Meetings

Lessons in Event Planning From a Rock Concert

By / Mar 21, 2014 Arcade Fire playing the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia this week. (photo by Samantha Whitehorne)

Every planner wants his or her next meeting to have the same hype and entertainment value as a concert. Steal these five ideas from a recent concert to make your next event a sellout.

I’ll start this blog post by revealing a neither  deep nor dark secret about myself: I’m a bit of a music fanatic. (OK, for the sake of full disclosure, maybe more than a bit.) In fact, I’ve referenced bands and concerts and the general music industry in at least one or two (all right, maybe three) of my previous posts. But, whether you enjoy seeing live music or not (do these people really exist?), I think there’s a ton the meetings industry can learn from what happens at a really great concert.

That notion was reinforced when I was up in Philadelphia earlier this week to see the indie rock group Arcade Fire. Here are five things that I took away from this particular show that I think planners should think about as they go about executing their upcoming conferences and events.

Give some thought to how you can engage attendees and get them excited about what’s coming up next.

Start the hype early—and keep it going. I blogged about the band asking fans to wear formalwear or costumes to the concert a few months back when I bought my tickets. The request definitely got people talking. Some loved the idea, while others called the dress code pretentious and ridiculous. The band responded saying it wasn’t required, but rather they recommended it to create a more fun atmosphere and build camaraderie between fans. The latter sounds a whole lot like community building, doesn’t it? While the majority didn’t dress up, I was surprised by how many attendees were in costumes, suits, and fancy dresses, especially given that it was only 20 degrees outside. But this speaks to the power of building buzz, which the venue helped create. For the three days leading up to the concert, I got emails telling me about restaurants and bars that would be open early or pre-parties that were happening, creating a sense of urgency and making me feel like I didn’t want to miss out.

Choose the right opening act. There were two opening acts before the headliner, but Dan Deacon, who immediately preceded Arcade Fire, was a great example of how one person can really engage a crowd and get them even more excited for what’s to come. He not only managed to get thousands of people on the arena’s floor to form a dance circle, but he also got them to run from one side to another giving each other high-fives and then break up into two groups and mimic the dance moves of a designated team leader. I realize it’s unlikely your attendees will want to do exactly this, but do give some thought to how you can engage them and get them excited about what’s coming up next—whether that’s a speaker or some other event.

Surprise and delight attendees. It’s always the unexpected that stands out. Win Butler, lead singer of Arcade Fire, joined the pre-show dance party, jumping around on the floor and giving his fans high-fives. While unrecognized by some, those who did see him were overwhelmingly happy to be that close to him and see him interact with his fans. Think about how you could give your attendees a chance to get face time with your general session speakers. Perhaps it’s a smaller session for VIPs where they can ask questions.

Pay homage to your event’s location. At every stop on the tour so far, the band has played a song by a famous musician or band from that particular city or state. In Minneapolis, they played Prince’s “Controversy,” and in Michigan, the crowd got Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and “Uptight (Everything’s Alright).” You know what we got in Philadelphia? Boyz II Men’s “Motownphilly.” The crowd got into it immediately. Associations do a good job of celebrating local history and incorporating local elements into their conferences, whether through food and beverage options, evening-event venues, or volunteer opportunities. Consider other creative ways you can make this happen.

Keep the party going. Sure, all good things must come to an end, but who likes to be rushed out? Instead of having the arena go black and forcing the crowd to exit immediately after the band left the stage, a DJ played some more music, letting the dance party continue for some and giving those who were exiting some good music (i.e., Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place”) to listen to as they made their way out.

You know how else I can tell how great the show was? I’ve been listening to Arcade Fire nonstop and am a little bit sad that I have to wait five months to see them again when they come to DC. Don’t you want your meeting attendees to feel the same way when they leave your association’s meeting? Perhaps they’ll be craving even more knowledge after your conference, buying books and registering for more events, the way a band’s fans may download music after a concert they loved.

What other ideas can associations steal from live music events for their upcoming meetings and conferences? Share your thoughts below.

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now. More »

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