A virtual and hybrid event attendee listens to a wine sommelier explain wine pairings at a small hybrid event. Additional attendees view remotely and are connected to the event on a big screen. Photo: Tom Cook Photo
Virtual and hybrid events have been on the upswing since the 2008 recession, but 2020 pushed them to the forefront. As EJP Events fielded many requests to move events online this year, we employed our existing knowledge and pulled in technical production teams, as well as software platforms like Whova, Eventsquid, and vFairs, in order to create compelling virtual and hybrid event offerings.
This table is set for a virtual at home wine experience, complete with charcuterie box, bottles of wine, notebook, and the computer with which to participate in the event.
The challenge, however, was how to relay our vision to new clients. As much as we love to dial in every detail and think critically about the attendee experience (have you ever thought how many physical items an attendee will need to gather in order to be on camera at a virtual wine dinner? We have!), it’s hard to convey that to someone who has never done this before. And it’s not like we could go into our existing clients’ living rooms and take photos of them attending our events during a pandemic, let alone the privacy issues!
Livestreaming and video-recording of events has become de rigeur due to the pandemic-created virtual and hybrid event requirements starting in 2020. Photo: Tom Cook
So we put on our creative agency hats, and put together a content shoot (or styled shoot as it’s known in the weddings world). Emee and Katherine spent many hours in the fall brainstorming over Zoom, which best practices would make a virtual event shine; as well as what needs to be done to make your small hybrid event not only fun and memorable, but over-the-top in safety. We even experienced the now-common pandemic phenomenon of having everything scheduled and ready to go for our shoot event, only to have Multnomah County go into a four-week freeze and have to re-schedule the entire event and all its vendors.
We’re happy to note that because of this team and their experience and professionalism, it reinforced our faith in the event process and things went off without a hitch. (Unless you count that Emee forgot her on-camera outfit and had to send someone back for that.) And we now have this wonderful content to share with you, that I hope tells the story of how EJP Events would envision a safe, engaging, delightful, and productive virtual or hybrid event where everything is dialed in, from the food and drink, to the individual sanitized microphones on each attendee. Check it out in the gallery below. Our main ideas are:
Tell people what to do. Pre-COVID, people didn’t need a lot of instruction at a networking event or a happy hour. During COVID, however, structure and format is needed. Open networking leads to too-close gathering. Offer each attendee their own seat, table, or area and provide a program of activities.
Speaking of program, make sure to explain the program to everyone through multiple channels: Pre-event communications, on-site signage and directionals, live staff offering directions and guidance, and audible instructions through the use of announcements.
If people are attending remotely as well as in-person (a “hybrid event”), ensure that the home viewer is not left out of the action by creating an online, digital broadcast that is just as interesting as the in-person experience. Make sure audio is good, not just of the speaker but of the in-person attendees, to give home viewers the feeling of “being there”. Offer opportunities for the home viewer to be “seen” at the in-person event and interact with the in-person guests. It’s a two-way street!
There are so many more details I could share, so I hope you’ll follow up with us if you have questions. For those of you who believe we’ll be back to normal and there’s no reason to keep perfecting virtual and hybrid events, here are a few headlines and quotes from news around the world:
We are heartbroken as our rural neighbors and community in Clackamas, Marion, Jackson and Klamath counties — and many more other counties in Oregon — battle wildfires and recover from destruction and tragedy. Lives have been lost and livelihoods impacted, and the fires are not out yet. Many are wondering what they can do to help rural Oregon.
As we mentioned in our previous post, taking a moment to give if you can, can be one way to stem the feeling of helplessness that many of us feel. The live events industry was already deeply affected by the COVID pandemic, and having to deal with wildfires on top of everything else can feel overwhelming.
On the giving side, we’ve put together a list of resources that we feel provide a good representation of how to help those affected by the wildfires in Oregon.
