The Front Gate of Every Event
Clichés become clichés because there is some foundation of truth in them that resonates
with the vast majority of people within a shared culture. One unattributed quote that
applies emphatically to event planning, has become almost a mantra in western civilization:
“You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.”
Creating a first impression at each and every event you plan is essential to the overall
success of the occasion and the imprint in makes on the attendees and your client. When
writing your plan, we advise that you create a section titled “The Front Gate,” and
spend a fair bit of time and energy thinking through what the elements of the entry point
to your event are, and how to make them an unforgettably positive experience for all
who attend it. This discussion about the first impression of your event isn’t about the
logistics of your registration network, table covers and drapes and power supplies, but
about the first experience of your event you give your attendees, guests, presenters, key
players and VIPs. Dr. Bill Lampton, a noted business and self
improvement coach, has identified what he considers to be the seven essential elements
of creating a great first impression, person-to-person. We have expanded these seven elements to serve
as the core of your events first impression. 1. “The greatest way to make a positive
first impression is to demonstrate immediately that the other person–not you–is the center
of attention.” There are three must-dos to make sure you achieve first step in creating
the best possible first impression: * Greet the presenters and attendees when
they arrive at the destination whenever possible, not the venue but the destination, say at
the airport or train station and treat them live VIPs (see Video 21_How to Treat Your
VIPs); * Welcome them to the venue with enthusiasm
through signage and fanfare; and * Have members of your team, you included
when possible, greet each individual or group at the venue entrance and steer or escort
them to check-in or registration (where you will always offer refreshments).
2. “Practice good listening skills.” Train your team to be tremendous listeners, and
make sure they even make it a point to take note, in writing, of specific requests, complaints
or compliments made by the attendees or presenters. When you’re live at an event, it is a very
hectic time; that’s no excuse for any team member to be dismissive of a guest or speaker,
ever! Each member of your team is there for one reason only: to make sure the attendees
have a fulfilling experience. Also have ask your attendees for anonymous comments and
give them ample opportunity to fill out evaluations. Your attendees have a voice and you must welcome
that. 3. “Use the name of a new acquaintance frequently.”
The Four Seasons hotel chain takes pride in their policy that once a member of their staff
has met you they will remember you and address you by name in perpetuity. That’s no easy
feat! It is certainly something event management teams should aspire to. Of course, we don’t
expect your team to know the names of guests at trade shows and concerts, but we do expect
them to know the names of the vendors, starts and their managers and agents, and use them!
You should also personalize items gifted to your attendees whenever possible, i.e. event
branded water containers, coffee mugs or seat pillows with their names on them, whenever
applicable and possible. 4. “Be careful with humor.” Humor is very
subjective and what delights one person can be offensive to the next. It is very difficult
to find entirely neutral styles of humor that don’t have some basis in cultural differences.
Our best advice is to train your team to laugh easily and warmly at other people’s humor
but not attempt to be funny themselves. At the front gate, and throughout the event,
ask your staff to smile openly, chuckle and laugh sincerely when warranted and foster
an environment of easy communication and camaraderie, but avoid using quips and jokes as icebreakers.
5. “Give up the need to be right.” There is no place for confrontation between your
team and the presenters and attendees, especially when they arrive, tired from travel and ready
to check in or register quickly and easily and be welcomed with a capital W. If your
registration desk can’t find proof of an attendee’s payment, greet them, get them
settled in and look for it later. Don’t hold up the line and argue for any reason;
even if the person is a gate crasher and you know it, that’s no reason to set a negative
mood and inconvenience other attendees. You can work these things out later, behind the
scenes. 6. “Appearance counts.” This statement
doesn’t just apply to how well and appropriately your team is dressed and groomed—which is
extremely important—but also to how the overall front gate presents. It should always
be clean, uncluttered, organized, attractive, well laid out and easy to navigate, and welcoming!
The way you decorate your front gate should never be an afterthought, it is the first
place your attendees will see that sets the mood for the entire event; make sure it is
evocative of the mission and culture of the event and makes people immediately glad they
decided to allocate some precious time to attending.
7. “Speaking style impacts the first impression; listeners judge our intelligence and leadership
ability by the words we select–and how we use them.” Not only do the members of your
team need to be well versed in their responsibilities and able to answer questions, they need to
do so concisely, eloquently and in a friendly and professional manner; no slang, no “ya
knows,” no “huhs.” Carry this policy a bit further by really thinking through your
signage; it too should be precise, informative, spelled correctly, well placed and never unnecessary.
If you incorporate these seven basic principals in the operations and attitude of your event’s
front gate operations, you’ve won half the battle. Now you need to address two more issues.
The first is a must have, the second a wish list item. You must manage your check-in,
registration and information processes for maximum efficiency and ease of accessibility
for all your guests, presenters and VIPs. You may want to incorporate some welcoming
fanfare. First, let’s look at the essentials of a
highly functional registration slash check-in slash information area at the entrance to
your venue. For the sake of this discussion, our model will be a hotel and convention center
where registration and check-in are both in the main lobby of the hotel. You need to ask
and answer all of these questions to maximize the effectiveness of your process and the
response from your guests : How do the attendees and presenters arrive
at the venue, enter and manage their personal belongings?
