Ideally, planners want to create magic for every aspect of an event -- from invitation to evaluation. But it's the magic, or ambience, of the event itself that likely becomes the single most powerful branding element.
The secret to engineering the magic with minimal cost is to add subliminal touches that gently tease and please the senses. Think of it as akin to the enhancements chefs employ -- e.g., garnishing dishes with diced shallots -- to garner five-star ratings.
You can take your event to a whole new level and elevate your evaluation scores by employing very simple low- or no-cost ingenuity or what I like to call "experience equity." In other words, consider the following practices the diced shallots of the event world.
Stand by your brand
Brand cohesion creates the illusion of a rich environment. Even expensive elements or environmental décor will look cheap if they are incongruous and mismatched.
Do your furnishings and structures support the company brand and goals of the event itself? Is the overall layout supporting the brand? For example, make sure your simple, no-fuss company has an equally straightforward floor plan for its trade show, rather than one that is a confusing labyrinth.
Do a brand cross-check, from the biggest structures or concepts down to the tiniest details. Is that English country-style floral arrangement in your mod, high-tech lounge going to obliterate the integrity of the mood you are aiming for?
The important question to ask is, "Am I missing a brand reinforcement opportunity?" Can those cupcakes be shaped like your sponsor's new hybrid car? Could your environmentally green company be using cleverly recycled décor?
Cut the clutter
Clutter won't organize or hide itself, and there is no cost to eliminate it. At a professionally organized experiential event, an attendee should never see even the corner of a shipping box, but you have to plan meticulously for this magical egress of freight.
You will need a clutter prevention team or runner to work with your drayage company or union. You also need to plan space to hide all nonessentials, even if it's just a nearby draped area or a skirted table or two. Think through your registration and other public area processes, and add clever containers on tabletops that hide perceived mess. Put out more than enough supplies before attendees arrive, and restock after hours.
Mood and lighting go together like shallots and Irish butter. Event lighting can be extravagant, colorful and dramatic. If you don't have a big budget, consider brightening areas near sponsorship and directional signage only. This is particularly important in convention centers that have uneven lighting in hallways and many dark areas. Add light where people need to see signs, read notices, buy things, walk stairs or do work.
Sniff, meet, greet
Adding faintly scented essential oils to a silent fan in your general session room costs only dollars, yet it has the expensive spa effects of calming, inspiring and/or stimulating the imagination.
Make as much fun of the Wal-Mart "greeters" as you want to; in truth, they create an engineered experience that is memorable. Building on this concept, you can create the same personal, welcoming ambience, flavored and powered by company employees -- and save money on labor while you do it.
For example, one financial services firm has company executives serve the appetizer and dessert at its annual gala. The higher-ups are, quite literally, thanking the employees for their fine service -- and returning the favor.
Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM, is a meeting and event consultant based in San Carlos, Calif.