We’re grateful for the many people who have checked on us from afar. EJP Events’s home base in Portland, Oregon, while safe from wildfires currently, has been affected with power outages and hazardous air quality. Our staff continues to work from home offices in Multnomah and Clark County. If you need assistance with an event that has been affected by COVID-19 or the Oregon wildfires, please contact us – we’re happy to help.
The upswell of the Black Lives Matter movement has created a conversation around supporting Black owned businesses. Some of my non-Black colleagues seem confused by this. “Isn’t this reverse racism? I’m not racist, I don’t see color!” is a common trope heard during times like this.
While an event planning blog is not the best platform to address how those types of statements actually promote white supremacy*, one thing I am qualified to address is how to make your event better. One way to do this is to make your event or wedding a force for good. Here’s my opinion on how buying more often from BIPOC- (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and locally-owned businesses can do this, starting by contrasting with the following examples of common practices among large, global corporations:
Yikes, right? While not every corporation may be guilty of these types of wrongdoings, it’s more common than not. By choosing a local and/or BIPOC-owned event business, you lessen the risk of sending your hard-earned event dollars to organizations that perpetuate racism, profit from prison labor, deplete the environment, and steal intellectual and artistic property.
In addition, when you avoid mass-produced event and wedding items, you’re more likely to:
integrate artisanship and hand-crafted know-how into your event
avoid cookie-cutter designs and boring flavors
reduce your carbon footprint by avoiding overseas shipping.
It’s important to reduce negative impacts of consumption, both environmental and social. This extends to events. Most of us know that in this big, big world of 7 billion people, we won’t solve every problem in a few months. I myself am just beginning a long process of educating myself, divesting from old processes, and doing my small part. I present this idea of normalizing buying local, and buying BIPOC, as often as you can, and especially with large purchases such as wedding- and event-related costs, as one way to raise awareness, reduce your risk of harm, and make your event better.
* I recommend Alishia McCullough’s 7 Circles of Whiteness article, which is much better at explaining this phenomenon.
In addition to the COVID-19 upheaval in the world, summer 2020 heralds a historic uprising against racism and inequity, part of a greater struggle for civil rights that has been going on for hundreds of years. While many of us knew that Black Lives Matter (at a minimum — what Black lives are is priceless and beloved), still many more had been silent about this fact in the face of ever-growing disparity and injustice. No one can be silent any more. Although the feelings of unrest and change may feel concerning, in many ways, this time has us at EJP Events feeling more hopeful, creative, and fired up.
Events are about hospitality and coming together. Weddings are about love. When deep injustices affect our communities of color, it feels impossible and inhospitable to go on doing the work of event planning without first doing whatever we can do to address these threats to life and the ones we love.
When event industry folk talk about wanting to “go back to normal”, what normal were they talking about? The world where it was normal for police to commit extrajudicial executions on city streets? The world where our federal government has defunded public health task forces, and our health insurance system, leaving us vulnerable for a pandemic to cut down 160,000+ of our people and counting? No, we don’t want to go back to normal. We at EJP Events believe Black Lives Matter and that means actively adding our voice to the movement for justice.
At EJP Events, during the week of June 1 – 7 we muted our social media and made it a priority to amplify Black voices. After this, we continued self-directed education, reading, and introspection. We wanted to make sure we explicitly state practices in our event business that we follow, but may not have been vocal about in the past.
Our Anti-Racism Pledge:
We recognize that the lack of diversity in the events and weddings business hurts Black-owned event businesses and Black people in general. As a business owner who identifies as Asian-American and a woman of color, I see how being “white-adjacent” and how the “Model Minority” myth plays into systemic racism and harms our Black colleagues. It’s time to commit to doing our part to right these wrongs. Therefore, we pledge to be actively anti-racist in our communication materials, our business processes, and our hiring practices. The following are four specific practices and policies we use to highlight and uplift the Black community, especially the Black LGBTQIA+ community, and to be inclusive in events and weddings:
• We use welcoming and inclusive language in our internal communications as well as in the communications we help write for event clients. We pledge to educate others when we see non-welcoming and non-inclusive language, especially in marketing materials and event registration forms.
