This past weekend, a large contingency of our Event 360 staff found ourselves in Michigan to produce the first event of the 2019 Susan G. Komen 3-Day season. We have been working behind the scenes for the past 12 months, and despite the long hours and sweaty weather, it was great to see it all finally come to life.

Every year we look for ways to change things up; this year was no different. With the help of the client and other partners, we focused on and committed to giving the Komen 3-Day a much-needed refresh. We changed many elements of the event in hopes of giving our participants (many who return year after year) something new to fall in love with and get excited about. And I’m really proud to confidently say that we nailed it.

I could list out all the things we changed and share the grueling process on the back end, but I don’t know how much fun that’ll be for any of us. Instead, I’ll share four key takeaways from the Great Big 3-Day Refresh of 2019:

Surprise and Delight
When you have an event that is primarily made up of repeat participants, it’s important to not do the same thing over and over again. When you have budgetary constraints (and what non-profit doesn’t?), this can be challenging. But it’s important to keep the experience fresh and to give participants something new to get excited and to talk about. Once you do, make sure you create a way for them to share it on social too. It’s the best way to spread the word and to get other event participants excited.

Use your expert brainstorming skills to think of all the possibilities. Like all good brainstorming sessions, no idea is a bad one. Use this as a jumping off point and then with a smaller work group, narrow down your options, present them to the client, get buy-in and then move forward with your surprise and delight elements!

Shorter is Better
Does your event have a ceremony or any other event element where you’re bringing participants together to pay attention to speeches or prepared statements/ceremonies? If yes, I implore you to look for ways to make it shorter.

We’ve learned over the years that you can only hold people’s attention for so long. In our case, it’s about 12 – 15 minutes. Anything longer than that and you run the risk of losing the audience. It can be tempting to fill time with a program agenda, but ultimately you’re setting yourself up for a disengaged audience who will likely be distracted by other conversations, their phone or boredom.

Instead of dragging things out, figure out how to say and share your message in a way that brings your participants along for an emotional ride filled with hope, reflection, joy and purpose and then set them free (to do the event or to go home).

Identify and Keep the Sacred Cows
Do you know the event elements that are most important to your participants? If not, you should spend time with your staff identifying what they are. It’s key to know what these are, so as you work on surprising and delighting your participants, you know what you should integrate into the new elements you want to introduce. While your participants will totally appreciate the new elements, they don’t want them to be added at the cost of the ones they love the most. During the Closing Ceremony of each 3-Day, when we introduce our survivors and those living with breast cancer, all other participants take their shoes off and do the “shoe salute.” While it happens organically, we have to hold a space in the ceremony for this to happen. We know this is a key part to the end of the event and would never think about eliminating it.

While it’s great to make changes, don’t drop the unique aspects of your event that most participants look forward to and identify as a key element of your event.

Change Doesn’t Have to be Bad
While it’s easy in the event planning world to keep things the same as it makes our unpredictable jobs a little more predictable, change is an important aspect of the work we do. And as we all know, change doesn’t have to be bad. Change provides us with an opportunity to do things better and differently. It allows us to use our brains in different ways. But most importantly, it provides us with a way to keep our participants engaged and excited.

We changed a LOT of things on the 3-Day this year. My head spins just thinking about it. But at the same time, I’m incredibly proud of what our team pulled off. The feedback from participants was immediate and they shared rave reviews with us. Their positive remarks reinforced the importance of changing things up and helped keep us going during the long hours and exhausting work. Because at the end of the day, we truly just want to put on an event that our participants enjoy, will keep coming back to and want to share with their own friends and family.

We still have six more events to produce this year, and I can safely speak for our entire 3-Day team when I say that we are invigorated and excited to do it all over again in Twin Cities, New England, Seattle, Philadelphia, Dallas/Fort Worth and San Diego! Come join us!

Molly Fast leads the company’s local operations for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day series and is privileged to work with Event 360’s participant-facing team. For over 15 years, Molly has been fortunate enough to combine her love of fundraising with the ability to make a difference in the work she does focusing on exceeding expectations and delighting participants along the way. When not roaming around Ireland, Molly can be found taking photos, exploring hidden stair cases or talking to strangers in Santa Monica where she lives with her husband. You can find Molly on  TwitterLinkedIn and her favorite social media tool, Instagram.

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