Creating Dynamic Events: Wisdom from the RCMA Community

Super Bowl Live Stage; Photo Courtesy of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee.jpg

The RCMA community is full of meeting and event professionals that are creating, curating,
and supporting dynamic events everyday throughout the country. As we strive to grow together
and encourage one another, it becomes vital to not only share our knowledge and discoveries,
but to listen closely to our colleagues on the same journey. 

We gathered a group of experienced event professionals to reflect on some of their events of the past year and how they’re hoping to advance their efforts in creating fresh and engaging events.

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Tell us about an event you’ve been involved with over the past year. What were the biggest challenges and what made the event “dynamic?”

Melvin Tennant: Hosting Super Bowl LII in the Minneapolis region was an all-hands-on-deck experience. While it stretched the resources of Meet Minneapolis and the entire community, there was a tremendous sense of satisfaction from hosting such a large and multi-faceted event. As suppliers, we worked with the NFL, an understandably demanding client that allowed us to be stewards of their premier event. The contract was exhaustive and had to be agreed upon and signed by the finalist cities prior to the final city selection. That forced us to be even more astute about what we were agreeing to. The event was dynamic by its very nature and extended well beyond the big game. We marketed a 10-day Bold North Festival to ensure that there were many exciting activities to enjoy, even without a game ticket.

Rachel Eble: We’re fortunate to assist ministries with a wide variety of events, including several city-wides. Of course, along with that can come challenges. During one event, we were told by a hotel that they were overbooked on the arrival day of our group by a large number of rooms and that because our group was the arriving group, our attendees would be displaced. During a multi-faceted event like a city-wide, even one party who doesn’t see the big picture of the overall value and impact on the entire city can create challenges. Fortunately, the hotel understood the partnership and was willing to share information in efforts to work together with us to find a solution. We discovered that the other group’s attendees were responsible for paying for their guest rooms individually, so we suggested to the hotel that they offer to provide the last night of their stay complimentary at a sister property along with complimentary transportation. Although the hotel was skeptical that enough attendees would choose to take advantage of the offer, we actually had far more than enough volunteers, and as a result our attendees never knew the challenge even existed. Perhaps we got lucky, but it never would have worked out in that way if all parties hadn’t been willing to come to the table and work together to find a solution.

For this and similar challenges, we find it crucial to have a solid agreement clearly stating the intent of both parties at the time of contracting. It’s also just as key to be able to bring every party to the table and help them see and remember the big picture and the importance of the partnership and relationship. Seeing everyone come together to create a successful event is definitely the goal!

Kurt Kjellstrom: I was doing an annual city-wide event, and it’s always over the top, but this year we had to reduce our overall expenditures significantly. I had to be creative in managing twelve different departments to pull off a successful event and still deliver an over the top experience for our attendees. Good news: it was a very successful event, even with the reductions.  Was it extra work? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Sometimes, you just have to do the little EXTRA.

Jerry Spencer: In the fall of 2016, we began planning with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for their July 2018 Youth Gathering. They were not completely happy with the production supplier they had been using for the past 18 years, but were reluctant to make a change to a new supplier. We were able to convince them that Bartha was up to the task. Once they started working with our team, they didn’t look back and were beyond thrilled after the event was completed. The biggest challenge was the stadium setup for 35,000 high school and college-age young people. Fun, exciting, and lively was the name of the game here!  

How do you determine if an event is successful?

Kurt: I process this in different ways. When I do city-wide events, there are so many factors that come into play with the CVB, venue, hotels, transportation, security, vendors, staff, production, etc. I want our attendees to have a good experience all around when they are with us. For me, it’s just not about how good the speaker/presenter is, it’s how the overall experience was for the attendee and how they were treated at the hotel, restaurants, or by a staff member. This is true success! Always remember, you’re only as good as your last event, so never stop pushing for excellence in ALL that you do as it will always pay off!

Jerry: Buzz on social media, survey results, sales numbers, CEO is smiling when he or she leaves. And if we get hired back.

Rachel: I see an event as being successful when the ministry accomplishes all of its goals without the attendee experiencing any challenges during the event. And on a higher level, I see ministry events as successful when lives are affected. That means that attendees are not consumed by thinking about logistics and instead are focusing on the actual event itself, the speakers, the relationships, and in general the purpose and experience of it.  

What are the ingredients to creating a dynamic event?

Jerry: Collaboration, listening to the client, and understanding their goals for the event. Great ideas, top notch technology, and personnel to execute.

Melvin: More and more, planners are asking us to help create unique experiences for their attendees that they cannot get elsewhere. Since we know that any popular convention city must start out as a strong leisure destination, our approach to marketing Minneapolis as a convention city focuses on the individual delegate experience. We provide the meeting and event planner with the tools to convince potential attendees that there are many opportunities to have a memorable visitor experience outside of the official meeting agenda. We promote such attributes as our diversity, walkability, musical heritage, and our trendy cuisine scene.

Rachel: I believe the key is knowing your attendees and what they value and find important. If you know what matters to them, you’ll be able to reach them. If your content and the experience you provide is affecting your attendees in meaningful ways, they’re going to be engaged and impacted. 

