inn, where they are greeted, “booked” and photographed (souvenir picture) by the “judge.” Jailbirds are then given a cell phone so they can “raise their bail” (funds for charity) while having a bite to eat and networking with other community leaders. The money raised benefits local Muscular Dystrophy Association research and events.

The NEA Baptist Charitable Foundation of Jonesboro’s annual Duck Classic, which benefits five Northeast Arkansas charities, is another great example of an Arkansas fundraising event that’s outside the box. Simply put, it’s a duck hunting competition in which teams pay to compete. Teams of four hunters are put together by raffle during a pre-event banquet, and local landowners donate spots to hunt and provide guides; there’s a point system, shell limit, time limit and other guidelines.

“Part of what makes the event so special is the interaction it gives us with the community,” said Kim Provost, the fundraising coordinator for the NEA Baptist Charitable Foundation. “It gives us an opportunity to reach out and make people aware of the purpose our different programs serve in their town, [but more than anything] everybody looks forward to getting together and having fun.”



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