How to Host an Event People Actually Want to Attend

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

Set a (cool) theme and run with it.

Using themes is nothing new. Many themes commonly used are good, yet they’re common and just need to be taken to a whole new level. Don’t simply denote the theme in the program, on the projection screen and in the tablescapes — pull it all the way through your event.

Boyd has helped execute some elaborate corporate-function themes at the Crowne Plaza–Little Rock. “We had one group that did a ‘Wizard of Oz’ theme. Some employees dressed up as the characters from the movie. They had yellow brick roads leading to the meeting rooms. They used Courage, Heart, Brains, etc., as themes for their breakouts for training in customer service and other areas,” she said. “Two [other companies] did ‘Boot Camp’ training. The facilitators were dressed in fatigues; and we had camo overlays on the meeting tables, used canteens for water on the meeting tables, had part of the break food served out of ammunition boxes, and fake grenades, ammo, etc., for decoration.”

As Boulden at the Fort Smith CVB said, Fort Smith is seeing more “True Grit”-themed conventions and meetings these days — for obvious reasons. This Western-type theme can be taken to so many levels. She recalled one group giving all the attendees marshal badges and eye patches, then taking a group picture of all the “Rooster Cogburns” in front of Judge Parker’s gallows at the National Historic Site.

Ramona Moon, senior sales manager at the Holiday Inn City Center in Fort Smith, also has seen this theme done well. “‘True Grit’ has sparked the use of such items as eye patches, colorful bandanas, toy pistols and lots and lots of cowboy hats of every size, shape and style,” she said. “Saddles, hay bales and Wild West storefronts made of painted of cardboard are usually everywhere. Most [companies] wanted posters intermingled with bouquets of daisies in mason jars, gingham table cloths, kerosene lanterns and ropes and lariats everywhere.”


Don’t skimp on décor.

You don’t necessarily want a Wild West-themed seminar on new media marketing trends (or do you?) — that’s more straightforward. However, if you opt for an interactive or engaging backdrop for your event, go all out. Transform the room. It will make a major statement to attendees.

Shawna Young, executive designer and producer for Young Designs, says dramatic décor is the way to go. “Working with Arkansas Children’s Hospital Foundation last year on their fundraiser, the theme, a winter wonderland, was created in the ballroom with 16-foot-tall white trees,” she said. “Extensive décor surprises guests from the moment they enter the room. They feel like they are in a different city.”

Even more than decorations, Young said, interactive décor — a champagne chandelier, slot machines, blackjack tables, wine pulls or activity stations like photo booths — is a great way to engage guests. “If they get bored they will leave, and who wants to spend a lot of money on an event for everyone to get bored and leave?”

Moon said the Holiday Inn City Center in Fort Smith has used interactive décor, which helps make the room look more like its theme while also engaging attendees. “We’ve had mechanical bulls, bull-roping contests, and [Western] reenactment groups are always popular entertainment options [that fit the theme].”

Entertain them.

Young’s goal of not boring attendees is a good one, although sometimes that’s inevitable given that the purpose of your event may, in fact, be to get some work done. Nevertheless, if you do have the time to spare, entertain your attendees. Here are a variety of activities recommended by the Arkansas facility managers and corporate event planners we surveyed: geo caching, digital scavenger hunts, round-robin cook-offs, rock climbing, horseback riding, live music, and adventure races like the CBS TV Show, “The Amazing Race.” Scott Whited with Simply the Best Catering of Little Rock said Cirque du Soleil-style aerial acrobats and performance artists make for incredible entertainment at events.

Jean Heslip with the Arkansas Arts Center recalls an enlivening Maybelline program at the Center. “Maybelline did a fun event for the kickoff of one of their computer programs. It just happened to be called the Isis, who of course was an Egyptian goddess, and they did this during the World of the Pharaohs exhibit. They dressed up in costumes and toured the show — lots of fun,” Heslip said. “And JPMS Cox did an employee fun day that involved making art in the museum school, participating in a hands-on workshop through the education department and touring an exhibit.” n



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