How to 'wow' delegates

Any experienced meeting planner is familiar with the basics involved in pulling off a successful event, but is this enough in today’s competitive and fast-paced business world? Liesl Venter speaks to Zelda Coetzee, national chairman of SAACI about improving your service offering to add that extra pizzazz.

CONFERENCE planning has moved beyond simply ticking items off of a checklist and offering the basic services. According to Coetzee, it has kicked up a notch or two.

“One could say that it is no longer just about organising a conference but rather about designing it,” she explains. “As it’s an experience that you are designing you have to take a more creative approach to the services on offer. This requires conference organisers to embrace design thinking principles and to allow for process design.”

She explains this does not mean a new checklist of services for organisers, but rather adding another tick box to the existing list.

“So you still tick off the essential services that have to be provided but you also have to tick the creative box. What about this conference offers the delegate a superior experience and how are we delivering that to the delegate? What are we adding to conference services to improve it?”

It is important that organisers think about the conference as a process from the delegate’s point of view, from the first moment they arrive to when they leave, says Coetzee. “How have we added value and made it all worthwhile? This does not necessarily mean we need to provide great entertainment or special effects. It’s actually not through these kinds of elements that one wow’s a delegate.”

Keep it personal

According to Coetzee improved service is not about impressing delegates with good entertainment during lunch. Rather it is about delivering a personal experience to the delegates that was not expected.

This could come in the form of simply registering an account with a taxi provider and taking care of each delegate’s travel arrangements individually or giving each person the choice of what they want in their delegate bag. “It’s all about choice and meeting personal preferences. That is how one creates ‘wow’ these days. So instead of them having to worry about airport transfers, for example, it is all taken care of or maybe some delegates don’t want a physical programme,” she says.

These gestures can also be of more of a flashy nature. Like installing a signboard at the registration that personally welcomes each delegate as they step into the venue.

“This is not difficult to implement and immediately says to each person: ‘We know you and we want you here’. The gesture can be personalised even more by adding a photograph of them,” says Coetzee.

It all comes down to dedicating time during the organising process to take the creative elements into consideration. And it is becoming more and more important, says Coetzee.

There is no need for creative consideration to be costly or time-consuming.

“Yes it does require more time from the organiser but there are simple ways in which one can provide delegates with a better service.”

By giving people the opportunity to make their own choices one is already focusing on the personal and providing an added service, says Coetzee. “This could be implemented throughout the event from giving delegates the option of a sit-down meal to rather taking a take-away. Over and above the basic services we are offering choice – something that delegates don’t often get to do at a conference where everything is usually decided for them.”

Go the extra mile

Conference organisers wanting to go the extra mile can invest time and do research on delegates finding out about their preferences. This also allows for a service where delegates are given information prior to a conference that will be useful to them while attending the event.

For example, says Coetzee: “Conference tours are very standard. Delegates generally don’t have the opportunity to give much input. But if one takes the time to find out more about them it can be extremely advantageous in the service you offer. In other words if you know a delegate likes music concerts you can then find out all about the music events and offerings in the vicinity of the conference and ensure the delegate has this information beforehand. Alternatively if they are into health and wellness make sure they know which different exercise options are available to them.”

She explains that you are essentially saying to the delegate that it is not just their registration fee and attendance that you want, but that you want to create a conference around them. “Personalising the communications, highlighting events and using technology to improve their experience not only allows for a better service but ultimately ensures you are driving delegate numbers up.”  

Use technology to your benefit

There is no greater gift than technology in the modern-day meeting environment.

“I don’t believe that free Wi-Fi is an improved service – it really should be standard with any conference, but more often it is not. Therefore ensuring delegates have access to Wi-Fi from the moment they arrive is definitely an enhanced service.”

Apps are another great way of delivering an enhanced service. “Everyone has a phone and it is a quick and fast way of delivering conference information without spamming anyone. Delegates can access the app as and when they want to to get the information that they want – it’s a personal choice and that is the benefit.”

It’s also worthwhile to look at how one can add value by boosting the destination. This can be done with vouchers and discounts for top attractions in the destination for instance, she says. “Sometimes just a little bit of brainstorming before a conference can make a major difference in the delivery as you will be surprised about how many ideas you can come up with that add to the service,” she says.

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