• We recommend venue and vendor choices to our clients that are welcoming to Black and Indigenous hosts and attendees as well as those of all ethnicities, and remove venue and vendor choices from our recommendations who practice racial profiling or other discriminatory practices.
• We hire from an ethnically diverse roster of vendors that includes Black event professionals. We pledge that the number of Black event professionals we hire will be proportionally representative or more, of the racial background of the community we live in.
• We center positive and joyous Black and BIPOC representation in our website, marketing materials, and social media. The number of images we feature will be at a minimum, proportionally representative or more, of the population of the community we live in.
These practices are implemented effective immediately, and we promise to review our practices on a quarterly basis, with our first all-company review due in December 2020, to ensure that our public actions in the event and wedding planning world align with our values. We ask that you call us in and hold us accountable by emailing us at email@example.com if you have feedback or notice ways we can be doing better.
We acknowledge that we didn’t come up with these ideas on our own, and do not position ourselves as experts in this field. Racial justice expertise is an area we defer to Black leaders, to whom we pledge to expand our knowledge of, and continue to listen to. Equity and justice work is the labor of a lifetime. As humans, we acknowledge our own mistakes and imperfections in this process; we ask for, and continually give grace to others, in this journey. We’ll be updating, refining, and adding to our pledge as our understanding and processes continue to evolve.
We are grateful to the individuals and communities who have welcomed us into their networks in order to continually learn and grow. Also, many thanks to these events businesses who are leading the way and have inspired us in this discussion: All the Days, Cocktails and Details, EllyB Events, and Andrew Roby Events.
Additionally, to further underscore our commitment to being inclusive hospitality professionals, we:
• Undertake disability justice training, and apply these lenses to event design. This can manifest in a recommendation of specific event setups to accommodate different types of physical and mental/emotional event accessibility needs.
• We educate our clients to offer translation and other accommodations to make their events more inclusive.
This time can feel overwhelming. If you are a Black event professional, likely this time has felt like an additional blow to your sense of safety. Non-Black and White people are wondering, how can I help? While we’d never say we have all, or even any answers, for anything that’s going on, at the moment it feels right to share the following three focus points:
1. Take care of yourself!
Community Care Resources for Black / BIPOC Event Professionals and others:
2. Ways to Be Generous and Share of Yourself and Your Resources.
Many of us feel overwhelmed by both the pandemic, and at the same time, know it’s necessary to show up for Black lives. I have found that giving and being generous assists me in being thankful and feeling gratitude. Gratitude can lead to better mental health and may alleviate the feelings of depression that come from working through challenging historic times. If you are able, here are some places to give (some Black/BIPOC-focused, some event industry-focused):
There are many places to give and participate; I’ve highlighted these as I’m an event planner based in the Pacific Northwest and these links are particularly relevant to me. You may find other organizations that are relevant to your situation or location.
3. Why you should want to work with diverse vendors, and how to find them:
1 in 5 millennial marriages, the majority wedding consumer today, are interracial. Yet wedding publications do not reflect the reality of current weddings, even with the real weddings they choose to publish.
I would add, that not including faces and stories from the nearly 42% of Americans who are not White, in wedding and event media, is a cultural erasure. Avoiding the full picture of the many cultures of the global event experience can lead to increased stereotypes, implicit bias, and to a decline in event quality and creativity. When all you’re seeing is the same whitewashed and filtered Instagram wedding and event feeds, all of similar, non-diverse people, you’re missing out on things that your attendees expect from you, like creative and varied design choices, visuals, menus and tactile experiences.
