Designed for Excellence: Pointers for Memorable Events

Last year's event design is, well, so last year. To help planners make their next event more exciting, memorable, and effective, the second panel at July 17's Virtual Meeting World, co-hosted by MeetingNews and Successful Meetings, addressed "Event Design Strategies: Tips for F&B, Decor Design, and Venue Selection."

I spoke on this panel about food and beverage—specifically incorporating food trucks into your event. When possible, using food trucks can be a great way to drive attendees outside for a few minutes and get them thinking in a fresh way. While the nostalgia factor keeps it fun—you can't see a food truck without thinking of ice cream trucks—today's trucks are far more sophisticated, offering fine fare like specialty coffees and teas, home-baked desserts, and waffles with delectable toppings.

Panelist Judi Froelich-Pascoe, director of business development at BCD Meetings & Incentives, agreed about the allure of food trucks and ran through other ideas including new takes on food from the past. She suggested macaroni and cheese, pound cake, and potatoes, as well as a move toward smaller portions, plus inspired serving pieces like carved-ice shot glasses or options created from edible materials.

Froelich-Pascoe also encouraged planners to use non-traditional venues (remember the fashion show on the Great Wall of China?), to mix up formats (consider staging the awards ceremony at the beginning of the event), and find new ways to communicate with attendees (perhaps your attendees would enjoy event information downloadable to an iPod). And creative ideas don't have to be expensive; she also discussed an incentive event that bought out a restaurant on Hong Kong's harbor that afforded attendees a spectacular view of the Symphony of Lights show held every night. She was able to incorporate the free, public show into their evening.

Both Froelich-Pascoe and James Etkin of ME Productions are proponents of water walls for decor and projector screens—particularly in very tight spaces. Logos or other branding information can be projected onto the walls. Etkin noted that branding is bigger than ever, and he has seen clients put their names and logos on everything from hats to pillows to illuminated highboys. Although pillows may seem an odd choice, Etkin said they were a resounding success, as both clients and guests remembered them long after the event.

Using your environment is also an excellent way to ensure a memorable event. As Etkin explained, you don't want to have an event in Florida that you could just as easily have in a ballroom somewhere in the Midwest. And don't forget the entertainment. "Entertainment, to me, is the most important thing," said Etkin. He added that while there are all sorts of new ideas for entertainment, he has found that guests are often just as impressed by the standbys of living buffet tables and living.

Originally published Sept. 8, 2008