Meetings Canada


Member Voices: Sometimes things don't go as planned...

Rachel Cleland, CMP

Careful consideration is always taken when planning the format of any event, but sometimes things don’t go the way you envisioned them.

At a recent event, my client decided to change up the format of their longstanding awards banquet.  The goal was to offer the attendees the opportunity to relax, network and celebrate all at the same time.

The room was set up as an upscale cocktail reception with neutral and rustic decor elements. Traditional table rounds of eight were swapped out for a combination of lounge seating, with birch stump coffee tables, high tops and a few round tables with wooden chairs.  Bottled wine on the tables was replaced with beer and wine tasting stations and black tie service was replaced with food stations, serving a variety of small plates and passed canapés.

The event looked great and was a fantastic opportunity for networking BUT it had its flaws.

First, the intention was to integrate a series of award presentations and sponsor giveaways throughout the course of the evening.  Even though the AV company had zingers and a variety of music to capture people’s attention, it didn’t work.  The MC’s were loud and entertaining, but people were more interested in chatting with each other or found themselves standing in line for food, and weren’t paying attention to what was being said on stage.  This left the award recipients feeling like they didn’t get the recognition they deserved.

Secondly, the food stations of substance (pasta and the carving station) had long lineups all night.  Since they were smaller plates, people just didn’t feel like they received enough food.

The post-event survey feedback on the event wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either.  Funny enough at the end of the event we couldn’t get people to leave the room.  Usually, after the awards are handed out, the room clears out in 10 minutes flat.  This time, I had to turn the lights up, turn the music off and shut down the bar.  Even then I had to go around and ask people to politely leave.

This shows that the event format itself was great for allowing delegates to connect with each other. People were comfortable and enjoying milling around.  It also tells me that it is not the correct setup for a dinner where we require audience attention 75 percent of the time.

I think sometimes event organizers try to be all things to all people (provide networking, dinner and announce award winners) and should really stick to what the event was initially for – to recognize and honour the award winners.

Would I do this type of upscale lounge again?  Absolutely, but only for a cocktail reception with one or two quick speeches.

As an independent planner, don’t be afraid to test the waters with a different format or program. Although it may not work, you can always take something away to enhance your future events.


CanSPEP member Rachel Cleland, CMP is the founder of Laine Consulting, a business support company that helps businesses and associations achieve increased productivity and efficiency.  The Canadian Society of Professional Event Planners (CanSPEP) is a dynamic, diverse and innovative society of independent event professionals with a leading national voice in the event industry. It is the only association in Canada that offers an exclusive membership to independent event planner entrepreneurs. Formed in 1996, CanSPEP provides forums in which members exchange ideas, develop skills through educational programs and create a public awareness around the profession of event planners. 



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