3 Evening Event Planning Ideas for Conventions and Conferences

It seems that meeting and event planners are often tasked with coming up with great evening event planning ideas, especially during conventions and conferences. But here’s the thing, what is it about a convention or conference that meeting planners think they need to fill up every possible waking minute with an activity? Now before I get the replies that say they have to make the meeting exciting, I want you to know that I understand that. But having been in the business for more years than I wish to state here, I can tell you firsthand that quite often I would see delegates at an evening event where it was obvious they didn’t want to be there.

Who Said That Event Planning Ideas Can’t Include Free Time for the Delegates?

Which leads me back to the title of this post. Whenever I was fortunate enough to work with a client hosting a conference or convention, the meeting planner would ask me to fill the evenings with some type of activity. And who was I to say no. After all, the more events I scheduled, the more I got paid. But as time went on in my career I began to discuss different options with meeting planners.

The key with proposing event planning ideas is that you want to impress your delegates. In other words you want to provide them with an activity that makes the convention or conference a must attend event.

Which is why I always stress that you work with a local DMC (Destination Management Company) to help you plan ideas that are suitable for the city that you are in.

Here Are Three Event Planning Ideas That Have Worked for Me

1) Make the event or function something that they would not be able to do on their own. Everybody can go on a city tour or pay to enter an attraction. So what makes you think that after eight hours of meetings conference delegates would want to spend another three hours mixing with the general public. Trust me, most do not want to do that. So when a meeting planner tasked me with proposing an evening event or function, I would always go to the drawing board with the thought that this has to be something they could not do on their own. Depending on the delegates, it might be hosting an off-site event at a venue such as a museum, or it could be an entertainment production that was put together exclusively for them. Another tip would be to not have the event go on to late into the evening. After all, they need to be fresh and ready to go in the morning.

2) A dine around. There are many great cities in North America that have an abundance of restaurants to choose from. Rather than have an event go to one specific restaurant why not consider orchestrating a dine around. The dine around could be structured in a couple of ways. You could have a sign up form where the delegates could pick a restaurant based on its offering. So if you had a group of 200 to 300 people, you may reserve 40 spots at several restaurants and then fill them according to each sign up. Or if you’re targeting a couple of dozen people, you could structure the dine around as a sampling of what the city has to offer. Start with appetizers at one restaurant and then transfer the group to another restaurant for its main course, then another for desert etc. You get the idea here. It’s a great way to give visitors to the city an opportunity to sample the various cuisines.

a clock representing free time

photo by dawnsgoodlife. blogspot.com

3) Give them free time. I can hear the gasps as I wrote that. I know whenever I have to travel to a conference, I do appreciate a night where I can do whatever I want to do exploring the city. It’s not that I don’t like networking events. I do very much. But if I’m out of town for three or four nights, it’s around the last couple of nights that I get pretty tired of having to go back to my hotel room, change and then head out to another organized event. I have worked with meeting planners who were very open to giving their delegates a free night during a conference or convention. And if you want to take this one step further, why don’t you provide each delegate with some cash that they can apply towards whatever it is they want to do that evening. Let’s say you budget $50 per delegate. The person receiving the cash is quite appreciative and I can guarantee you will remember it. And from the planners point of view, you’ll probably spend less per person than you would have with an organized event that they probably didn’t want to go to in the first place.

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Conferences and conventions are great for both learning and networking. I certainly understand the importance of having organized options, or events, during the evening. Evening event planning ideas don’t have to be dull or the usual “off to a restaurant” as a group function. If having an evening event is a must, then make it something that the delegates could not do on their own. Another thought is to give them some pocket cash so that they can go out and explore the city on their own. Either way, the delegates will love their meeting or event planner.

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