How do you find diverse businesses to work with? Perhaps, like us, you’ve been on your own journey working on event diversity, inclusion, and justice work for several years, and you have a roster of contacts. If you don’t, you might want to make a list. But watch out! I have mixed feelings about creating new lists of BIPOC-owned businesses. In some ways, it’s great to have a list to refer to at your fingertips. In other ways, it can feel like a “roundup” or tokenism. BIPOC-owned businesses don’t want handouts or to be the lone non-White face in the name of diversity. These businesses have unique voices and stand on their own merits, and that alone is the reason you should be working with diverse businesses – because their contribution will make your event better.
My take? If you have a non-Black business or organization, do your research first. There are already a lot of lists out there! Consider partnering with or reaching out to Black-owned businesses to collaborate on a resource, before striking out making lists on your own, which runs the risk of looking like saviorism or Columbusing. It’s a nuanced issue, and in all cases, the wants and needs of the business owners themselves should be considered first, as well as the motivation behind the list. If a directory is created in order to promote and support BIPOC business, great. However, if an entity by “creating a list” winds up drawing attention to themselves, positioning themselves as a gatekeeper to information, and centering their non-BIPOC business in the current conversation, then that can be problematic. Whether or not that’s the intention is immaterial – it’s the action and effect on the business and how the BIPOC business owner experiences the interaction, that counts.
That being said, it’s easy to find Black, Indigenous, and Person of Color-owned businesses to work with and to enjoy. We put together a resource to help you get started. Don’t be shy, follow and support! You may be surprised at how the vision for your event becomes that much more creative and inspired.
Based on this framework, event professionals and event clients all over the Pacific Northwest now understand that large gatherings are forbidden through the end of September 2020, and only microweddings and small parties within one’s own household will be permitted. This came as a surprise to many, since when the outbreak in the US became known at the end of February 2020, the prevailing belief was that the epidemic would subside within six months, allowing events to begin again at the end of the summer.
Because of this, you’d think that all events and weddings have come to an absolute stop. But is this true? Not if you consider the many folks who are re-tooling their 2020 celebrations to comply with a 10-25 (depending on the area) person guest count and physical distancing guidelines. Add careful hygiene and sanitation measures, and we are starting to see what the next normal of events will look like for the next 6-12 months; at least until more testing, contact tracing, and treatments/vaccines are expected.
What are some things that will look different in this new world of microweddings and petite parties?
1. Physical distancing will change the way we set up rooms. Much larger venues for weddings of 10-50 guests will need to be booked than previously thought. A venue once thought to be “too big” for 50 guests will now be the norm. Room setups will incorporate physical distancing guidelines.
2. Food service will be different. Buffets and family style will not return until new cases are on the decline and a vaccine is available. Group meals will be plated, or be a creative twist on “boxed”: think beautiful packaging, linen napkins, and gorgeous flatware in a customized bag for each guest.
3. As travel is reduced, local and regional celebrations, meetings, and events will move to the forefront. Unfortunately, car driving will increase until mass transit becomes safe again; we hope this isn’t a permanent trend since the climate effects are sure to be negative.
What things will stay the same? The elements that are not as affected by physical distancing or sanitation are getting as much attention as they would at pre-COVID-19 elopements or microweddings:
1. Wedding clothing – whether it’s just the two of you, or a few combined households of 10-25, everyone still wants to look their best. Formalwear services like Generation Tux are offering increased sanitation practices and home try-on.
2. Photography and videography have become even more important, as many guests may not be able to travel. Sharing the day through photos and video, and also livestreaming, is more important than ever before.
3. Flowers – nature does not stop for a pandemic, and flower farmers are still hard at work. Buying local is a must; people are not flying in bouquets from other countries.
4. Cake and a celebratory toast: Involving dozens of vendors in customizing a celebration isn’t currently feasible, so we see microweddings returning to archetypes like these.
5. Elopement and small-event packages that include planning and services offered in an easy-to-book bundle will be more important as ever, as busy families won’t have time to sort out all the details of what’s allowed, where they can go, and what activities are permitted and how to do them. Expert planners who stay up-to-date on changing regulations and availabilities will be highly sought after.
