20 Event Planning Fails Our Guests Hate

It has happened to the best of us. Sometimes things go wrong. Some other times, it is actually our fault. This post is about the latter case.

Event fail

If you plan events, you will be familiar with failure. It is around the corner at every moment of our event. Failure is your friend, you have to embrace it.

On the other hand, there are universal archetypes that p£$$ off attendees. We are aware of what they are. Yet we keep disappointing both our guests and ourselves by repeating the same mistakes.

The Difference Between Failure and Repeated Mistakes

Failure is a great learning experience but repeated mistakes are just upsetting. There is a difference between something that fails out of our control and us deliberately ignoring aspects that will enrage our attendees.

I believe sound event professionals learn from failure and do not repeat mistakes. Don’t you agree?

So let me give you a list of instances where lots of us (me included) keep being shallow or lazy. Embrace this list, feel the pain and change for the better. Guests, Sponsors and Boss will be happy. Specially if the boss is you.

A word of warning, the language may seem direct if not harsh in some instances. I believe this is how we should talk to the lazy bit of ourselves. The bit of ourselves that stops us from being better professionals. This is how I talk to myself when I spot something I don’t like.

Always the Same Speakers/Performers

Speakers selection

This drives me nuts. Keeping performer diversity is paramount to keeping your event fresh. Whenever I see always the same names, the circle of friends of the lazy event or education planner, I immediately pass on attending.

As a speaker I tend to avoid coming back speaking at same events. If you attend events for the event industry this is the norm. I urge you to compare the programs from the last 3 years of large association gatherings and trade shows. While there are of course some exceptions, the norm is being lazy.

Wifi not Working

For heaven’s sake, it’s 2014. Wifi was invented in 1985 and commercialised in 1999. Is it possible that 15 years are not enough to fix the issue?

Guests require to be connected at events, period. They need to check their email, tweet, like or pin. This is specially true if your super cool venue is in the basement of a building where reception is non existent.

Wifi is as much of a requirement for any venue RFP as toilets are.

‘We’re having issues with the Wifi’ is a mantra that does not apply anymore.

PDF Schedule

Event schedule fail

I am sorry but downloading a pdf with the programme of your event is not acceptable. The performers and content of your event are key marketing triggers. I won’t let you relegate them to a file that needs another window or worse, download, to be opened.

Another great way to look lazy is to have a blurry jpg with the schedule on it. Impossible to read.

There is no excuse to such practice. Having a dynamic schedule can be very easily achieved in hundreds of ways, event mobile apps included.

No Slides Collected in One Place

I’ve attended hundreds of conferences over the last 2 or 3 years. I believe only a couple of times, have I been given a content hub where I could find all the slides from the conference.

The laziness ranges from making you stalk the speaker to ask for the slides to random emails with massive attachments.

You have tools like slideshare.net where you can collect slides from an event or you can host your own hub on the event website. No excuses.

Not Knowing Where to Go and What To Do

Some people describe event managers as people with attention to details. I believe it’s actually people with nerve and confidence.

They lead attendees towards what’s next through their extensions: staff, coordinators, emcees and venue partners.

Yet in some events you inevitably encounter that feeling of being lost with no one there to tell you what happens next.

If you see your attendees wandering and feeling a bit lost, you need to act. Planning means making guests feel catered for at all times. If they decide to walk around and wandering that is fine, as long as it is their decision, not the result of not having a clear plan in place.

Not Knowing the Hashtag

Hashtags are the conventional methods of referring to events online. Communicating the hashtag clearly is as essential as giving a name to your event.

I wrote the first article on using Twitter at events in 2008. That was followed by very specific advice on the use of hashtags, specially since other social networks joined the hashtag party.

Not communicating the hashtag clearly was acceptable in 2009, it is not in 2014.

Crappy Event Website

I am witnessing the explosion of event technology, everyday there is someone creating new tools for the event industry. Yet the average of event websites is demoralising.

The event website is your home base. It is your centre of command. It’s where attendees will purchase a ticket. It deserves better treatment.

You can start from here if you don’t want to make the same mistake again.

No Video from Previous Events

Technology does a great job in easing the risk we feel when we attend an event. That is especially true for video.

Back in the days we had to mentally envision what to expect at the event. Nowadays putting a video on your website form last year’s event takes less than 30 minutes.

I will not let you hurt your marketing for such as simple mistake. I am sure you know how valuable it is, so fix it.

Too Much Technology and Social

Have you spotted the trend? Some events are overdoing tech and that upsets me as an attendee. I am an early adopter and I love using tech at events. I don’t like taking it too far though.

