Your feet are swollen, you’ve had back-to-back meetings all day, and that client dinner could have gone a lot better — but then your eyes drift to your hotel bed and delight comes over you — your favorite chocolate is resting on the pillow and a cold water bottle is waiting for you on the nightstand. Things are looking up.
Companies don’t always have to go for grandiose gestures to surprise and delight a target group. There are simple and cost-effective ways to elevate an experience and make a moment stick.
The same is true for events. When you're thoughtful about how to spend your event budget, it shows. With that in mind, aim to understand who your attendees are and what would make their experience better — because they’re counting on it. 66% of customers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations and 92% of marketers’ customers and prospects expect a personalized experience.
"Frugal" doesn't have to mean "cheap." It can mean being resourceful, creative, and original within constraints — it’s where many of the best ideas are forged. Consider Picasso, who painted his way through The Blue Period, or Bo Burnham, who produced his comedy special alone while respecting the logistical constraints of the pandemic.
Up to the challenge? Here are seven tips to help you surprise and delight your attendees without breaking the bank:
Tip #1: Incorporate mystery to build anticipation
What is free, easy, and ignites curiosity?
Heighten excitement around your event by gradually releasing details but leave a few things to the imagination. Consider the following ideas to build positive tension around your event:
Pre-event celebration boxes
Imagine receiving a festive package with a label instructing you to wait until the event day to open it. This tactic will have attendees' minds swirling with what could be inside. You can include everything from event-themed swag like a t-shirt, stickers, a personalized note from the event host, or maybe even a bottled drink to enjoy during the event.
Countdown emails or social posts
Nearly two-thirds of consumers want companies to connect with them on social media, so start building buzz a few weeks out with countdown content featuring event highlights. These could be promotional videos on TikTok, graphics with event hashtags on Instagram, or short and sweet descriptions of each day's activities on Twitter.
Event day surprises
Greet attendees with flowers, a welcome drink, or an unexpected performance on the big day. Whatever you choose, make sure it ties in with your event theme and overall aesthetic.
You can also make a game of it. For example, create networking roulette where attendees might be connected for a quick chat or randomly paired with someone from your company where they can win a prize like a gift card or swag.
Tip #2: Set the mood with music
Create a shareable playlist
Filmmakers strategically select music to set the mood for a scene, so imagine you are creating the soundtrack that tells the story of your event. How do you want attendees to feel? What do you want them to remember?
Event-themed playlists are a hit because they set the tone for an amazing experience. Help attendees get in the right mindset by hiring a DJ, creating your own playlist, or working with a music streaming service like Spotify to curate the perfect event soundtrack.
You can also easily play music through a virtual platform — whether you embed a Spotify playlist or stream the music directly onto a stage or session. Many event professionals share the event playlist with attendees after the event closes so attendees can relive the fun.
Tip #3: Take the audience on a journey
For some, half the fun of attending an in-person event is exploring the host city. Use it to your advantage by incorporating elements from local culture into your event.
Here are examples of location-specific experiences. If you’re hosting an event in
- Tokyo: Surprise guests with a traditional tea ceremony as a break from your event content.
- Munich: Provide guests with pretzels from Hofbraühaus and Tegernseer beer
- Hawaii: Start the event with a traditional lei greeting.
- Austin: book a food truck to serve local cuisine on-site
Even with a virtual event, you can still give attendees a taste of the local flavor with a virtual tour. Work with a local tourism board or destination management company to put together a presentation highlighting the best of what the city has to offer.
Learn with a treat
Sometimes the best way to get your attendees to participate virtually is to teach them a new skill:
- Health and wellness event attendees could learn a healthy cooking technique and then enjoy a complimentary smoothie made with ingredients from the class.
- Coffee kits and pastries for a coffee-tasting event, or wine and cheese for a mixer are easy, delicious, and informative.
- Mixology classes add an element of fun and intrigue while attendees mix, drink, and learn about their favorite cocktails or mocktails.
- Painting parties are perfect for team-building exercises, corporate events, and private parties. Guests can enjoy a glass of wine or beer during the event and their masterpiece forever.