Kurt: Having been in the events industry for the last twenty years, ALWAYS be present in your event!  Lead your team with passion. Don’t tell your team something to do, if you aren’t willing to do it yourself. If you truly love what you do, it will show. Otherwise, it will be just be a j-o-b. 

What have you learned that no training could’ve prepared you for?

Melvin: We have learned to make sure that we have the right people in the right seat on the bus, to paraphrase Jim Collins. In executing large scale events, it’s important to ensure that you are asking people to complete assignments they are equipped to do. Also, we have learned that proper documentation of how past events were handled will help with future ones.

Kurt: What you do today affects what you do tomorrow! Don’t procrastinate. It doesn’t pay off.   

Jerry: Anything can happen in a live event. It’s not what happens that matters, it’s how you respond to the situation.

Rachel: The fact is that no matter how well you’ve thought things through or planned, there will always be challenges of varying degrees. I frequently remind myself that no matter how dire a situation may seem, as long as all parties can come together and focus on the bigger picture and the partnership, things will work out. I’ve also learned the importance of extending grace and how it feels to be given grace. Finally, how people react to mistakes and challenges is more important than the mistake/challenge itself. 

How do you keep your events fresh and creative?

Kurt: I stay up on the trends, and what other people are doing, and taking what could work for me and implementing them. I’m always wanting to push the envelope on doing a better and bigger event every time. Never stay satisfied where you are at! Always strive to become better. 

Rachel: Again, I think it goes back to knowing your attendees and what is relevant to them. Also taking the time and making the effort to share ideas and learn from those who know more than you do. Ideally, we can offer attendees new experiences by providing creative ways for them to connect with other attendees, receive content, and even a different experience with food functions.

How have you seen events change the last 5-10 years? 

Kurt: The economy is so strong right now, so I’m seeing the need to book events 3-5 years in advance where this was not the case years ago. Hotels/venues are less and less flexible than they used to be. Since there is so much happening out in the marketplace in general, you have to spend a little bit more on social media ads to keep people’s attention on attending, participating, and engaged in your event. 

Rachel: The economy is definitely a huge factor that affects events, especially religious events. Because we’re currently in a strong sellers’ market, we need to be more flexible to stay within budget. We have to prioritize preferences. This may mean changing patterns or dates to fit into a desired location or vice versa if dates/pattern are more important. It may mean changing booking windows if necessary. Five to ten years ago, we had more options and availability and more properties and destinations valuing our business.   

 Technology has also impacted events.  There is a lot less paper now and we’re doing things like making sure to get internet usage data included in our post-con reports.  In addition, we’re able to use tools like Google Docs to help us connect and collaborate much more effectively when working on projects from multiple physical locations. 

Melvin: One of the biggest changes is in meeting content and content delivery. As attention spans diminish for all age groups, not just for millennials and other younger demographics, capturing and retaining a person’s attention is key. For example, the traditional general session presentations and breakout sessions have evolved to be much more interactive and significantly shorter. I have also observed that many event planners are allowing for more free time in their programming for delegates to be able to interact informally. Often, the most valuable part of attending a meeting or event is a hallway conversation. Our Minneapolis Convention Center has increased its supply of such informal meeting spaces.

Jerry:  The client has a better eye now. Everyone owns an HD TV at their house. Images on screens, LED displays, etc., must be top notch or they will notice. In fact, all of the technology is better from sound systems to LED lighting fixtures, HD projectors, LED displays, HD cameras, etc. Our clients, more now than ever, understand quality and what is and is not acceptable.

Also, webcasting and virtual meetings are becoming more and more popular. Internet streaming/webcasting has been around for a long time, however just recently are more corporate clients starting to understand its power. This is now how they are looking to communicate with their employees and customers.

How do you think events will evolve over the next 10 years? 

Kurt: Technology obviously will change, and this will help in the overall experience of the events that we produce, to help make them more efficient, more productive, and beneficial for the attendees’ experience and for you as the planner.

Melvin: The prediction of the demise of face-to-face meetings, due to the emergence of rapidly evolving technology, has been premature. In fact, we have seen a proliferation of new hotels, convention facilities, and special event venues, which tells me that the meetings and events industry will remain robust. I do see a further convergence of technology and onsite meetings as the digital age flourishes. The multiple devices that most people carry will become even better conduits for an enhanced meeting experience. From providing real-time feedback on meeting content to connecting with other attendees in special interest groups, technology will fuel the growth of meetings.

Jerry: More virtual meetings. Corporate meetings will certainly need to include more interaction with the audience such as live polling/voting, etc. High-resolution, lightweight LED displays will rule the video images that we see.

Rachel: I see changes in the economy continuing to drive the evolution of meetings. We are seeing big changes within the hospitality industry now and it will be interesting to see how that continues. One change we are seeing from the industry is a higher value placed on experiences. We see this through the scores of new hotel room and meeting space products being developed for future generations. Religious meetings have adapted and will continue to do so, although with that said, I think it’s noteworthy that as a rule, they are very consistent. Ministries value personal relationships built on trust and meeting face-to-face and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.