Guest column: Four steps to creating stronger corporate events

Whatever sector or leadership role you’re in, it’s clear that 2021 brought more challenges and new changes from the year before. Far from enjoying a smooth transition into a post-pandemic era, an unsettled labor market and fierce competition for skills have proved to be especially powerful pressures.


In years past, a restful, team-building corporate retreat would have been an ideal answer to an organization’s collective stress and fatigue. But pandemic-related concerns and, for some, a struggle for original event ideas, have complicated this path for both planners and their clients.


Research published this October by Northstar Meetings Group confirms that even if the desire for corporate gatherings exists, delays and cancellations shot up between summer and fall, with health and safety concerns cited by 60% of companies; insufficiently flexible contract terms by 48%; and a lack of sufficient supplier contacts by 42%.


Anxiety and disruption seem all too prevalent. Even with the proper steps, neither is inevitable.


Instead, embrace your need for a stronger corporate event by utilizing four ideas: clearly define success, remove surprises, reimagine the event “space,” and embrace the ordinary.


Clearly define success

It is important to ask what a successful event means for your company and how success will be measured. Some clients will approach event planners with lyrical and bold, albeit vague ideas, about what they want, including statements like “creating memory” or “delivering value.”


Ask pointed questions instead.


Naming your attendance targets is an especially important question for virtual or hybrid gatherings. What are tangible benefits you hope for the event to deliver to the company’s bottom line? These could include a wider acquisition of certain knowledge, a bigger audience for a new product being rolled out, or a dollars-and-cents goal for charity fundraising.


Be realistic, without worrying too much about not meeting the specific goal that is set — which simply means pivoting to a new strategy.


Remove surprises

Remove the element of surprise. Ambiguous contracts without contingency plans when original arrangements fall through is a recipe for chaos and disappointment when the event or meeting itself arrives. All parties to the agreement, from the company to planners and third-party suppliers, need to be on the same page when it comes to both original plans and pivoting to alternatives.


With as many steps mapped out as possible, this also reduces the chance of “decision fatigue,” which can act as a mental and emotional drain. If plenty is planned ahead — with roads B and C just as appealing as the main highway — this results in less stress for everyone involved.


Reimagine the event ‘space’

It is also important to “think outside the venue.” Both in-person and online platforms for events only have the limits that we place on them. Parkinson’s law, for example, suggests that work expands to fit the time given for its completion. An upshot of this is that an event’s “space” is what we make of it, and using this power as much as possible is essential for its success.


Maximizing space means employing extensive marketing and promotion that engages with audiences well beforehand by teasing the event and its features. It means making as much of the event’s materials and content available post-event as possible and openly appealing to audiences on what went well, what fell short, and something new or distinct they learned.


Embrace the ordinary

The final step is to be open to finding powerful ideas in ordinary things. Our inner perfectionist adds an inordinate amount of pressure to conceive “genius” event ideas that no one has ever thought of before, as a way to put the company on the map.


But this approach is unrealistic.


Instead, observe your teams and listen to their conversations to determine what they enjoy and what they’re thinking about. Find inspiration in articles, books, and magazines you read. Set up a brainstorming session with an event planner, bringing all of this and more to the table.


Indeed, the best ideas in business often sprout from the least expected places.


Corporate events never stopped being a good idea. Whether fully virtual, hybrid, or in-person, companies looking to make a powerful impact have more tools than they think at their disposal to make this possible.


This article originally appeared in the Memphis Business Journal.