We've been arranging trips and other company events for the past nine years. And we think we are experts in this field now - at least in arranging events for software companies.
We do our yearly anniversary trip which is usually a 8-10 days' trip outside the country, we do a 2-3 days' trip, called the picnic for some long forgotten reason, every year. Apart from these big regular ones, we do several weekend trips to various places within Bangladesh and dozens of smaller events like the borderline insane "hudai party" (see our fb page at fb.com/kazsoftware for more pictures and stories) or more mundane stuff like release dinner parties, training workshops, various sporting events, brainstorming off-sites, etc.
We know pretty well when an event is far from perfect, and we've learnt a few things about what makes a company event approach perfection.
While planning and finalizing the Thailand trip for this year's anniversary party (Yesssssssssss.... its going to be super cool with 8 days of fun in Ao Nang Beach Krabi) I remembered some of the things we have learnt and thought it would be good to share with my readers. So here goes:
1. Think BIG
It's best to think big. Because if you don't your plan keeps getting budget cuts and will start losing it's charm. Budget will always make things difficult for you whatever the size of company you are - but if you don't aim high the trip/event plan will never be great. So we think seriously big, I mean HUGE and then cut things down one at a time to fit with the money in hand. For example, the moment we thought we could do Thailand this year the first thing we said was that we would never do the old and tired Bangkok-Pattaya thing. It's just not us, 2 days in a crazy city and 2 days in a crowded dirty beach. We searched for the most pristine beach out in Thai coast, found the most expensive looking resort and said we wanted to stay there for 7 days (since 2 days is just too little and saying 8 days would have killed our boss). The resort seemed very happy that about 40 nerdy guys wanted to stay over there, and gave us the cost - a figure which can easily be the deposit for personal jet to fly us out there. So we googled again to find the next best one out on the beach... and the cycle went on.
2. Never underestimate the power of a group
Group travel or group booking does wonders to bring the cost down in any place. Use the group's number to bring down hotel prices, make the bus company give out free seats and make the restaurants give out extra special menus. The power of the group does amazing things to an event plan - use it and over use it.
3. Have a high up champion
Make sure someone from the management (or any decision making group) is a strong supporter of the event. Having a powerful champion will solve your problems of fighting the enemy within in the struggle to organize that perfect event. You'll need her support for sure. Since you are thinking big all the time - you will run out of budget, ideas that are real fun may not seem all that good for the company to powerful people, and the list goes on. Your supporter will help you sail through the red tape and make things possible. Without a champion at the right place, you will compromise at all levels and soon end up with an event that is just plain boring.
4. Involve everyone in the group
All decisions should have a feeling that it came from the group. This is vitally important to break the "us and them" feeling that creeps up in company events. The group should be consulted at every point of decision making like venue, things to do etc. This makes the group feel that they are part of the event's planning and that feeling helps them overlook a lot of issues that might otherwise sour the event and draw criticism from the participants. So run surveys, impromptu meetings or just plain group discussions on email to ask for ideas or help.
5. Have an element of surprise
Obviously company events need to be formal to a certain degree. There would be memos describing the event in as boring a way as memos describing appropriate dress code in a business meeting for the nudist resort's website :) But an element of surprise as in the sentence before (hopefully there was one) help liven up the actual event. A surprise could be as simple as ice-cream that wasn't in the menu or a little gift - but it should be done around the beginning to have the right effect.
6. Create hype
Hype is probably more important than the event itself. The right kind of hype when mixed with the right kind of planning can make a very low budget event a great success. A great thing for a company is that most of the hype can be done for free. Free hype could be as simple as a group emails describing how good the event would be or some aspect of it which is likely to be exciting for the group ("we will see the new VS from MS - still in secret beta!") . Posters in the hallway or even whiteboard screaming out messages can create a lot of hype. But one thing to remember is that hype should be matched somehow in the event itself - or it would be a disaster! So only hype things you know will happen.
For example, for our Anniversary party at Thailand a series of amazing pictures of sights around Thailand does a great job at building up the excitement which makes the party much more fun.
7. Create an icon for larger events
Iconography is something people understand. Using a theme, wording and icons help promote an event, makes it more interesting and easier to talk about. For a custom software company like us creating icons, posters and themes is relatively easier since we have our own design teams. Here is our banner for the Thailand trip this month...