This is Part 1 in a 2-part post about the Next Normal of Events. Stay tuned for our post about new developments in meeting, convention, and trade show setups; and trends to watch for in food service and even coffee bars.
Note: This article contains information about holding microweddings or small parties during COVID-19, the novel coronavirus pandemic during spring of 2020. Guidance is changing quickly, and you should check with local and state health authorities, local governments’ Executive Orders, and your own contracted wedding professionals, before making any important decisions about your wedding. We’ll try to keep this post updated with items marked “UPDATE:” when possible.
It has never been easy to plan an event, but to do so during the pandemic era of COVID-19 comes with unprecedented difficulty. As of today, April 14th 2020, all 50 states of the U.S. and many parts of the world are under some form of Stay at Home order. Here in EJP Events’s home base of Portland, Oregon, we’re beginning Week 5 of social distancing and “Stay Home/Save Lives“. Travel, both locally and internationally, is severely curtailed if not outright banned. Our hearts go out to the many people affected: whether due to COVID-19-related illness, or to business and financial effects.
Most events for April, May, and June have already been rescheduled or cancelled. Event planners are taking cues from major world and regional gatherings and festivals such as the Olympics, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Coachella, etc. which have all cancelled or postponed.
What does this mean for a couple planning a wedding, or an association planning a conference in late summer through end of 2020? First things first: please take care of yourself and your family, friends and coworkers. Do what is safe and healthy. The science tells us: COVID-19 is extremely contagious, can possibly be carried while asymptomatic for up to 14 days, and is potentially life-threatening for many. So follow your local health authority guidelines and right now: stay home and stay safe. Take care of your mental health too. The emotions around planning an event can be overwhelming enough without a global pandemic. It’s important to acknowledge the many feelings that can arise and be kind to yourself and others involved in this situation. Check out these resources from the CDC on coping.
OK, so thankfully you’re safe and healthy at home, but you have an event on the future horizon. Now what? While no one has a crystal ball, here are some thought processes we recommend as you plan what to do if your event is affected by COVID-19 and your event date approaches:
We agree with, and really love this chart made by the folks over at Filosophi Events in Vancouver BC. In general, you should have a Plan B for any event occurring in 2020; and you should set a “go/no-go” date on which you decide whether or not to invoke your Plan B. For most people, this “go/no-go” date will be about 60 days or 2 months before the event.
In order to create your Plan B, you’ll need to communicate with your venue and vendors about what options you have, find alternate dates, and find out if everyone is available on the possible alternate date. This is also a good time to review your contracts, especially any clauses about Impossibility or Force Majeure. Ideally, your contract should cover you in the event it becomes “illegal or impossible” to hold your event. There should be a way to seek relief from this impossibility (such as a reschedule) through this clause in your contract. Please contact your legal advisor or attorney for further advice on this.
Canceling outright (termination of contract) should be a last resort, as typically it will incur the most financial loss. A recent survey showed that 96% of couples are not canceling their weddings. It’s better to postpone than cancel. Should any of your event partners, whether vendor or venue, not be available for your Plan B, you’ll need to work out how to release them from their contract with you, and what, if any, financial repercussions there will be.
If your event is not a wedding, but a corporate event or conference, however, you may need to set your go/no-go date earlier than 60 days, since it’s not just the actual event itself that is affected, but your business partners’ ability to plan for and market the event as well. For example, if you aren’t able to sell trade show booths or registrations because your business partners aren’t sure if your event will even be allowed, it becomes impossible and commercially impracticable to hold your event, which may trigger a need to postpone.
Ultimately, the most important things are for you and your attendees to be safe; and for the purpose and spirit of your event to be upheld. Love is not canceled. Education is not canceled. With these things in mind, and with the positivity and teamwork of your vendor team, a solution will be found.