Download our app, join our community, join our second community, share a picture on Twitter, like us on Facebook, send us a video, oh, don’t forget to pin stuff to our board, rate the speakers on our other app, send pictures via our ARS system. Oi! Give me a break!

As an attendee I like consolidated technology and very few calls to action from the event management. Investing in one or two techs and then being present and not pushy on social networks, does the job for most attendees. So let’s not be too eager.

No Tech at All

Extremes are never a good sign. The willingness not to try anything tech, from registration to social media also signals disrespect for some if not most of your audience.

Don’t get me wrong, in some instances your audience does not care at all about Twitter and it is safe to completely ignore it. Yet using a dynamic schedule during the event, have live polls or automated registration are clear winners for everyone.

Embracing the basic tech that makes events modern is a requirement.

White Male Speakers

This is a variation of item number one. I called this false freshness. When speakers change one year from the other but they always represent the same demographic.

I say this as a caucasian male, if you do the above you suck.

Here are some pointers for you to reflect, one and two.

Faxing Registration Forms

What can I say. Download the registration form, print it and then send it via mail or fax. When we researched online event registration for our Good Event Registration Guide, we identified 300 providers.

There should be a reason why this technology is so popular. With so many providers there, the solution for you is out there. Just do the homework.

Not Catering for People with Disabilities

I could write a book about the subject. Which is not if your venue is accessible, rather how you involve those who are prevented from participating the ‘normal’ way.

Read the 56 comments in this discussion and change the world!

Slow on-Site Registration

There is nothing appealing about waiting in line. Nothing. Have you done everything in your power to speed up the registration process?

Can attendees download their ticket and just get scanned to get in? Even better without printing anything and directly from their email or event app.

Usual Boring Formats

If you program looks like:

– Registration
– Opening Remarks
– Keynote
– Session 1, 2, 3
– Session 4, 5, 6
– Networking Party (let’s get drunk)

I won’t feel excited to attend. Probably I will if you did a great job with speaker selection and content but your format is making me yawn.

All events are special, even recurring ones. What are you changing in your format to make it so?

Nervous staff, Manager and Coordinators

It’s a fact events are stressful. Yet the real professional is who can always project a fresh image of themselves.

Looking frantic, nervous or tired is not an option. I am sorry but this what the job is. If you are feeling tired is often times better to ask someone in your team to cover rather than turning up on the show floor to vomit your stress.

I reckon this is not an easy one and you have all my understanding, yet we are paid to look professional, it’s 50% off our job.

When Alcohol is the Objective

In some countries alcohol is a problem. The promotion of alcohol to compensate for lack of concept or content is upsetting.

I am not saying we should go back to prohibitionism but there are much better ways to foster networking than making everyone drunk.

See the CLAMP example from the Meeting Support Institute.

No Hotel Live Rates

Leaving your attendees to the nightmare of having to go through booking accommodation for themselves is not fair.

Also giving them one premium hotel option only is unjust.

One of the biggest trends for 2014 is live hotel options. So what are you waiting for?

Not Thinking About the Environment

I remember 2009. Green events was the buzzword. That scared me. I imagined what could have happened if such an important topic was treated as a fashion.

I have my fair share of guilt in this. I should have given more space to sustainability. I am welcoming anyone who wants to write on the subject. Just get in touch.

There are terrific events where you can learn more about green events such as SES from GMIC.

Giving Away Attendees’ Data for Wild Marketing

Top reasons for sponsors to give you money is to obtain attendees emails and contacts. No surprise there.

Yet there something inherently wrong about giving away registration data without caring about what your sponsors will do with it.

Let me give you an example. You registered a high profile attendee for your conference. They trust you and are willing to listen what you have to say. After all they paid a lot of money to attend.

You talk to them and send updates about your event. Great.

The event is over, you hand the contact to a clueless sponsor. They start bombarding them with emails with your event name in the subject. Guess what happens when you send an email asking if they want to attend?

They won’t even open that email. They will just report you as spam and that’s it.

Setting rules and restricting what sponsors and partners can and can’t do with data means protecting your attendees and securing repeated business.

In Conclusion

I know this post came across a bit harsh in some instances. See I did a similar post in 2008 and funny enough, some items still stay the same. I was too eager on some others but it was my second year blogging 🙂

I believe we can change these recurring mistakes of event planning by just being a bit more curious and eager to learn.

Now go and plan an awesome one!

About The Author
Julius Solaris
Julius Solaris is the editor of EventManagerBlog.com, he is an international speaker and author of The Event App Bible, Engaging Events, Social Media for Events, The Good Event Registration Guide and The Annual Event Trends Report.
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Julius Solaris
Editor, Julius Solaris

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