The Smart Way to Design an Event

The SPARK Model can power event design to accomplish a wide range of goals

Event Design JDC

As event professionals, we know that designing an event entails so much more than just finding a venue, arranging the space, and communicating the details. It takes defining the purpose, organizing the right resources, identifying partners, and establishing a communication plan, among so many other activities. Whether you are in the early stages of a career in managing events or have been planning them for years, you need a distinct event-design process to help you successfully meet your organization's objectives. 

In my latest book, Events Spark Change, I introduce the SPARK Model, a five-phase plan outlining how to effectively design an event, from concept through execution. The model is based on the idea that the desired outcome with every event is some sort of action. Whether the purpose of the event is to train a team on a new process, bring a group together to share new information, build demand for a product, or enhance stakeholder relationships, events of any size can have a significant outcome. 

The way to achieve this is to be intentional at the start of planning the event. By keeping the goals in mind from the start, every event planner can design events that make a difference. 

The five phases of the model are defined as:  

Sensory. The sensory phase considers the role and impact of the five senses when designing a meeting or event. Studies of the brain have found that stimulating a person's senses during an experience makes it more memorable and encourages more engagement. The more memorable an event, the greater the chance that participants will use the information gained from it. 

To make an event more memorable, consider ways to stimulate the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. With each, remember to keep in mind your audience, and look to balance how you stimulate the senses, rather than overwhelm by overdoing your efforts. 

Purpose. The purpose phase of the SPARK Model involves defining the objective of the meeting or event. It is surprising how many events are built without having a clear purpose defined upfront. Before moving ahead when putting together a gathering, invest a significant amount of time identifying whether an event is the best format for your objective. If it is, then explore expected outcomes. What do you hope to achieve by having the event?  

Setting a purpose early in planning helps you stay on target and avoid wasting resources as you design the event. Don't focus on tangible elements such as venue, number of attendees or types of presenters. Look at intangible outcomes instead -- where do you want the organization to be after the event versus where it is now and what components can you measure to determine that the dial has moved? For instance, if your organization is working toward reducing opioid abuse among young adults, then your purpose might be to educate that population and other interests about the problem in hopes of reducing addiction numbers by a certain percentage. Once you decide your purpose, every detail and element as you design the program should speak to it. 

Activations. In this phase of the SPARK Model, the objectives determined by the purpose phase are set in motion. That includes deciding how to execute the sensory elements that will create the memorable experience for participants in the meeting or event. Start by developing the timeline for planning, working backward from the event date. That can help you establish how much must be done in the allotted amount of time (it's usually a full-time job, which is why corporate event planners often contract with professional event-management firms).  

Resources. This phase identifies time, budget, human capital, and other assets that are used to construct the event. For instance, while last-minute events do happen, having the time to plan can mean the difference between a successful event and just a passing grade. Budget can also make a significant difference -- it can undoubtedly determine whether an event is held. And since having personnel available when needed for sometimes unconventional work hours and tasks is a critical part of event planning, the resources phase is one of the most important in the SPARK Model.

Know-How. This phase considers the skills, expertise, and relationships needed to meet the objectives of the event and to evaluate its outcome. That includes the knowledge of the planning staff to design and execute the event, and to evaluate its role in enabling the company to continually build effective programs. It also includes any input that can be obtained from stakeholders, which can help keep them engaged in the event. 

With the SPARK Model, each phase builds on the previous one. It is an ideal tool for planning any type of meeting or event, but it is not all-encompassing. Since every event is unique, the implementation of each phase of the model will vary. But by using SPARK as a framework, you're sure to keep your event on track. 

Jennifer D. Collins, CMP, is president and CEO of JDC Events, a Washington, D.C.-based event design company that delivers programs for corporate, government and nonprofit clients, which has been ranked one of the top meeting and event planning companies in the Washington, D.C. region by the Washington Business Journal for 11 consecutive years. She will be presenting at Successful Meetings' upcoming webcast on "How to Adapt Your Negotiating Style."