I’m an event planner, but often I’m also an event guest. I wanted to share a recent experience I had with you, as a sort of case study, and would love to get your feedback.
I received an invitation to come to a sales event for a brand of event software. This event promised lunch and networking. It seemed like a great idea: Check out a possibly helpful software tool, have lunch, and meet other event and meeting planners. To top it off, the event was being held in a popular downtown venue. Sounds great! I signed up online for both myself and my event manager, and put the event in my calendar.
What is GX, or “Guest Experience”, as it relates to events– and in contrast to UX, or User Experience? You can’t swing a cat (god forbid! we don’t actually swing cats!) in Portland without knocking over a UX (User Experience) engineer or designer. There are entire conferences dedicated to thinking about the online user experience. People are super concerned about UX, the way a user might move through and interact with an online environment, and discussions of UX are everywhere.
But what about the offline experience, when you are in the face-to-face? I call this GX, or the Guest Experience, and I think about it all the time as it relates to events.
It’s so easy to forget about GX as we are planning our events and I wanted to put the terminology out there and make it as well-known, cared-about, and prominent as UX. After all, if you have a great online experience, but then get to an event in-person and have a bad experience, the best online design in the world can’t help.
Here are four elements that cause event creators (CEOs, wedding couples, trade show organizers, etc.) to overlook GX. I’ll use a scenario of, “the client says they don’t want chairs at a wedding ceremony” as a common example of forgotten GX.
1. Personality type. For example, a “Free Spirit” personality may think it’s fun to do a standing ceremony without chairs in a forest clearing.
2. Budget – A client may think it would save money not to rent chairs for the ceremony.
3. Haven’t reviewed the logistics. A client may think chairs are not needed, since the ceremony timing seems short.
4. Making assumptions based on a narrow experience (“I’ve never needed to sit down at a wedding, so I don’t think we need chairs”).
But you as the event planner know that there are a lot of issues with foregoing chairs at a wedding ceremony (or any event requiring an audience to be at long focused, formal attention). Here are five complementary ways we as planners and coordinators, or employees tasked with helping with an event, can step in and bring the focus back on GX:
1. Appeal to the event creator’s personality type. Again, sticking with our example scenario, if they are a “Free Spirit” type, for example (see this link for some examples of negotiating with personality types), then appeal to their sense of creativity by showing all the things people can enjoy in the wedding venue when they aren’t fatigued from standing during the ceremony. Offer creative solutions, such as hay bales or picnic blankets, that allow them to express their creative streak while still solving GX issues.
2. Show budget data and analysis. Going back to our scenario example, I would show that certain items as a percentage of budget have a disproportionate effect on GX and guest happiness. So while yes, you can cut the budget by not having chairs at the wedding; if the chairs are $2.75 each and there are 100 of them; and the total cost of the wedding is $25K (this is actually on the lower end for designed weddings in the Portland area), the small percentage of budget (1.1%) being spent on chairs will have a relatively large positive effect on GX; while getting rid of them will have a large negative effect on GX while not having a very big effect on reducing the budget.
3. Review the logistics with them. While a wedding ceremony as written can seem short, only 10-15 minutes, remember that guests usually arrive 30 or even 45 minutes before a ceremony, especially if there are out-of-towners visiting who aren’t familiar with the area. Then it takes a few minutes to get everyone in place for the wedding and send people down the aisle. There are usually a few minutes at the end for the recessional and perhaps a receiving line as well. All in all, that “short fifteen minute ceremony” usually winds up being about 30 minutes long and 30 minutes of pre-ceremony waiting. Does the client really want their guests to be standing for a whole hour?
4. Educate, educate, educate. As the event organizer or planner, it’s your responsibility to educate the event owner so they can have good GX. Again, going to our example one last time, you could educate them about possible movement, accessibility, or ability issues that guests could face. Older guests may require a place to be seated. If it’s a corporate event, you could remind about the Americans with Disabilities Act and making sure you provide accessibility and accommodations for different abilities. Once you start providing seating for older guests, it becomes awkward for those who don’t have a seat. Overall, it may be best to provide seating for everyone, and hopefully you can convince the event owner.
This is just one breakdown of the GX process as seen through the eyes of an event planner. I hope it illuminates a little about GX, guest experience, and how we plan events.
Today, I called a florist with a last-minute request for a few more napkins and linens. The wedding is tomorrow, it’s been a very elaborate, complex one, and as I was going over the list I realized that a few service tables might not have linens, and I didn’t want any franticness on the day of the event.
After I made my request, the florist said “OK, we’ll take care of that for you.” Then, she added sarcastically, “The rental company is just gonna love us.”
And I thought to myself, thank goodness my client has a wedding coordinator, because she was spared that kind of attitude the day before her wedding. In my opinion, the grating remark was unnecessary and unprofessional. There was no need to comment on the trouble involved, since it is our job to go to a little trouble.
The wedding industry is supposed to be about taking problems and stress away from the client, and by transference, taking them on ourselves. That’s what we’re paid to do. If all florists did was arrange flowers, then they’d be out of a job the minute a bride saw what was available at the farmers’ market. If all wedding coordinators did was to make phone calls, then any bride could do it. Our business is supposed to provide much more than that. We are supposed to provide professional service and peace of mind.