Years ago, in the early days of my meeting planning career, I was tasked with a meeting for a local bank. The destination was set for Sarasota, Florida. As I reviewed the meeting specifications and prepared to meet my clients for the first time, I began to question their choices and was already thinking of ways to make the meeting more exciting. They would be cloistered in a meeting room during the day and the schedule called for cocktails and dinner in the evenings. There was one afternoon for activities, which for this group meant being out on the golf course. This was the same schedule of events they had been following for years. So it was no surprise that they were caught a bit off guard when I suggested bringing the group to Ca’d’Zan, the Venetian-style palazzo that was home to John Ringling, “the circus king,” and his wife Mable, for an off-site dinner. As I continued with my explanation of the evening, which included strolling musicians, roaming clowns, and magicians, I could see smiles come to their faces. This was certainly a departure from what they were used to, but they wanted in.
That evening, as they began arriving at the Mansion the group was greeted by clowns and serenaded by musicians. As they were seated for dinner under the loggia that ran along the perimeter of the meticulously manicured courtyard, it was clear that the event was making an impression on them. After dinner, the musicians continued to play, the magicians amazed up-close with their magic, and the clowns entertained while posing for photos. Our group wandered around the property admiring the gothic Venetian architecture, the bronze and stone replicas of Classical, Renaissance and Baroque garden sculptures, especially the replica of Michelangelo’s David. The entire experience harkened back to the Gilded Age of the Roaring Twenties when the glamorous Ringlings called this magnificent palazzo their home.
The next morning our group was still smiling, and they continued to talk about the event for the remainder of the program. Our client commented that even the quality of the meeting had been elevated, and that there was more participation among the group. Needless to say, the program was a great success and a most memorable experience for all who attended.
In the years that have followed, I have tried to incorporate a unique experience into all of my programs whenever possible. Granted, program objectives, purpose, and budget all play important roles in planning any meeting, event, or incentive travel program; but including a once-in-a-lifetime experience does not necessarily mean foregoing objectives or overextending the budget. Usually, an experience like the Ringling Mansion can be accomplished within the parameters of the program, and, most importantly, it’s an element that provides real value to both client and participants alike. After all, these types of memorable experiences can assist in articulating the message of a particular meeting or event, and they will certainly be associated with the host-company and sponsors for years to come. Giving people something to talk about is the return on the experience, and an easy way to bring recognition to your brand.
Contact HMI for ideas to get your attendees talking!