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Victoria Schramm, Director of Special Events for UP Global has planned and produced 40+ events for over 16,000 attendees worldwide. These include global, regional, and team summits, as well as high-profile events at Startup Oasis for SXSW and at Eureka Park for CES. Victoria, or V as she is known, recently shared how she puts the “special” in special events.

Startup Oasis attendees at this year's SXSW
Startup Oasis attendees at this year’s SXSW

1. Establish a Central Hub
Select a home-base. This can be as simple as a lounge or lobby or as broad as a city block—a central place where everyone can easily congregate. This is where attendees can gather before, after, or in-between programming for some downtime and discussion. This is where conversations happen and relationships are formed. If you think about the events you’ve attended, often times the conversations you’ve had and the people you’ve met are just as important as the content or guest speakers you enjoyed.

Tip:  Set up an additional private place for your organizing team to congregate. A safe haven allows them to review run-of-show plans, troubleshoot issues, catch up on communications, and to simply recharge.

2. Don’t Overprogram
When you run so many sessions that attendees don’t get any free time, many people lose the ability to form relationships and continue conversations they might have begun during programming.  For example, when you’re doing a fireside chat that is informative and thought-provoking, you’re going to want to give attendees an hour at some point in the day (it doesn’t have to be right away). By scheduling an hour+ of unscheduled time you allow attendees to decompress from the content, to discuss it, and to continue conversations sparked during that session.

3. Make It Fun
Like gaps in programming, fun is another element to incorporate in your planning. You’ll want to ensure attendees have some fun time that is both lightly orchestrated and clearly delineated from content.  These shared experiences are where people come together to get to know each other as well as the community they are in.  For example when V organized an event in Iowa, she hosted a barn party. This included everything from renting the barn, having roasted pig, providing Iowa bourbon, etc. This time allows attendees to truly experience the community, to hang out and have fun. Other examples of programming shared fun are: scavenger hunts, indoor skydiving, museum visits, and geocaching. It helps to do some research ahead of time and to engage local experts in planning the fun so there are elements of local discovery and celebration built into these unique experiences.

4. Get to Know Your Attendees Before They Arrive  
Set up calls with a handful of attendees representing a diverse cross-section of program interests, age, and geography. Get their input on event expectations, content interests, points of value, feedback on previous events, even cool stuff they’ve seen elsewhere. Do your homework so you can create something they will find valuable. Once in registration questions: V asked “let us know if you have an suggestions or ideas for this summit”  One respondent said she loved all the Coke products, but really preferred Diet Dr. Pepper.  V took note of that and in prep for the event procured some Diet Dr. Pepper and supplied it through the event. Those little things make a difference.

5. Surprise and Delight
The details really do matter.  The little things can make the difference between a good event and a great one. Things like sliding a custom reminder notes under doors at night for the next day’s activities as V did at the UP Summit in Las Vegas, or sourcing goody bags and leaving them on the on guests’ beds each night. Those things make such a difference and really change the atmosphere of an event.

 


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David Betz