10 Ways to up Your Event Planning Game

We find ourselves in a unique position — we can still explore new ideas, but the window of opportunity is closing fast.

Author: Beth Surmont       

woman with leaves and seeds and other colorful things for hair

Fall is the time to nourish your mind with daily, 10-minute micro-learning sessions such as reading a book, listening to a podcast, or taking an online course. It will help set you up to take on planning duties. (AI generated by Techtopia Art)

beth surmont

Beth Surmont, CMP-Fellow, FASAE, CAE

Fall always sparks a renewed sense of energy in me. The transition from the slower summer pace combined with the realization that there are only a few months left in the year lights a fire in me. But this year, that feeling of urgency is even stronger. The pandemic brought immense challenges, but it also acted as a catalyst for reevaluating our events. But our window of opportunity is closing. As 2024 approaches, we are settling into reduced travel and training budgets, formalized hybrid work schedules, and shifted priorities for how we spend our time. Our events are competing with easy online offerings, new expectations from younger generations regarding engagement and personalized experiences, and tougher requirements for ROI. We are finally entering a new era of events, but we are bringing the same old models with us and expecting them to deliver new results. We must do more.

Let’s use this time of renewal to prepare for what is next. Here are 10 tips to help you level up your game:

1. Start using generative AI. Project Spark (sparkit.ai) from PCMA and Gevme is a game-changer for the events profession. It takes care of the small and mundane tasks, freeing up your mind for creativity and innovation. Unlike other AI tools, Project Spark’s built-in prompts are designed specifically for event professionals. Spending just 15 minutes with this tool can save you hours of valuable time. Plus, its brainstorming feature helps you break free from the “rinse and repeat” approach to event planning.

2. Nourish your mind. Feed your brain for 10 minutes daily with something that excites you. Whether it’s an interesting book, an insightful podcast, or an online course, this daily micro learning habit adds up to nearly an hour each week. The bestselling book The Art of Gathering, the recent book Expand: Stretching the Future by Design, and the IDEO U Creative Confidence Podcast are all great places to start.

3. Generate 10 ideas a day. Unlock your creativity and boost productivity with this daily ritual. Each morning, take a few minutes to generate 10 ideas related to your work. Not every idea will be a winner, but this practice can lead to breakthroughs that significantly enhance your projects.

4. Plan to attend a conference. Many groups budget in the fall for the following year and now is the time to request to attend an event. Whether it’s by participating in a relevant event in the event planning industry or attending one in your sector, you’ll gain fresh perspectives and valuable insights. Or consider auditing a competitor’s event to understand their approach and learn from it.

5. Connect with your audience. Take the time to understand your audience’s needs and interests. Conduct surveys, one-on-one interviews, or in-person focus groups to gauge their concerns and preferences. Ask them about challenges keeping them up at night and what makes them excited about coming to your event. This will help you identify gaps and opportunities.

6. Harness the power of your full organization. Look beyond your event team and explore what your organization has to offer. Break down silos and find ways to leverage internal initiatives and experts. Work across teams on similar challenges to amplify your event’s impact.

7. Measure success differently. Attendee numbers are no longer the sole metric for success. Tailor your KPIs to align with your audience’s needs and goals. Whether it’s exhibitors seeking access to decision-makers or attendees aiming to make valuable connections, frame your metrics through how they define success.

8. Set up small, smart tests. Every event is a chance to try something new. Build small, manageable tests with new formats, tracks, and content-collection methods. Analyze the results based on your newly defined success metrics to ensure you are innovating for what your audience needs.

9. Create a collaboration community for yourself. Connect with a colleague and set up a 30-minute peer idea exchange. These conversations can be powerful for both your events and your career growth. Feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn if you’d like to set up an idea-sharing session!

10. Remember your why. You don’t need reminding that you picked a challenging industry and profession. But it’s important to step back on occasion and remember why you love it. Whether it’s that excitement you feel standing in the back of the room when the general session kicks off, the anticipation of setting up the show floor, or the satisfaction at seeing your smiling attendees connect — hold on to that feeling. It will keep you going no matter what lies ahead.

Beth Surmont, CMP-Fellow, FASAE, CAE, is vice president of event strategy and design for marketing, strategy, and experience agency 360 Live Media.

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