Thanks to social media, industry folk don’t need to be at your event to hear about how exciting (or not) it is straight away. Have you ever been to an event that was so dull it had you dozing off after lunch? Or even leaving? No one wants to be that event planner!
So how can you improve your creativity and ensure you are offering something unique and original? Laura Evans gained some top tips and words of advice from Sarah Springford, Director of the Brighton & Hove Chamber of Commerce, who offer a packed program of events throughout the year.
The biggest of these is the Brighton Business Summit. Last year’s summit was based on pleasure and included activities such as chocolate making, a secret walk, meditation, choir singing and even some on-the-spot poetry to remember the day by.
Another theme, “Come on an adventure” featured unconference sessions, as well as a Dare Hour where visitors enjoyed expect exotic animals, adventurous foods and “the chance to be downright provocative.” So what secrets does Sarah share?
“Knowing how to plan and run a smooth event gives you the leeway to get creative later. Will people be tweeting about your fabulous entertainment or the fact they had to queue for an hour in the rain to get in? So first of all, learn the rules… then later on, you can break them. There are plenty of event courses and training out there that you can undertake to help you to become an effective planner.
Leave plenty of time for event planning. Trust me, it will take longer than you think – a lot longer! It would be a shame if your creative ideas had to be put to bed just because time ran out and you found yourself frantically stripping all of your most ingenious plans back to the basics.”
During the initial stages, bring together a group of people to brainstorm creative ideas. At this point do not write off anything, no matter how crazy or impossible it may seem. The point is just to be as creative as possible. Later, you can start to judge which of these ideas are most feasible. Ok, so perhaps the herd of dancing elephants is not possible – but maybe the baby elephant robot is!
“Working with a group of members has been our secret to creative event planning, especially with a big event where you needs lots of ideas,” Sarah says. “Our event group is made up of volunteers who are creative and who run their own businesses. Last year’s Summit event was brilliant; the ideas flowed, some things didn’t happen, but most of the ideas were developed and everything fell in to place on the day.”
However, this isn’t always going to be smooth running and it will be up to you to make sure that you pick the right team members and see to it that the group works well together.
“Yes, there are tensions. We are often working fast and it becomes clear that some ideas won’t work. We might find that we can’t include something that’s already had a lot of work put into it, but we are fortunate that egos don’t get in the way and the team are generous and not precious about the process.”
The danger is that after all that inventive workshopping, you might find yourself grinding to a halt as you run headlong into a wall of boring bureaucracy. Organisations should seek to reduce red tape wherever possible, before it completely strangles creative ideas.
Of course, you must be thorough about things such as health and safety and insurance, but unnecessary levels of internal approval will slow the process down and put a severe stopper on your momentum. It’s the type of internal hoop-jumping that means you don’t actually have time to get around to getting things done.
Sarah says, “During the planning and ideas generation stage you need to live with the ambiguity of not knowing where it’s all going, and remain open to new ideas. But then you need to switch and commit. It’s a balance of allowing time for idea generation, then at the right point saying ‘Right, this is what we are going to do!'”
“With our Business Summit, we want to do things that are really different as we don’t want to be boring. Let’s face it, we’ve all been to a boring business event,” says Sarah. “Being prepared to take a risk with ideas is important, but the flip side is that not everything works out exactly as planned.”
It can be easy to play it safe, but for a creative event you need to go out on a limb if you really want to go beyond the norm. This won’t always be successful so learn from your mistakes and move on from them if it happens, but don’t let this put you off taking that risk in the first place.
“You know how people say they came up with that great idea in the shower or as they were dozing off to sleep? Maybe that’s because those are the times that we are at our most relaxed and have the headspace to use our imagination. Lower stress levels means you are less likely to blow a gasket and more likely to blow the minds of your attendees.
More easily said than done though. It is essential to communicate with your team and they can be a good sounding board for letting off some steam and can help you solve any issues. When it comes to excellent event planning you need to learn to step back, take a deep breath and look at the bigger picture, rather than getting swallowed up by small stresses.
And enjoy it! No one ever said working hard on something you are passionate about had to be miserable!”
“Finally, believe in yourself and the potential that you have for creative prowess. By nature, event planners are problem solvers and creativity is an extension of those skills. Take a risk, enjoy yourself and make it happen!”