If they are delivered by shuttle or limo, or drive in and access valet parking, they
will be delivered to the main registration entrance; if, however, they drive in an park
at a satellite parking area and walk in from there or a public transportation drop off,
you need to get them straight to the main entrance without confusing them or getting
them lost. Your guests should never have to stand somewhere scratching their head and
wondering which way to go or if they are in the right place. In the latter case, set up
a manned information stand with the biggest event flag you can manage flying high above
it; make sure people immediately know where to go to get direction. Then place signs strategically;
follow the principles of cairning trails: when you are standing at one cairn, you can
see the next one down the trail; don’t over-cairn though, that’s insulting to your guest’s
intelligence and looks ridiculous. If the weather is bad, how do we provide protection
at the entrance, or for those getting to the entrance?
Make sure your guests don’t enter the registration soaked, covered with snow or so hot they want
to pass out. If you have a satellite parking area, provide a shelter and a shuttle in the
case of inclement weather. Ask the venue to put a canopy from the entrance to the drop-off
point if one doesn’t already exist. Your guests should be and feel cared for from the
minute they reach the destination and venue; nothing can turn a mood sour faster than exposure
to nasty weather. Is the entire process ADA compliant?
First, it’s the law. Moreover, it’s your responsibility as an excellent event planner
to make sure you can quickly and easily assist guests who have sight, vision or speech impairments,
need crutches, canes, walkers or wheelchairs, etc. Establish a location at your registration
where people who need extra space, a place to sit, or attentive assistance can be fast-tracked
through the process and made comfortable during it. If your guest has a broken leg and come
in on crutches, don’t make them stand in line. If your guest uses a wheelchair, don’t
make them navigate the rope line. If a large crowd shows up at the same time
or there’s some type of bottleneck at the registration or check-in desk, how do we proceed
so as not to inconvenience our guests? In the event that a line forms, make sure
people aren’t just standing there wondering and waiting. Walk the line offering them beverages,
snacks and any paperwork they can complete while they wait. In the worst case, that of
your network going down, for instance, get them checked in and accommodated in their
rooms, or open a lounge area nearby as a waiting room. Provide entertainment and refreshments
in the lounge and have your team notify people in guestrooms when registration reopens. Do
whatever you can to make the inconvenience you are experiencing as a show management
team have no negative impact on the attendees. What signage is needed to direct people from
the arrival point through the process? Make sure your inside signage is as good as
the outside signage. Folks should be able to step through the door, do a five second
scan of the room, and know instantly where they need to be.
What are the steps each attendee should follow to get through the entire process as quickly
and pleasantly? Using our model of the hotel/convention center
where guests will be staying overnight, here’s a plug-and-play step-by-step for most events:
1. Greet them at the entrance and make sure their personal belongings are expedited to
check-in so they don’t need to haul them around.
2. Offer them refreshment. 3. Steer them in the direction of where they
need to be to register and pick up their attendee packet.
4. Register them and pass them on to the person who will give them their welcome gift and
direct them to check-in. 5. Have a team member at check-in to make
sure it goes smoothly and quickly for each guest and that their questions are answered.
6. After they are checked in, have a team member make sure they their personal belonging
are on the way to their room, and hand them an invitation, complete with directions, to
the next activity or event, i.e. the icebreakers reception.
What is the ideal layout of information, registration and check-in desks based on the layout of
the space? When diagramming your registration, follow
the same principles you learned in Video 22 The Nuts and Bolts of Room Setup. Think of
the registration area as a stand-up reception and allow 8 square feet of space per person.
Firs sketch in all the architectural elements of the room that cannot be changed, then set
up registration and information tables and chairs so the backs of chairs are at least
30 inches from the wall and there are no more than seven side-by-side without an aisle between
tables. Finally, determine how you will funnel the guests towards the first step and guide
them through the process in an orderly manner—velvet rope lines are great for this purpose; make
sure any cordoned off pathways are plenty wide so people don’t feel closed in.
How do you hand-off your attendees at the end of the process?
As mentioned a bit earlier, it is as important to greet your guests as it is to say goodbye
to them when they leave your presence. In this case, you need someone to thank them
for going through the process and make sure they have everything they need as they leave
the registration and check-in area. These people are what gives your events that personal
touch that is greatly appreciated and indelibly remembered.
Last but not least, let’s talk a bit about providing fanfare at the front gate. The iconic
fanfare in American culture is probably the red carpet at the Oscars. By definition, fanfare
is a “short and lively sounding of trumpets” and “a showy outward display.” Fanfare
is traditionally used as announcement and greeting and now encompasses anything boldly
done for that purpose. Fanfare is not always appropriate or necessary,
but in cases where it is and your budget allows it, fanfare can add quite a bit more mood
and energy to the front gate of any event. A simple red carpet and event befitting live
music—bagpipes, string quartet, folk singer with a guitar for example—might be all you
need. Perhaps you want to do a balloon launch, use strobe lights, deliver people from the
parking lot to the entrance by horse and buggy? Fanfare can be achieved with pyrotechnics,
waterworks, confetti machines, floral arrangements, toys, robots, pretty much anything you can
imagine. Just remember when you are planning fanfare
for your front gate that all the permitting and safety regulations we’ve discussed in
earlier videos apply. For example, if you are doing an outdoor balloon launch or even
releasing hundreds of pigeons, you may need a permit and you definitely need clearance
from all the area airports. The sky is the limit, literally.
Now, go welcome your guests!