Choosing to host your next corporate program at the same hotel and destination again has its obvious benefits (i.e. you know the destination, you’ve got a leg up on transportation and logistics, etc.). But it also presents one very big challenge: to ensure the experience is fresh for your attendees.
It’s time, once again, to host your company or organization’s signature meeting, event, or retreat. As the event planner on the job, this is the fifth time you’ve planned such a program, and it’s tough work. There’s the banquet and catering agenda, entertainment, transportation details, team-building activities, and don’t forget about potential unforeseen issues if the weather doesn’t corporate or an entertainer cancels at the last minute. So while returning to a repeat destination and hotel venue is always an option to help give you a leg up, how do you make sure that repeat attendees don’t view the programming as too “been there, done that?” Here’s how Kristi Telsch, manager of event planning at The Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center in Roanoke, Virginia, keeps things fresh for her many repeat corporate groups, time after time.
Switch Up Seating
When thinking about how to keep repeat attendees interested year after year, meeting after meeting, Telsch always points planners to consider the small changes they can make to keep things dynamic. For instance, the way a space is set up – from keynote presentations to smaller breakout sessions – has the power to keep attendees engaged to optimize information retention. “Sometimes it comes down to something as simple as new types of seating like casual seating, pods, or more comfortable armchair seating – just something that’s not going to be your typical round tables with banquet chairs,” says Telsch. “Simply changing the way a session is broken out can have a big impact.”
Take Advantage of Different Off-Site Venues & Activities
“We sometimes suggest doing off-site events,” says Telsch. Although she admits that integrating off-site programming is not always ideal – if a meeting or event is information-dense, sometimes it can take away from attendees absorbing all that has been disseminated to them – it can serve as a good tool to break up the day. Off-site activities can keep a repeat program from feeling monotonous, so consider planning for a morning of informative programming at your hotel venue, an afternoon of off-site team-building, followed up by a reception back at your base location to round out the day. A few of The Hotel Roanoke’s favorite off-sites: Virginia Museum of Transportation, Center in the Square, the City Market Building, and Taubman Museum of Art. They also regularly partner with Roanoke Mountain Adventures to offer attendees outdoor adventures (such as paddleboarding, kayaking, mountain biking, or road cycling throughout the neighboring Blue Ridge Mountains), as well as Roanoke Food Tours for walking tours that incorporate history, architecture, culture, and relevant culinary treats from iconic local restaurants and shops in downtown Roanoke.
Always Keep the Food Fresh
Attendees may have loved the catering from the last meeting, but that doesn’t mean they want to eat the same meal (or three) the next time around. One of Telsch’s tried-and-true ways to really wow repeat attendees is through their food and beverage. “Incorporating different kinds of foods is a way we keep things fresh,” says Telsch. “We try to keep our finger on the pulse of what the new trends are in the culinary world and our chef is great at helping us develop new menus.” Some culinary trends that are big right now in meeting and events industry include locally sourced menus, specialty diet options (think keto, paleo, and vegan), and themed meals (everything from taco bars to seafood boils).
Never the Same Old Space
With 63,670 square feet of prime meeting and event real estate, it might be hard to believe that The Hotel Roanoke is always refreshing their spaces to make sure they feel modern and different. But according to Telsch, this ever-iterative model is a big part of what keeps repeat attendees excited and engaged. “Every couple of years, we totally redesign the space,” she says. “Reimagining the space on a regular basis keeps it looking new and maintained.” Whether that’s updating meeting room technology to reflect the latest and great gadgets or completely redesigning the aesthetic of a space, according to Telsch, staying ahead of updates is essential to ensure it never feels stale, while encouraging productivity.
A New Kind of Reception
This is every corporate event planners’ nightmare reception: a big punch bowl, polite conversation, and a sleepy cover band. Make sure your receptions stand out and speak to the modern workforce. “We always look at new ways to do receptions; people get tired of just doing a band or a deejay. We’ve had a number of clients that have enjoyed casino nights and silent discos [where people dance to music via wireless headphones] in place of the more traditional-style reception,” says Telsch. It’s critical to never repeat a reception, but innovate each time and keep an eye on new entertainment options – e.g. activity stations, like a margarita-making station or a caricature artist station – to really make it memorable.