10 Sep Doing something different.
‘This year we’d like to do something different’ is the ubiquitous phrase that clients use to start their conference planning meeting; flagging up their intention to mix up the status quo. They’ll be tearing up the conference handbook and turn their back on the formulaic conventions that make their annual meeting a safe reincarnation of the previous 10 year’s events.
To the inexperienced event planner, the phrase catches them like a rabbit in the headlights; anticipating the uncomfortable glare as the eager committee sit forward in their seats expectantly waiting for the unveiling of this year’s concept that has been given less than 90 seconds to germinate in the head of the industry newbie. In stark contrast, the phrase is like a spark dropped into the tinderbox of creativity in the head of the seasoned event director as ideas and concepts erupt like a pyrotechnic extravaganza of audio visual delights, exclusive venues, never before seen entertainment and earth-shattering production that will rewrite the rules on how to deliver an impactful and sustainable delegate experience.
Alas, the bubble is soon burst as the committee reveal the plans that their collective minds have deliberated at length in preparation for the day’s meeting. Firstly, they announce with misplaced ambition that they think it would be fun to have buckets of iced beer on the dinner tables in addition to the traditional allocation of half a bottle of house wine per person. Then the bar is raised as they reveal that it is felt that instead of business dress in the day time gentlemen are to be allowed not to wear a tie on the condition they have a shirt with a collar to show the forward-thinking dynamism of the Organisation. As if this wasn’t enough the final change is then presented with palpable excitement that instead of the four-piece soul funk ensemble that have played for the previous four consecutive years they’d like to mix it up with a five-piece funk soul band that Dave from accounts heard at a wedding. With this the microphone is metaphorically dropped and the final death blow delivered to the notion of ‘doing something different’.
This of course is a cynical parody of the truth and if this was the norm then we wouldn’t have the excitement and passion for the industry that we do after so many years. The following text is a case study of a client who said that they wanted to do something different and meant it! For the purposes of the blog we have maintained our client’s anonymity but any resemblance to real people or events is entirely intentional!
Before looking to improve anything, it is firstly prudent to look at which elements are important and are to be maintained. The essential ingredients were chalked up as; a formal meeting, team building, good quality accommodation, food and drink, an evening party and a morning of fun the following day before departure. The only two restraining parameters thereafter were the budget and the location within 90 minutes of our client’s office. Our team then had a round table thought shower, as we like the irony of embodying a cliché when coming up with original event designs, and decided to offer two concepts; one would be based a traditional event at a 4 star venue and the other would be ‘corporate glamping’; a stripped back return to nature and a leap of faith for any corporate event manager or PA. Fortunately for us lip service was paid to the ‘safe option’ before it was decided that it would live forever in the annals of history in the chapter titled ‘Event concepts that were designed never to happen and whose sole purpose was to make the seemingly more risky but more exciting event concept look more appealing in a way where the illusion of choice is maintained but where the inevitability of the right choice is guaranteed’. Admittedly an overly wordy title for a chapter in any book, fictional or otherwise.
The glamping concept was therefore given the corporate thumbs up and our venue find followed. Sara’s venue finding team love a challenge and relished the task and prepared a short list of beautiful and idiosyncratic venues that all matched the brief. Our chosen site, however, was an event planner’s dream and was less a blank canvas than a three-quarter finished fresco which still had enough blank space for some artistic interpretation and our own brush strokes of creative flare. The site is uniquely set in a century old oak forest that meets the beach and the sea on the south coast and is enviably positioned in the lea of the Isle of Wight which creates a micro climate and an enviable number of dry days per year that far exceeds the national average. All of which proved enough to warrant a site visit for our client which we hosted and the, by now, formalities of signing contracts.
All that remained for us to do was to address the initial chalked up event ingredients and to reimagine them in a way that enhanced the delegate experience whilst remaining true to the concept and the initial brief of being different. Here’s our solution:
The business meeting- we used a clear span marquee on the site to house the conference element and sat the client’s cabaret style. To maintain the concept of being in the woods we brought the outside in with a living tree backdrop to the stage and silver birch trees around the outside of the space masking the marquee frame. The walls of the marquee were all tied back so that the delegates could see and hear the sights and sounds of the woodland and maintain the connection with the environment. Two technical hurdles were the issues with noise propagation and the high levels of ambient light for the presentations. We solved the sound issues by employing a zone array sound system in the roof of the marquee to limit the sound travel to noise sensitive neighbours and the light issues were overcome with ultra-bright LED screens that can be viewed in direct sunlight. The presentations included PowerPoint, Prezi and an audience voting system for live interactive polling which all delivered the content seamlessly.
The four-star accommodation was achieved with our luxury bell tent village. Including coir carpets, wood framed beds, cotton duvet covers, Indian throws, bed side tables, lamps and eye masks our homes away from home certainly put the glam in glamping and ensured a good night’s sleep for all.
The next box to be ticked and traditionally the first to be mentioned on delegate’s post event evaluation forms if ever it falls below par was the catering. For us this was a no brainer and we hastily signed up our local catering contact. John has catered everywhere from marquees to Royal Palaces and Parliament buildings to Naval ships with equal aplomb and a serenity not normally associated with the temporary event kitchen. Together we delivered standard camping fayre including a barbecue dinner which was elevated to the required culinary heights with waiter served canapes, freshly caught fish and locally sourced meat all prepared and presented in a way that would flatter the most ambitious four-star establishment. As we have done several times throughout the Summer, we provided our rustic bars underneath our stretch tent canopy complete with festoon lighting, oil barrel poseur tables and a comprehensively stocked bar.
For the team building element we designed an afternoon that utilised the best of the natural environment and teams, equipped with maps, briefing sheets and grid references had to locate and complete as many tasks as possible in the allotted time. The tasks included tree climbs, shelter builds, fire lighting, blind fold land rover driving and more and everyone was incentivised by the collective dangled carrot that if enough points were earned then the bar would be open. Unfortunately, however, due to a calculated under-performance by the teams their points tally fell just short of the magic number and so a surprise finale task was introduced to the excitement and trepidation all involved; fire walking! This proved an amazing collective experience which rounded off the afternoon fantastically and before long the prosecco and cold lager were flowing.
The day ran seamlessly into the night and canapes ran into barbecue which in turn ran into the Mr Whippy ice cream van of everyone’s beach holiday memories. Our woodland party included barn dancing, volley ball, garden games, an enormous photo booth and drinking under the stars until the small hours with an intimate festival feel.
The following morning a few party goers were understandably slow in rising and enjoying the rejuvenating qualities of our mobile shower units but once revived by the breakfast buffet which boasted a choice of the full English or continental delights everyone was up and ready for a morning at the beach. After the relative rigidity of the previous day’s agenda we offered a flexible morning of relaxation and have-a-go sessions including: paddle boarding, sailing, kayaking, beach games and massages. Uniquely, in our experience of running corporate events, this element was funded by the social committee of the Company and gave the morning a feeling of relaxed fun and being away from the workplace.
Whilst the majority of our residential events are in hotels up and down the country and internationally we relish the opportunity to ‘do something different’ and would love to invite you to spend an evening under canvas with us!