Make your meeting more of a sensory experience. The most important sign of a meeting's success is how much attendees recall. An overall theme, reinforced through a logo, events, and speakers, is a start. But why not further reinforce your meeting's content with planned sequences of memorable moments that stimulate attendees' senses?
Start with an Audit Conduct an audit of the images you're using. Then ask the hotel for the colors and patterns most frequently used in their sleeping, eating, meeting, and gathering spaces; take notes during your site visit so that your theme colors and images are compatible. Note where conflicting sounds come from (piped-in music, other meetings, back-of-house noises). Where do the kitchen smells waft? Are the walkways carpeted? Is it plush or thin? What do the chairs feel like? Is there natural light? Drive and walk through the major and minor "paths" your attendees will use, from the time they arrive at the airport to their departure. See and experience what they will experience.
* Build Sensory Opportunities Start with "low-tech" sensory experiences, such as greeting people by name or to shaking hands. Try scenting a general session in keeping with the speaker and meeting theme (for example, using lemon/ lime or suntan lotion during a midwinter, pre-lunch keynote speech). Lightly scent the handouts to match. Technology makes it possible to scent to refresh, relax, or renew without allergic reactions.
* Inflame Their Imaginations During a boring walk between meeting rooms, build interest with a sequence of messages on stands or on the walls--like the old highway signs with rhyming phrases. Create suspense about award recipients, a surprise guest, or a contest. Leave cryptic messages beneath meeting room chairs, under attendees' hotel room doors while they sleep, or next to their plates at lunch.
* Treat Attendees Like VIPs Consider having a team of people greet arrivals at the hotel door(s), perhaps in costume, to give them a welcome gift that's fun to see, touch, and taste. Have a second gift waiting in their rooms, perhaps a contest announcement. The more cared-for attendees feel, the more positive they will feel about the meeting. They'll also be more willing to participate and to forgive any mishaps.
* Let Them Play During waits, whether at registration or a coffee break, plan amusements that catch peoples' eyes, or that they can hold or hear. For example, have ventriloquists or magicians roam the gathering to build movement, excitement, and involvement. Or have mimes follow and imitate attendees in gentle fun and hand out mementos.
* "Picture" People Having Fun One way to get people involved is to videotape or photograph them. Have a videographer capture attendees' responses to meeting interactions for use in a continuous-feed loop shown on TV monitors at eye level in gathering places. Or interview people for their opinions on a meeting topic and/or comments on a favorite co-attendee. Have several photographers with Polaroid cameras shoot groups and individuals. These can quickly be taken to a local copy center and enlarged for an ever-growing "Meeting Montage" on a central wall in the meeting area.
* Add Some Sound Place portable audiotape and CD players at excitement-starved places during strategic times. Play music related to the meeting theme, or run sound bites of attendees who have been interviewed about their advice or praise for their peers, or an "Eavesdrop": lively conversation between meeting leaders about the meeting high points. Change the tapes so attendees can look forward to new experiences.
* Reinforce Meeting Memories Before the meeting starts, lay out a post-meeting newsletter filled with comments from the speakers, awards announcements, news of important dates, etc. During the meeting, gather photos and attendee comments, place them in the holes left in the newsletter, and then quick-copy and mail the newsletter at the end of the meeting, so they receive it soon after returning home. Send an e-mail, too, thanking them for participating. Then follow up a week later with a package of gifts, again thanking attendees and reminding them of the calls for action on their part. Few meetings include immediate follow-up to attendees; fewer still follow up more than once.
When you begin to see your meeting as a theatrical production, you'll start to consider attendees' every waking moment. The payoff? They'll have a more positive, memorable experience.