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Don't just plan an event...

By Ashley

Why do people pay $5 for a cup of coffee at Starbucks, when they can grab a cup at the gas station for $1?  Experience.  Starbucks takes the time to really appeal to all 5 of your senses.  They create a visually appealing store, play relaxing but hip music, provide comfy chairs to hang out in and let their coffee and baked goods take care of the delicious tastes and smells.  Starbucks understands that we have limitless choices of where to buy our coffee, so they set themselves apart by creating an experience that entices you to come back time and time again.

The same rings true for us as event planners.  Your attendees have a million choices of how to spend their time and money, so how do you create an experience that draws them in and keeps them buzzing about it well after they've gone home?  When we incorporate elements that appeal to each of our 5 senses, we don't just plan an event, we create an experience.

1. Define Your Message

Okay, that sounds great, but where do I start?  The first thing you want to do is to define your message.  Not your theme...your message.  What one message do you want people to go home with?  This will help you to build the rest of your event experience if you know how you want people to feel and what you want them to think when they've left.

2. Determine Your Look and Feel

The next step is to determine the look and feel of your event that supports your message.  A great tool to get you started here is the Virtual Design Deck (  This is a great free tool that will help you to choose the colors, lines and shapes, mood and materials that will be the basis of your experience.

Then you want to look at your event from the viewpoint of your attendees' needs.  Every attendee, regardless of age, has some immediate wants, professional/educational wants, and childlike wants.  Immediate wants are things like food and rest.  Professional/educational wants are what your attendee is looking to get out of this event.  If it's a religious event, likely they want to learn more about Jesus and to be rejuvenated in their faith.  Childlike wants include entertainment, having fun, and making memories.  Additionally, everyone falls into 1 of 3 learning categories: auditory, visual, kinesthetic.  So if you're trying to reach your entire audience, you want to keep all 3 in mind as you plan.

3.  Design Your Event Map

The last step is to design your event map.  Start with a diagram of the room(s), including any reception or waiting areas.   Then "walk" through the space and identify areas where you can address the "wants" of your attendees.  This could include beverage and snack stations, a lounge area to relax, power bars for charging devices, or an "experience tunnel" to set the tone for those entering your event.  In all areas, you want to keep in mind how each element will appeal to each of the 5 senses, while remaining true to your message and your look and feel.

A note on smell...
Appealing to sight, sound, touch and taste are typically pretty easy.  Smell, however, is one area where you want to be careful.  Keep anything you do with scent to a contained area.  You want to create an experience, not an allergic reaction.  So maybe you have a beach theme and you use an ocean breeze scent in your experience tunnel so that people immediately get the feeling of the beach when they walk into your event, but it dissipates as they walk into the main meeting area.

4.  Details

You may be saying, "Wow...this sounds expensive!" but that doesn't have to be the case.  Really all that is required is some creative thinking.  Using the resources you already have, but arranging them in a way that appeals to your attendees' senses while satisfying their wants.  Keep in mind that the details make the difference.  Little details or "Easter Eggs" throughout your event that are inexpensive but unexpected can leave a big impact.  Little things like putting a hula skirt on the lady on the restroom sign if you have a Hawaiian theme, or placing a small welcome gift in each room to thank your attendees for coming don't cost much, but leave a big impression and get people talking.

In the words of the late Maya Angelou, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

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Based at Lake Williamson / PO Box 620 / Carlinville, IL 62626