If you’ve ever planned — or even thought about planning an event — you know there’s a lot to consider.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a small gathering for a handful of loyal customers or a major gala for your entire organization, you want to make sure it’s well-attended and that you’re offering something valuable to the people who show up.

As a Solution Provider Marketing Manager at Constant Contact, and the point person for planning our annual Solution Provider conference, OneCon, Joe Ribaudo knows a thing or two about planning a successful event.

I recently asked Joe a few questions to learn more about the planning and preparation that goes into an event, and how audience feedback can help shape a valuable experience for you and your attendees.

Coming up with a reason or theme for an event can be a challenge, where did the original idea for OneCon come from?

We hadn’t really had any large-scale events for our partners before, so the idea was to bring these folks together to learn from us — and more importantly — each other, and network. We knew this was something they were looking for based on the emails, surveys, and in-person conversations we had with our partners.

So the whole idea of hosting a major event was something that came directly from our audience.

I think our attendees walked away from our first OneCon (in 2013) seeing that this partnership is more than a program — we’ve got our own little community here, which is something our partners wouldn’t have realized without the event.

Once your event theme was established, how did you go about deciding what topics to cover?

One of the things we heard from attendees after our first event was that they wanted more practical education on how to market their own business. Our first event was really focused on Constant Contact, and what the partnership offered, which was well received. But we wanted this to be an event that would benefit their business year round.

We really ended up starting from scratch and used our survey data to put ourselves in the shoes of our partners and give the best event we could.

We brainstormed a lot of ideas and ended up with a list that we felt would provide our attendees with that holistic range of subjects.

For us, the big takeaway was that you should never be afraid to ask your colleagues, business partners and other influencers in your life to help you build out content for your event. One of the things that helped us most was that there are a lot of smart folks at Constant Contact and we took full advantage of that.

Once we had our speakers/session leaders, we looked at each session and determined if we could ask one of our partners to sit in on a panel discussion or be a speaker. Involving your partners as speakers can help grow the knowledge base and experience for your attendees, and it helps you to strengthen the relationships you have with your partners.

How has feedback shaped your plans for upcoming events?

Feedback can really help to determine what worked and what wasn’t so successful. Asking questions like “what went well?,” “what can we improve upon?,” “what content resonated the most for you?,” and “what did we miss?” can help you to understand your audience and make your next event even more successful than the first.

Just like a follow-up call to a prospect, you don’t want to just ask for feedback once. Use other touch-points to ask attendees what they thought of your event.

We asked attendees of our 2015 Kickoff online event and used our bi-annual Solution Provider satisfaction survey to gauge what our partners needed from us. We plan to use all this information to improve our next event. Remember, feedback is a gift!

We continued to ask for that feedback via surveys (even if the surveys weren’t OneCon-related) to get ideas on how to improve. That’s what it’s all about — identify those needs — which will continue to change, and then act on them.

This year, OneCon 2015 is going to be held in Las Vegas solely because of feedback. Our partners in the US are fairly evenly distributed across the country, so we asked them where they would like us to go for 2015…so Vegas it is! Following through on customer feedback really shows that you respect their opinion and are taking what they say seriously.

Do you have any advice for someone whose full-time job isn’t an event coordinator, but they know they want to put on an event for their business?

First thing to do is to ask yourself the following: “What am I trying to accomplish here — is there a business or fundraising goal? What do I want my attendees to walk away with? What are the benefits to attending my event? What’s going to make my attendees come back next time?”

Once you answer those questions, you and your team will all be on the same page, and pointed in the right direction. You might even walk away with a completely different event than what you initially had in mind after you explore those questions.

Second, it’s all about people. What skills do you need to execute your event, and who can help you?  The bigger and more diverse your team is, the easier the event will be on you and everyone involved.

From a planning perspective, work backwards to the present day once you set the date of your event.  See if you need to push your date out further — you might realize you’re going to run out of time for planning.

Next, tackle the big things: are people traveling long distances to your event? Secure the hotel arrangements — you can often negotiate a group rate. Then secure your meeting venue, your speakers/entertainment, your event staff, your food, and your audio/visual needs. Lots of hotels and event centers have folks on staff to help you think about these things. You might not be able to secure the venue you want on your preferred date, so you’ll need to think about this up front.

From there, focus on the content/entertainment/etc… never be afraid to reach out to your potential attendees and ask them what they need. Once you’ve secured these items, then it’s time for you to create that registration campaign and plan out your email campaigns to inform people of your event and drive them to your registration page.

Don’t sweat the small stuff: If you love the idea of running an event for your business but aren’t sure about how to market your event, we have a team of Solution Providers available in your area to help!

Finally, don’t forget about the details. Visualize yourself at your future event as an attendee. This will help you to think about the things you need to do as an event coordinator in order to create that “wow factor” for your attendees. And if you’re having trouble thinking of things that will resonate with your audience, don’t be afraid to ask them.

Running a successful event requires an active audience

The great thing about asking for feedback is you don’t have to make all the decisions yourself. Let your potential attendees guide you throughout your event planning process.

And if you’re a Constant Contact Solution Provider, OneCon 2015 is an event you won’t want to miss, mainly because it was built with you in mind!

Learn more about OneCon 2015.