Designing an event has innumerable detailed elements to keep tabs on, and a mountain of expectation to manage, from visitors and clients to exhibitors and suppliers. It is the job of a professional conference organiser or an exhibition or event planner to hold all of this together and ensure the client’s vision for their event is realised in all its glory.
One of the most important principles of event design, says Conference Planner Zelda Coetzee-Burger, is trust. “Choose your event or design team carefully. They should be people you fully trust.” She uses the recent Stellenbosch Business Tourism Indaba as an example, explaining how, once she had signed off on the event’s look and feel, she felt confident in her event designers ability to understand capture the vision. “Then, if the client decides they want to swap something last minute, it’s not a train smash because I know that overall I trust they will know the look and feel. You have to work with a team you feel completely comfortable with,” she adds.
“Data intelligence is key. Always start here,” says Carol Weaving, Chairperson of AAXO and MD of Reed Exhibitions Africa. Surveys can help gauge delegates’ overall experiences, which in turn assists in conceptualising the event and making informed decisions. “How do you know what makes your customers happy? Ask them! Whether you are considering a new show or concept or whether it has been running for years, customer surveys and market research will help you drill down into your customer needs and help you deliver on their objectives.”
According to Zelda, it’s important to understand the event design and concept properly before putting a price tag on it. She suggests mind mapping with the client, then going into creative concept, followed by look and feel, then budget, then process design. This becomes difficult when a client has a fixed budget to work with, but doesn’t understand the cost or logistics involved in their vision. “Do not go to budget before you know what your event design looks like,” she stresses, “Your budget can be totally different based on a certain design. Don’t just work alone and see what you can come up with. Your client can also direct you in whether it’s low budget, medium budget or over the top.”
“You have to be totally fluid,” says Zelda, “and I think the difficult thing is when you are not flexible in nature. You have to know that this industry is fluid, and you need to make the client understand this.” She explains that although this flexibility is imperative until the event is signed off by the client and production starts, one still needs to be available to deal with any issues that arise throughout the process.
According to Nick Sarnadas, Event Director at Specialised Exhibitions, “Be meticulous in your planning but flexible enough to know when to be a rock and when to be the river… and be aspirational in your approach. You will never know everything there is to know; your attitude will reflect your reality.”
According the Keke Matlou of In Any Event, it’s important to be open and honest with your client at all times. “Be honest about what your capabilities are,” she says, “Don’t take on something you absolutely know nothing about. It never ends well and the stress just isn’t worth it!” She adds that the company creates a working document with everything in it, from checklists and contact details, to itineraries and responsibilities. “All parties working on the event have a copy of the document so that we all speak the same language.”
Read about the rest of the principles in Issue 7: