By Rene Tamayo
Over the past five years, I have been fortunate to serve as the lead operations manager for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day® event series; a three day, sixty-mile event with thousands of participants walking to eradicate breast cancer. It is a challenging and inspirational event that necessitates the planning and production of many details. With the intensity of these efforts, it is sometimes difficult to stay grounded and ultimately stay focused on the needs and expectations of the participants and volunteers. Moving beyond the basic infrastructure of the event, such as setting up tents, portable toilets and showers, we also need to focus on bringing life and energy to the event site and route. Putting that “icing on the cake” helps to ensure your participants and volunteers are truly inspired by their participation in the event. Here are some cake decorating tips for you to think about when it comes to elevating and enhancing your event experience:
1. Get beyond the white tents. I work with an amazing and creative event team who push themselves to ensure that they bring as much color and visual inspiration to the event as possible. About three years ago, as we were planning a new season for the event series, one of our senior leaders, along with our creative team, decided to take the event camp site to a whole new level. Instead of camping it was “glamping.” At our 3-Day Main Street, we worked to dramatically improve our participant lounge. Instead of just putting out snacks and water at the tent, the team created a unique and attractive granola and nut bar with a variety of choices set up in nice dispensers with small pink pouches to use for the treats. Rather than just providing basic water and sports drink in drab looking coolers, the team used pretty, clear beverage dispensers with exotic named drinks such as “watermelon passion” and “luscious lemonade.” Where we once used rented chairs and tables, we were now offering a space that provided plush rugs set below comfortable, cushy lounge chairs with small and adorable coffee tables that were decorated with floral arrangements and a variety of magazines and small games for the participants. Industrial lights were exchanged for more decorative and festive stringed lights.
2. Go the extra mile with your participant experience. On our event, a majority of the participants’ time is spent walking during the three days of the event. Because of this, it is important to focus efforts on enhancing the route experience. From a walking perspective, the second day of our walk is the most challenging for the participants. They have already walked 20 miles the day before so getting through the afternoon and completing day two is difficult. Last season, we focused our attention on creating a “Survivor Stretch” for the last miles of the route. Starting from the last pit stop of the day, we heightened the experience by focusing on providing the walkers with a variety of inspirational elements along the route. Special route signage was created and placed in this section of the route that related to our Survivors, expressing thanks to the walkers for all they were doing to help them in their battle with breast cancer. We invited local breast cancer survivor groups and organizations to come out to this portion of the route and cheer and thank the walkers.
3. Give your participants your personal attention. Perhaps the most important type of “icing on the cake” is how we connect with participants and attempt to establish a special and genuine relationship with them. When a participant asks for directions, rather than just pointing in the right direction, take the participant there instead. While you do, interact with them. Find out who they are and how they are doing. Ask them why they are participating in the event. With thousands of participants, it is very easy to fall into the trap of communicating and interacting with participants as large groups rather than as individuals. While at the camp site, take time out from the many logistical tasks that need to be accomplished and volunteer to be out with the participants. Interact with them, listen to their questions and feedback. Let them know that you and the team are there to take care of them. If something is not to their satisfaction, try to make it right. If it can’t be done due to a specific protocol that needs to be followed, explain to them why it can’t be done and provide a couple of other options that might meet their needs. Making the effort to build a stronger relationship with individual participants will go a long way in ensuring that your event will be a success on many different levels.
While planning and executing an event can be all-consuming, putting the icing on the cake can make the experience sweeter for both you and your participants.
Rene Tamayo brings to the Event 360 team more than 12 years of experience in the event business. As the Event Execution Manager, he oversees all aspects of the event production including staffing, management and execution of the event series.