If you are looking for assistance with this process of what to do if your event is affected by COVID-19, please contact us. We’re currently offering complimentary phone and online consultations to assist any new and existing clients with COVID-19 questions. We are here to help.
Weddings and special events get a lot of attention, but corporate event planning can be fun, engaging and creative too! The Hotel Zags changed its name and branding from Hotel Modera, and EJP Events was hired to produce all the entertainment celebrating the big launch. They needed an event that would send-off the new brand into the future of hospitality in Portland, featuring the hotel’s position at the center of Art, Adventure, and Play.
Not just another hotel opening, the Hotel Zags relaunch featured local celebrity Carlos the Rollerblader as MC, with their trusty DJ – ‘DJ No.Bi.Es’ – (Bianca Estrella) spinning tunes. Contortion artists from The Orchidea greeted guests and wowed them with feats of agility and physical artistry. 3-piece power-pop combo The Zags came straight out of SE Portland and brought some very Beatles “Get Back” vibes as they rocked the crowd from the courtyard’s living roof.
Evrim Icoz staged a paparazzi style photobooth in the hotel’s Gear Shed, where guests could check out, library-style, anything from longboards to mountain bikes for their enjoyment. Additional treats awaited guests in the Colosseum, the hotel’s game room, as well as henna artistry from local favorite Salon Amrapali.
Instead of boring room tours, EJP Events organized “room vignettes” where guests were invited to take a sneak peek into the lives of two travelers: “Ms. Business”, played by urban sketcher Rita Sabler; and “The Diva”, played by mezzosoprano Sophie Gregg. Guests were treated to impromptu operatic warmups and the friendly hospitality of tiny Coco, the weiner dog (Rooms at Zags are pet-friendly!), as well a live sketching of the urban scene surrounding the Zags courtyard.
Over 200 of Portland’s travel and hospitality elite were entertained, as well as corporate reps from The Hotel Zags parent, Sage Hospitality. Food and drink were hosted by the killer team from Chef David Machado’s Nel Centro and guests gathered around the courtyard’s centerpiece – a five-foot fire globe.
It was an unforgettable night right at the beginning of Rose Festival, Pride, Pedalpalooza, and the summer event season in Portland. A great way to use corporate event planning services to launch the new endeavor. Congratulations Hotel Zags on your relaunch!
All photos here courtesy Evrim Icoz Photography. You can also view the official event photographer’s photos by KLiK Concepts, on Instagram below, or here at this link.
For many couples, the food is THE most important part of the wedding celebration. I often hear from them: “The food HAS to be good”…”We like the Portland food scene and want to integrate it into our wedding”…”We want to give our guests a taste of Portland and the Pacific Northwest”. Often, they already have a caterer in mind when they start their venue search, and are challenged when they keep running into venues that have strict exclusive lists.
That got me to thinking. What Portland wedding and event venues allow unrestricted outside catering? Here are just a few as of September 2018. Keep in mind that policies do change, so check with the venue first before making any plans or appointments. Know any others? Let us know via sharing in the comments below!
Horning’s Hideout is a great outdoor venue in North Plains, Oregon, only about 45 minutes from downtown Portland. The venue features covered pavilions, a relaxed vibe, and the ability to use any caterer you like.
Matt and Diana wedding at Horning’s, 2018. They used food trucks!
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.
The investment into event sponsorship can be very rewarding for an organization, but it can also feel risky. While sponsoring an event can be a valuable way for a business or an organization to connect with a community or interest group, for small businesses, the dollar amounts involved can be daunting. Does that mean that there’s no room for small businesses to take part? Absolutely not – here are some ways small businesses can “test the sponsorship waters” before launching into larger (higher dollar amount) sponsorships of events:
Donation of gift cards to silent auctions
Participate in more intimate, smaller-audience events
Buy a table and invite business colleagues to dine out for a cause
Sponsor a teacher or attendee scholarship so an under-served population can attend an event
In-kind sponsorship: Providing the business’s service or product for use at the event
Offer volunteer perks/meals/lounge areas to support the volunteers of an event
It’s always important for the business to be clear about the goals and objectives of sponsoring an event and to make sure they are SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Equally important is to have a written sponsorship agreement that outlines the responsibilities of each party and the benefits the sponsor will receive.
