I’m sure you know the feeling: an event or conference has been sitting on your calendar for months, and as it creeps closer, all you feel is dread. You’ve got to drive somewhere you’ve never been before, walk into a room of people that you’ve never met, stack a tiny plate with lousy finger foods and balance it in one hand as you grip a watery drink in the other, hoping it will cure—or at least dilute—your social anxiety even half as fast as condensation beads up on the glass. The stunted small talk, the awkward chewing—it’s almost like a bad date. The only upside: you can slip out relatively unnoticed and head back to the comfort of your car to question why you went in the first place.
Maybe you even wonder if they could’ve just held the thing on Zoom; at least then you could’ve saved the gas and left your camera off. The thing is, despite all the digital tools available to us, IRL events are only growing, with 86.4 percent of event organizers planning to maintain or increase their organization’s in-person events in 2024, according to Bizzabo. And that’s because events do matter: 80.4 percent of event organizers believe that they’re the most critical marketing channel when it comes to achieving your business goals.
When you’re in the business of thought leadership, that’s especially true. It’s a chance for you to share your knowledge as an extension of your brand and to truly connect with others—turning audience members into engaged followers—and even evangelists.
So, how do you make sure your events don’t suck?
Well, think about an event you attended that left a lasting impression for all the right reasons. The ones that were events that were unforgettable, where you felt like a kid at summer camp (if you liked summer camp, that is), learning to see the world in a new way and making connections that fueled career moves and friendships for years to come. I’m talking about the kinds of events where you walked out of the building feeling inspired and wondering how the organizers even pulled it off.
Great events are a labor of love and a product of incredible intention, with 99 percent of the work happening in the months and weeks prior to the event, and just enough room left for the magic to unfold. With that in mind, consider this your event prep checklist—a not-so-comprehensive guide to getting it right.
The idea is to get you thinking about both the big picture and small details, so when the big day arrives, you can ensure you’ve left no stone unturned.
☑️Treat every event like a story. This great insight comes from Sara Boström, who plans events for YPO’s San Francisco Chapter. The story starts when you plan the guest list and send out the invites (all those characters set into motion), accelerates with any communications you send out leading up to the event, reaches a pinnacle at the event, and winds down as you follow up in the days and weeks thereafter.
☑️ Curate, curate, curate. The best community events are both inclusive and exclusive. They make everyone there feel like they belong, but they are not for everyone. That guest list has to be crafted—and pruned—with intention if you want people to feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves. Is this an event for 16 people or 160? Once you decide, plan accordingly. Set a high bar for talent to ensure everyone feels valued and like they’re getting something valuable out of it, and determine who might connect ahead of time, laying the groundwork for serendipity (when it happens “naturally,” at your event, you still get the credit).
If you’re bringing in sponsors, that means being intentional about who’s on board so it doesn’t feel too commercialized.
☑️Make room for connection. Have you ever been to an event where there’s just too. much. information. Maybe the content shared at sessions feels too technical, or there are just too many panels—with great speakers booked in different rooms at the same time, making it hard to decide where to go. Maybe everything is scheduled in a series of breathless blocks such that there’s no real room for networking (one of the biggest draws of any event). By the end everyone feels cranky and no amount of cubed cheese or $8 Chardonnay will help. By the time you have time to connect with the people in the room, you want to go home.
The best events let the mind wander and connect the dots. Don’t forget to create space for that.
Pro Tip: At our Arcbound experience event last May, we created a curated list of intros for each attendee and sent them along prior—like a great social media algorithm, but with a human touch. The day of, attendees found “their people”—and all kinds of possibilities.
☑️Consider their schedule. Lots of events fall during the weekday to capture busy professionals, hoping they’ll log those workday hours at the hotel ballroom of the organizer’s choice. But booking on a weekend can be a game-changer. Yes, it’s probably more expensive, but when your attendees arrive without the pressure of buzzing texts and work emails, it’s easier for them to be present, engaged, and let their guard down enough to fully immerse themselves in the experience.
☑️Location, location, location. Just like curation, you’ve got to be intentional about where you’re holding this thing. What kind of environment will be most conducive to the conversation you want your guests to have? This is an opportunity to think outside the box so that they’ll do the same.
☑️Doesn’t cut corners on food and alcohol. Food and booze are some of the biggest culprits when it comes to driving up a budget, but that’s not an excuse to cheap out (we all know what that feels—and tastes—like). There are plenty of ways to save without making guests feel overlooked. Get creative with that venue, think about breakfast over dinner, or go heavy on the hors d’oeuvres to help people feel full without a main dish. Lean into beer and wine if it’s that or bottom-of-the-barrel liquor, and ensure it lasts the whole night. Otherwise, you’re giving people a reason to leave.
Similar to software, or an end-to-end service, lock them in for the whole experience. And then collect strong data points so you know what to repeat and what to skip the next time.
☑️Be clear on dress code. Match the dress code to the kind of environment you’re trying to create. If you want things to feel casual and conversational, this is not the time for cocktail attire. On the flipside, if you want an air of sophistication, don’t leave it up to chance. Let people know what to do. Be explicit. Otherwise, that guy who mistakes your casual shindig for a black tie affair will never forgive you.
☑️Capture the crowd. An event can be the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to content. Harness the opportunity with a great media plan and strategy. Whether you use the content right after the event or six months down the line (or both), capturing footage with a clear plan of how you’re going to use it will definitely help your cause. It can be a literal gift too, a speaker reel you put together for presenters, for instance—thus helping them build their brand alongside yours.
☑️Factor your priorities into the mix. In so many ways, events are for others, but don’t forget to think about yourself. Consider your personal vision and long-term goals. How will this event help you get there? Who can you meet that can help you advance? What insights do you want to get out of this? What kind of content do you want to generate? How will you know if the event has been a success? How will you engage with the people you connected with? Unless it’s Burning Man. Then you have my blessing to bring some fringe and body glitter and see what happens.
The Common Denominator? Connection
At the end of the day, it’s all about fostering real deal connections. From what I’ve seen, there’s not enough of us being truly intentional about our relationships. As a result, our work, our engagements, and even our lives can feel transactional. The good news is, when you focus on creating something more meaningful and special that’s tied to your long-term vision, everything changes.
For example, our last event led to a $750,000 investment in a growing startup, an official relationship between one of the world’s biggest banks and a rapidly scaling business, invaluable connections between leaders across media and technology industries, hundreds of thousands of dollars of ROI for attendees, numerous social media collaborations, and invitations to movies, birthday parties, and undoubtedly a date or two. As one friend put it, “It was magical. Like Summit Series, except I didn’t have to pay $7,000 for a ticket and could show up as myself.”
At Arcbound, everything starts with connection. Connection leads growth. It drives sales. It identifies talent. It generates PR. And it’s supported by meaningful, insightful, and thoughtful content like podcasts, newsletters, social media posts, and books—all of which are designed to help you reach the people who need to hear what you’re saying.
After all, good personal brands are just that: personal. They inspire others to rally behind them, so everyone can accomplish more together. Those connections take on a life of their own, becoming an ecosystem that continues to build on itself, growing organically to produce incredible outcomes. We want to help you do just that. If you’re ready, let me know.