Tip #4: Keep your audience smiling
Play is a major stress reliever, so to help attendees blow off some steam, create games and activities that break the ice, get attendees moving, and add an element of fun. You might find a sense of humor is a welcome addition to most events. Think about:
Give attendees a photo memento that ignites their social media friends’ FOMO and will stir up attendees’ fond memories of the event. Set up a virtual or in-person photo booth with props that match your event's theme. Kick it up a notch by encouraging costumes.
Competition is one of the best ways to thoroughly engage your audience. To put a little fire under your audience, consider these options:
- Organize a scavenger hunt that takes attendees around the event space. If virtual, use a tool like Google Forms so people can upload photos.
- Use the Streamyard Giveaway Tool to hype up the chat and award someone a prize if randomly selected.
- Host a trivia session with questions related to your event's industry, theme, or location like the folks at Mister Minit did for their annual conference.
We could all use a good laugh. Ditch the humdrum reputation by adding a pinch of humor. For example, TechCrunch tapped the Host of CONAN and President of Team Coco Digital, Conan O’Brien, to speak at Disrupt.
Looking for laughs? Consider these ideas:
- Incorporate puns into event signage and decor
- Show humorous slideshows or videos
- Book a comedian to emcee the event or entertain during breaks
Tip #5: Be (extra) thoughtful
It is not often thought about in events, but take time to think about your attendees' loved ones. It will make sure everyone feels included and appreciated.
Here are ideas that span the spectrum from little to no cost:
- Send a swag bag for attendees' families and pets
- Offer a babysitting service or kids' activity area at your event
- Include a pet-friendly lounge or play area for in-person events or a special pet chat where virtual attendees can network and share pics of their pets
- Puppy cam
- Designate a special VIP area for attendees to bring their plus-ones
- Designate a partner track for events with a professional development focus
- Send a "save the date" to attendees' plus ones that includes information about event programming that would be of interest to them.
Tip #6: Enhance the experience
From event check-in to transportation and everything in between, there are countless ways to make your attendees' lives easier. By streamlining the event experience and offering thoughtful amenities, you can take the stress out of event planning for your guests.
Here are ways to take care of the details so attendees can enjoy themselves:
Decision fatigue can set in after a long day. Whether virtual or in-person, you can help attendees make mealtime stress-free with these ideas:
- Provide attendees a list of recommended restaurants, bars, and cafes near the event venue
- Send a food voucher for a meal delivery service so they can enjoy a meal and network with others
These tech solutions serve a purpose and delight attendees:
- Use a Promobot concierge to answer event-related questions and direct attendees to the right person or resource
- Set up strategically-placed recharging stations for event-goers who are using their devices throughout the event. This also serves as a great sponsorship opportunity.
Your attendees will eventually need to unwind. Life can often feel like an ocean current, and it’s easy to get swept away by to-do lists, professional growth, and networking. Not only are these ideas great sponsorship opportunities, but they show them you care:
- Designate a branded "quiet room" with comfortable seating to use during breaks
- Include mindfulness swag to help attendees along their self-care journeys
- Gift self-care items like sunscreen, lip balm, hand lotion, and eye masks
- Add a meditation moment or relaxation session to the event schedule
- Designate a "green room" for event speakers and VIPs that includes refreshments and relaxation amenities
- Offer virtual yoga and meditation sessions for attendees like SheaMoisture
Tip #7: Pay it forward
Start a tradition of giving back by incorporating philanthropy into your event. From donation drives to volunteering opportunities, there are plenty of ways to give back as a community.
Take it a step further by fundraising for a good cause during your event. This paints your event in a flattering light as charitable giving affects nearly three-quarters (73%) of consumers’ spending decisions.
For example, Broadway Unlocked hosted a 600-person virtual gala that raised more than $300,000 for Cancer Support Community. Events with this level of philanthropic impact deserve to be noticed.
Here are more ideas:
- Make charitable donations to an event-related cause in honor of your attendees
- Partner with a charity to host a fundraiser at your event
- Send a Kiva Card
- Incorporate sustainable practices into your event planning
The goal: Add fun and lighten the mood of your event
The little things are the big things when it comes to event planning. Whether it's providing thoughtful amenities or incorporating philanthropy into your event, knowing what matters to your attendees makes your attendees feel appreciated and taken care of. By taking time to think about the small details, you can create a truly memorable event experience for your guests.