“Perception is reality.”

We’ve all heard this before. And whether you believe in it or not, the truth is that sometimes, no matter how hard you try, it’s what people see and believe that ends up being reality.

Here’s an example: When I was a teen, my little sister believed there was a “monster” living under her bed. No matter how much I reassured her that she was imagining it, she didn’t care. It was her perception that there was a monster there, and that was her reality.

She’s since matured, but I’m still working with perception/reality issues: This one involving event hosts and their attendees.

The good news is that no matter how much work there may be to do, and no matter how unprepared you may feel, you can create the perception that you’ve got it all under control and that your attendees are at a professionally organized event.

From the invitation to the post-event follow-up, just follow these 5 simple tips designed to impress your audience, and you’ll leave them thinking what a professional host you are.

1. Make the first impression count

Organizing a class, workshop, or event can be stressful and time-consuming, and often results in us “taking the easy route.”

Don’t let that happen with the first impression your audience gets of your event. It’s the most important one, after all.

Utilize programs and tools that will allow you to create a professional-looking invitation that’s representative of your business or organization’s unique look and feel (at a minimum, it should include your logo and brand colors).

Then, avoid another popular shortcut and make registering for your event simple and easy. Cut out questions that collect unnecessary information; they only lengthen the process. And please, don’t ask your potential registrants to email or call you to get signed up. The same tool you used to create the invitation should be able to collect the necessary registrant data you need.

2. Plan, plan, plan

In a perfect world, what would your guests do before, during, and after your event? Try creating a simple timeline starting with the save the date or RSVP, the event reminder, event date, and dates of post-event follow up. Then expand into each section further.

  • Before: Should your guests forward their invitation to friends, should they share on Facebook that they’ve just registered, should they prepare something to bring to the event?
  • During: How long will people be mingling before things get started, when will programs start and end, how much time will be built in for breaks/lunch, etc?
  • After: What do you want your attendees to walk away from the event thinking or doing differently, are you encouraging them to post pictures from the event on Facebook, should they look for a post-event feedback survey?

Incorporate these actions into your timeline, and ultimately into your agenda/event content

3. Create interaction

Don’t assume your attendees will automatically interact with each other at your event. Instead, create the opportunity to make connections for them!

One way to do this is by ensuring your event has a Twitter hashtag, and encouraging its use. By tweeting with the hashtag, attendees will see who else is attending, and will be able to network ahead of time. At minimum, they’ll know who to look out for when they get to your venue.

At the event, you can get creative by splitting attendees into groups and give them a challenge to solve together. Try giving groups mixed-up definitions and answers to see which group can match the most correctly, or have people put something interesting on their name tag, such as their high school mascot.

Creating the interaction opportunities for your attendees rather than letting them happen on their own shows an extra level of organization and preparedness that gives a better overall impression of your event.

4. Check and recheck core resources

Nothing can change the impression of your event quicker than unexpected audio/visual problems. Make sure your projection screen works with the computer or laptop you plan on using. Double-check that the microphone works and has new batteries. A 10-minute dry run could be the best 10 minutes you invest in your event.

5. Capture the moment

You’ve had a great event with high energy and great engagement between attendees, now capitalize on it!

Have a designated picture area near the exit and encourage attendees to have their picture taken or to record a video message about the event. Put out a guest book where people can share thoughts about their experience.

Share these pictures, videos and comments on your Facebook Page, and use them when it’s time to promote your next event. Nothing sells an event better than pictures and comments from actual attendees.

If possible, have a computer set up with an open survey that can capture and organize all the great feedback and quotes you’ll get. This is also a great opportunity to grow your contact list, so be sure to present the option to join your list to stay in touch.

There you have it.

Those are the 5 simple steps that can help give your event that extra professional look and feel. You’ll be glad your attendees’ perception matched the reality you worked so hard to create!  (And by the way, no monsters were hurt in the writing of this blog post.)

What do you do to give your events a more professional look and feel? Share your thoughts with us in the comments field below. And to get even more insights, be sure to follow @CTCTEvent on Twitter.