By being clear about the objectives, and measuring the results of a small, trial-run sponsorship, even small businesses can see benefits; and eventually, hopefully realize gains that previously they only thought large organizations could achieve.
As an alumna and an AYA volunteer, and especially as a meeting planner and association manager (I do event planning and contract association management for a couple of regional associations in the Pacific Northwest); it was an exciting opportunity to see the inner workings of a large, international, global association encompassing more than 160,000 members around the world.
The theme for the event was “Creating Community at Yale” and attendees came from all eras, from The Silent Generation to the newest “Gen Z”ers from Yale’s graduating class of 2017.
The entire 3-day conference was packed so full of activities, I hardly had any time to document, but I did put together this short slideshow to give you a glimpse of what attending the AYA Assembly is like:
And how do you create community in such a massive organization, spanning so many age groups, interest groups, and regions? Certainly the answer can’t be contained in a short blog post, but I’ll try to cover a few points that I saw being discussed at Assembly:
Recognize Shared Interest Groups (SIGs) and give them a voice at the Assembly
Survey the membership for their preferences in what the AYA should be delivering to them; report on the results of the survey, and allow it to inform decisions moving forward
It was a great experience for a first timer to see the massive operation that is the AYA. I’m hoping I can take a lot of what I learned that week back to the other associations that I help to manage and coordinate conferences for, and see if any of these ideas about creating community also apply to other organizations.
*(For the Yalies out there, I was officially an alternate delegate from the class of 1995, and unofficially representing the Yale Club of Oregon and SW Washington in order to accept the “Outstanding Mid-Size Cities Award“.)
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.
I often have the opportunity to work with some really fun public events around Portland. This year I’ve been involved with the Portland Tweed Ride organizers’ group and had the opportunity to help them produce some promotional media for their event, starting with a Save the Date card. It seemed like a great way to do some vintage and tweed inspiration for a possible wedding style board. With the way velvet is trending for 2018, I thought it would fun to throw a bit of that in too.
We were able to secure the wonderful Evrim Icoz Wedding Photography to shoot the photos, and Event Cosmetics to handle the hair and makeup. Nea Posey, one of Katherine Sealy’s Event Cosmetics clients, and Jeanie Whitten-Andrews, who had worked with Evrim before, stepped up as models. Event Cosmetics also secured the indoor venue, Oregon Historical Society, for us. Luckily, I owned a great deal of the props and attire in my personal collection, so it wasn’t hard to put together the shoot!
Got some photos back from our Oregon School Counselor Association conference a couple weeks ago. So great working with this group! EJP Events helped them from beginning to end, starting with venue search, contract negotiations, sponsor and vendor solicitation and management, catering menu planning, registration, social media, event marketing (the conference sold out for the second time we have been involved!), to onsite coordination and check in. We even printed and ordered their swag items, such as t-shirts, bags, pens, and notepads.
More photos from this wonderful conference available here:
As wedding season moves indoors and gets quieter, conference and expo season surges forward! This weekend we’re happy to help Portland Retro Gaming Expo coordinate their hotel logistics as they welcome 10,000 attendees to the Oregon Convention Center to enjoy hundreds of retro arcade and console games. Did you know EJP Events is a member of American Express Global Business Travel’s Meetings Expert program? I love helping groups find the best hotel venue for their needs. We were thrilled to match PRGE up with the Crowne Plaza Portland, Doubletree Portland, Jupiter Hotel and Residence Inn Lloyd Center this year. Let me know if I can help your group!