We've all been to good events and bad events. The good ones can inspire us, introduce us to exciting people, and remind us of why we're in the business we're in. The bad ones can drain us, make us cynical and affect our attitude about work. Luckily, I go to several amazing events that stir my passion for what I do. I made a list of what made those events stick in my mind and influence how I think of party planning.
1. Balanced guest list. Some of the best industry events I've been to had the most varied guest lists. I've gotten a lot from talking to a tech-industry CEO one minute and an artist the next. Unless the whole point of your party is to gather people at the exact same level in the exact same field, it's better to mix up the list. Think about how people in other fields or other positions can learn from each other and keep things fresh. Don't just think about what each guest can do for you; think about how they can compliment and benefit from each other.
2. Creative/personalized invitations. If possible, include a hand-written note or personalized message. A generic mass mailing doesn't communicate that your event is special and so are your invited guests. It might not be realistic to sign each one, but get as close to that one-on-one feeling as you can. No matter how large your event, you want people to feel like you care whether they show up. No matter how small your event, you want people to know that you have made it your goal to deliver a good experience. I once got an invitation that was a message in a bottle. It was so pretty and unique that I felt special for getting one in the mail.
3. The right venue. Panic about accommodating everyone leads a lot of people to book a space too large. A venue that's just a little too small for the number of people works really well. Make seating available, but not too much. Offer one or two spots that can host a more quiet conversation, but not too many. Some of the best connections come from jumping into the conversation just a few inches away from you or bumping into a small circle of people that may look closed from a distance but actually is ready for a new member.
4. Good food and drink planning. Everything should be easy to eat or drink while standing and chatting. Focus on having enough for everyone rather than on having a diverse menu. Five well-chosen appetizers along with some signature cocktails, beer and wine are easier to manage than a whole buffet table of unpredictable popularity. Don't forget about vegetarians and people who don't drink alcohol.
5. Something to talk about. I love showing up to an event and finding something I've never seen before and can't wait to talk about. Visual art projected on the wall, fun ice for the drinks or a wall of photos are just a few examples of cool party touches that spark conversations and give people something to share with others after they go home.
6. Ongoing involvement and interactivity. Give people ways to participate in the event that are low-key and low-pressure. No need for party games. But things like a drawing for some silly prize, a photo booth, a wall to doodle or write a message on, or a curated projection of people's tweets about the event can help keep everyone in a happy mood. A note about Twitter projections: A wall of text behind someone who is speaking or presenting is distracting and discourages people from being engaged. The goal is to get people interacting and give them something to talk about.
7. Follow up. Thank you notes, links to pictures from the event, or round-ups of blog coverage of the event are just a few ways you can extend the glow of the totally amazing event you hosted. Not everyone does this, but the ones who do always get my attention.
What have event hosts done right to make their party stand out in your mind?