No truly memorable business conference is complete without an opportunity for delegates to network and strengthen relationships.
A party is the perfect chance for your guests to socialise outside of the formal structure of a conference, so it’s important to make it work as a stand-alone event, and also use it to strategically fulfil your conference objectives.
Mike Walker, MD of MGN Events, takes a look at what makes a good conference party and gives some expert advice on how to use it to add to a delegate’s conference experience.
Think strategically: If your business conference has a theme, make sure that this is reflected clearly throughout the event planning process and that you make your party memorable for the right reasons.
It is important that your guests come away remembering why they were there, and that the impression they have is a good one. Try and think of unusual features and that will wow your guests and provide a talking point (one that could also be shared on social media is a bonus).
This could be servers in on-theme fancy dress, fun ‘edutainment’ like quizzes or participatory games, giant props or eye-popping food and drink displays.
If the working part of your event is for internal staff only, then think about what the original objectives were. If the purpose was to motivate staff and reward them for their loyalty, your party may include an awards ceremony, perhaps with a celebrity compere, to recognise those members of the team who have gone above and beyond the call of duty.
If your event is for external delegates, then the chance to network and chat will be key, so you may want to think about entertainment that provides a talking point, or ties into the learning aims of your event.
However in many cases the best thing you can do is hire an inspiring venue, supply some free drinks and music that doesn’t overpower conversation, then let your attendees get on with the rest.
Whatever the reason for the party, make sure the style and tone of the gathering fits the audience and what has gone before.
Entertainment: Good entertainment is a vital element in helping your party go with a swing.
All too often the party is an afterthought with not enough consideration given to the importance of the networking opportunities that exist.
If you want your conference to end with a bang and not a whimper, make sure that you put plenty of thought into what might work best with the venue and with the guests you have.
For an event with external delegates, your entertainment should be a real stand-out talking point. Think holograms, fire jugglers, magicians, play casinos, giant scalextric…the only limit is your imagination! If your event has a theme, try and add immersive elements into the evening.
Great live bands, DJs, mixologists who can put on a great display, immersive photo booths that share your event hashtags to social media and unusual mix and mingle acts can be well worth the expense.
Creative use of lighting or stand-out room decorations work really well and take your guests to a place outside of the standard networking event.
Timing: If you are organising a conference party, then consider the point in proceedings at which a party would make the most sense.
For example if your party is being organised for fellow work colleagues who know each other, then it may be best to save your party until the end of the away day or event to ensure that the team keeps focused on the purpose and save the get together until the end of the last day.
If it’s a two day event and you have a party on the first night, the danger is that a team who know each other well will relax too much resulting in some sore heads the next day.
However if your conference is for external delegates, there are arguments for holding a party either on the first night of a two day event as well as at the end.
If you hold an event on the first night, then it gives the delegates a chance to bond and get to know each other in a more informal setting, making the second day of the event more enjoyable for them.
However, if you are at all concerned that your guests will not stick around until the end of day two, then there is an argument for holding a really great end of conference party to ensure that your drop out rate during the closing speeches is not too high.
Note that this is unlikely to work as a tactic for international events though – because you probably won’t entice delegates to book another night in the hotel and a third day off work just to travel back – so if your event has a good international make-up, you should opt for a mid-event party.
Venue: Getting the right venue is key both for a successful conference but also for a great conference party. Ideally you want your party space to be in a separate room from your conference, and perhaps have some stand-out features that give your guests a talking point. For example if your venue has a large roof terrace with fabulous views, or an atmospheric basement space, then you may want to book that out for your party.
If you have to double your conference space up as your party space, then ensure that it is possible to clear the room of chairs easily and talk to your event production team about re-dressing the room using lighting and different furniture to make the space feel more relaxed.
Even better, why not book a dedicated venue for just your party, to really take people out of the formal setting and let them feel at ease? Again, if you’re hosting an international conference, put on some transport and take your delegates to a well-known cultural hotspot in the city centre. These are the kinds of experiences they’ll remember!
Whatever you organise, your party space needs to comfortably accommodate the numbers you are expecting and allow people the opportunity to relax and chat.
Food and drink: It goes without saying that there should be enough food and drink to keep your guests satisfied. Canapes or bowl food are the most appropriate options for a post conference party.
With careful planning, you can make this another talking point if it’s appropriate and your budget allows. For example, you could serve Heston Blumenthal themed drinks and canapes – lots of dry ice and unusual taste combinations – to get guests talking. You could even make a game out of it, asking people to guess (or tweet) what flavours they can taste.
You could choose dishes and drinks in the brand colours of the host organisation, and dress the party venue to match. If the menu can’t be changed, try serving the food in a unique way to create another talking point.
A great conference party can take your delegates’ experience to the next level. Ideally you want your guests to leave your event and remember it for all the right reasons (not just the really drunk executive dancing by himself in the middle of the dance floor).
A good party can provide that final positive rush of energy, whereas one that is ill conceived and poorly planned will leave an event flat and could undermine all the good work you have done elsewhere. Make it part of your event planning right from the start.