Let’s start at the very beginning….first impressions

So I thought a good topic to start my blog with was first impressions, and just how important they are. You can have a huge budget, have booked the most prestigious venue, hired a top band, and got a Michelin starred chef in to prepare the dinner or a former President to speak at a conference, but if, when your guests arrive, they have no clue where to go, what the seating plan is, or the timings for the event, you’re letting yourself and the client down.

We recently attended an event during the Dubai Food Festival at a designer hotel, it was a big ticket event, top chefs, a gourmet extravaganza, however when we arrived there was a red carpet and a lit backdrop, but no photographer. There was a lot of hotel staff, with soft drinks, but none of them knew if alcohol was available. There was a seating plan, that didn’t look the same as the plan everyone had chosen their table on when booking tickets, and nobody knew what time dinner would be served.

It is so important that when your guests or delegates arrive they are greeted by either the client/host of the event, or by one of the organisers. In Dubai in particular venues use agency staff for events on a regular basis, it may be the first time those staff have been at the venue, so they really don’t know where anything is. As an organiser it is your responsibility to brief the staff, including the duty manager on what your expectations are from them and who their point of contact is during the event.

It’s good practice to speak to the client in advance to establish how they would like their guests greeted. I encourage my clients to be there personally, for smaller events this is always the best option. For the client dinners I organise we agree in advance who will be on the door and who the guests will be handed over to. For conferences, it is a good idea to make sure the hosts have a different coloured name badge or lanyard, so they can be easily recognised, not only by the delegates but by hostesses and hotel staff.

When assigning someone from your team to be the first person your guests see and speak to on arrival that person has to be confident, know the format of the event, and basic information such as where the rest rooms are, what time the presentations will start, where the lunch will be served etc. They must also be confident enough to know how to react to a question they don’t know the answer to. Always say “I don’t know, but I will find out for you” – it’s much better than trying to bluff your way through. Your greeter must  be able to cover for you if there are last minute glitches back stage, and the rest of the team are running around fixing things.

You should agree with the client what information they want you to collect from the guests, do they require a business card from everyone? To complete a sign in sheet for CPD hours? Will there be an evaluation circulated post event?

For events with sponsors – you must make sure they are fully briefed on the schedule. I have had events for which sponsors arrive and set up their marketing materials at the same time as the bulk of the guests, this looks unprofessional, messy, and does not create a good first impression. Stress to the sponsors that to get the most out of the networking opportunities at the event they should be there to set up a minimum of 30 minutes before guests arrive, and that those arriving late will not be able to set up any exhibition booths until the delegates have gone into the first session and the pre-function area clear. Often sponsors will request a guest list/delegate list in advance, agree this with the client, and agree what information will be shared.

My rule of thumb is to walk through the event as if you are a guest, or get a friend to do this and see what questions they ask. Taking the time to make sure the first impression of your function is positive could make or break the event.

In my next blog I am going to look at understanding the brief – so have a great week and I’ll be back next Monday.