In my 20 years in the meetings industry, I’ve organized and attended, more than my fair share of events. While I consider myself an expert, recently Richard Branson taught me a thing or two about how to create a memorable event.

By way of explanation, I was on Necker, Richard’s private island in the Caribbean, as part of a week-long event that saw 30 entrepreneurs from around the world come together to create social, environmental, and economic impact.

The takeaways were numerous, both personal and professional, but as I look back I can see how the development opportunities were underpinned by flawless event management.

While not every event is going to have the resources and amenities of Necker, many aspects of the conference could be replicated elsewhere. Here are five learnings you should incorporate into your next event:

Number 1

Give guests a sense of belonging ASAP

Helping attendees “find their tribe” before the event even starts sets them up for success and ensures they get the most from your event.
As we waited for the boat to take us to Necker Island, we were offered a drink at a local bar. The guest services team tagged our bags and took them off our hands. By the time the boat arrived, we had developed connections with our fellow attendees, setting the foundation for the personal and professional growth that would take place in the days to come.

The same result could be achieved by arranging networking events before your conference begins or using electronic badges to connect attendees with similar interests. Room sub-blocks could also be used to segment attendees and orchestrate interactions.

Make people feel special

The staff on Necker, from the guest services team to the kiteboarding pro, remembered our names and used them throughout our stay. There was a sunhat and a personal note in my room. And the Executive Chef remembered my affinity for truffle oil at mealtime.

Every event touch point offers an opportunity to make your guests feel like people, and not faceless “attendees”. Meet with your suppliers to explore how you can add personalization to your event. Make your registration process as seamless as possible. And be sure to use people’s names whenever possible – they’re wearing lanyards for a reason.

Feed your guests mindfully

While the mermaid serving sushi from a boat in the swimming pool was notable, what struck me about the food on Necker was its quality vs. quantity.
The chefs source food from local producers and take advantage of seasonal, regional produce. At every meal, we were offered fresh, healthy food. Always enough, but never too much. For those with dietary restrictions, there were vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options.
The food you serve directly impacts the way your guests feel. Help them feel alert and focused by serving good quality food. You can keep the costs down by trimming portion size if needed. And with the changing demographics of meetings, be sure to have a variety of dietary needs readily available.

Number 4

Change up the venue

Studies show that changing an attendee’s environment creates better recall, allowing them to absorb more information. We were in constant motion on Necker. The sessions were held in the Great Room, the Temple pagoda, on a nearby island, and on Richards’s catamaran. We even zip-lined from the main house to a session on the beach

Regardless of your event budget or primary venue, there are countless ways to keep your guests moving. Click here for more thoughts on upping your venue game.

Number 5

Be unexpected

I knew an event at Richard Branson’s house would be different, but I wasn’t expecting to launch myself down an inflatable Slip’n Slide in his living room, nor play an impromptu game of paddle board water polo while sipping champagne from floating coolers. And I won’t soon forget these experiences. Regardless of your venue, go a step beyond what’s anticipated to surprise and delight your guests. Book an unusual keynote speaker, use an unconventional venue or add an after-party just when everyone thinks it’s time to call it a night.
With event management, it’s often said that if you’re doing it right, nobody will notice. Well, my sun hat’s off to the team on Necker. I noticed.

Special thanks to conference organizers Fiona and Billy Chalk, who founded Change Makers Rule Breakers on the idea that great minds and great experiences can ignite ideas and create change with social, environmental, and economic impact. @ChangeMakersRuleBreakers.


Jeff Duncan is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Meetingmax, the largest provider of online group housing reservation technology in Canada. Meetingmax’s software is used by travel organizations in dozens of North American destinations and by organizers of high-profile events including South by Southwest, TED Conferences, Cisco Live, and Oracle OpenWorld. Meetingmax’s user conference, The Unconvention, takes an unconventional approach to your typical conference. 

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