Beyond four walls: choose event venues for maximum impact and amazing experiences


kirstin ahinsa

by Ahinsa Mansukhani, Microsoft US Partner Experience Team,

and Kirstin Turnbull, Mosaic B2B Experiential Design

 

This week, several members of the US Partner Team have been bundled up in our winter’s warmest for our annual Worldwide Partner Conference site visit in this year’s host city of Toronto, Canada. Each year, we attend a planning meeting conducted by our worldwide counterparts who are responsible for WPC. During this meeting, we get insight to their plans and hear ideas and feedback from several partners from around the world who represent the community. Then, we spend a considerable amount of time touring the conference site and the host city, and start to make decisions about the experiences we want US partners to have.

The site visits are an integral part of the experience design process. In this post, we’ll share with you some of the things we’ve learned about planning for and crafting memorable experiences.

Planning for the US experiences at WPC 2016 in Toronto started last August, just after we wrapped up WPC 2015 in Orlando. We took data and feedback collected at our various US partner touch points, from our large-scale activities like our lounge, keynote, and party, as well as from our events for smaller groups of partners, and analyzed and reviewed them to understand what was successful and what could have been better, what we think we should keep and iterate on, and what new, innovative ideas we have. With that look back complete, we started crafting a plan for this year’s US experiences at WPC.  

By January, we had spent many hours compiling and researching a list of a hundred or so potential spaces for the various events we anticipate during WPC. We then narrowed down that list to about 25 venues that most closely met our needs for the number of attendees, type and style of event, and proximity to other conference activities. Over the past few days at our Toronto site visit, we’ve visited all the places on our list. Despite the sleet and snow, we wanted to get a feel for each of these venues, and document pros and cons for each by looking around and comparing notes. Seeing a space in person is critical for us. Sometimes, what looks or sounds like a great fit just doesn’t work when we walk through it or ask more questions.

For us, an event venue is much more than a four-walled place to entertain. When making our decisions, we divide our criteria into two categories: functional and emotional.

We want to have a beverage and a bite in your hand within the first 20 feet

Our functional criteria are logistical, and can be used to narrow down your list of possible venues even before you arrive onsite. Considering these functional criteria will help you ensure a seamless experience for your guests.

Our functional venue checklist:

Capacity

This seems obvious, but isn’t just about the fire code. A venue’s capacity ranges based on several factors, including the type of event you are hosting, the number of guests, the quantity and size of furnishings, audio/visual equipment, catering, activations during the event, and other logistics.

Capabilities

We envision the final event, and map out possibilities for signage and branding assets, rigging points for décor features, and zones for interactive stations. Never make assumptions about what a venue will accommodate. Ask about any and all restrictions, limitations, and considerations. We love museums, which are typically beautiful spaces. We also love red wine, though, and that is something many museums don’t allow, for insurance reasons. There are no stupid questions when it comes to capabilities. Can the furniture be removed? Are there plans for any construction to the site around the time of, or during your event? Is there a dress code for the venue that will impact your event? Are there restrictions to parking or transportation drop-offs? What are their accessibility accommodations? A question we have learned to ask, even after we think we’ve covered all of the potential gotchas is, “Is there anything else we should know about this space that we haven’t asked?” We’ve learned some pretty interesting things from asking that question—things that were material in helping us make decisions.

Flow

Our site visits begin outside the door, and as we walk in and then through the space, we think about ourselves as a guest at our event. How does the space flow, and what is the guest’s journey? As we design a space, we mentally walk through it and think about what the optimal experience is. Do we need a coat and/or bag check? How do attendees enter the venue, and what happens when? If we have activations, how do we determine the right distance between them? Are there intentional marketing or photo opportunities? We think through the event on a scale of active to passive engagement, and try to think about whether we are creating a delightful experience for as many different attendee profiles as possible.

The venue is our blank canvas, and we paint it with light and color

There is also the more intangible, emotional piece to consider when designing an event, and to us it’s more critical than the sum of the functional parts above. This about what it feels like to attend the event. We want to transport our guests into a new experience, and delight them. On the emotional side of event planning, the venue can be key to building anticipation, before the event begins.

Our emotional venue checklist:

Culture

We try to embrace the host city and all that it has to offer. We are inspired by landmarks and iconic places, flags and flowers, weather, local cuisine and cultural events. This approach is useful because it helps ensure that we deliver new and exciting experiences each year. 

Impact

We look for the Wow! factor. How does it feel to arrive at this venue? How can we create a memorable experience from the moment a guest arrives? Whether the goal of the event is to network, to deliver content, or celebrate, we want our attendees to feel special, like we designed something specifically with them in mind.

Association

Leading up to the event, what do your guests know about the venue? If the location of your event is well-known or iconic, think about the impression it gives and consider how to use it to your advantage in creating demand and anticipation. If your specific space is not as well-known, where it’s located in the city or its history or its proximity to landmarks can be used to provide positive associations for your guests.

Gut

Sometimes, you just get a feeling when you walk into the right—or the wrong—space. It’s intangible and unexplainable, but we think your gut response matters. If a venue meets your functional criteria, then rely on your intuition.

An event’s venue makes an impactful first impression that starts at the time you begin inviting your guests. Venues are usually one of the more expensive line items in your budget. It’s worth the work and effort to set yourself up for success by choosing strategically and wisely, so that your space plays its role effectively.

Join us on the journey to WPC 2016

We’re excited about our plans for US partners at WPC 2016 this summer. We can’t wait to start sharing more information about them with you, and will soon here on the US Partner Community blog. In the meantime, you can view the United States agenda for WPC 2016 online. There are some differences from the general WPC 2016 agenda. Save the date of Tuesday, July 12 for the Microsoft North America keynote in the afternoon and the US Celebration that evening.

WPC is a large conference with many moving parts, and we learn something new about how to deliver exciting experiences each year.We’ll be sharing more about our planning process over the next several weeks as we approach the conference. Wish us luck on our journey to WPC 2016—we hope to see you there!

 

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