In this episode, our host, Jeff Naue, interviews our award-winning Event Design Manager, Alexander deHilster, on reimagining events and creating experiences. Hear how Alexander’s aha! moment reshaped his perspective of event design for future in-person events as he takes us through the changing role and value of a professional event designer.
Join us for this 10-minute conversation on what you need to know before you design your next in-person or hybrid event.
Alexander, tell us about your role and how it comes into play when we think about moving events forward.
Yes, since COVID-19, I’ve been involved with the Task Force to provide design expertise related to moving events forward both hybrid and in-person. As the Event Design Manager, I’m involved with all creative aspects of special events such as awards dinners, opening, and closing receptions, incentives, and out-of-the-ordinary activity experiences. My background is not actually only in creating special events, I’ve also worked in the tour industry, restaurants, and bars, hotels plus a destination management company (DMC) before falling into the meeting and event planning industry. These backgrounds have really helped me with my involvement with the Events > Forward Task Force.
Can you tell us about this tool, EventVisualizer, that you and your team have been using?
One of the key elements of professional event design is always the consideration of the physical space. It starts with understanding the client’s vision and what experience they are trying to create for their guests and attendees. There are tools and software that can help achieve this goal and I have used many of them over the years. However, just before the COVID lockdown, I was exploring other options that offered better functionality and discovered this one. What I love about the tool is that you can show the client the floor plan in not only 2D; but also 3D. You can send them a link so they can explore the venue dynamically on their own. And, they can even walk virtually through the venue space, around the furniture, décor, and even onto the stage.
Why did your team decide to proactively reimagine your room set process?
Once it was announced we should be 6’ physically distancing, I started contacting both hotel and offsite venues regarding their seating capacity norms for different room sets and comparing those to the new recommendations. In the back of my mind, I always look at venues and think of all the things I need to create. I didn’t pay much attention to maximum occupancy levels, because for my events, I always need more space than the number of people the room can hold. I took one of our client’s events that was rescheduled to 2021. I looked at the current design and wanted to see what the new norm could accommodate. According to the hotel, the ballroom could hold more than 3,900 guests without anything else in it, but chairs. With the rear screen projections, staging, sound booth, and more, it now comfortably held 1,300 people with plenty of space to move around. Then, once I factored the 6’ foot rule to the mix, it could only safely hold 300 in that same room that originally held 3,900. That was my “aha” moment. I saw an opportunity to help our clients reimagine their in-person meetings and events.
Can you share some examples of why this is helpful for event planning and the destination research process?
Now, we need to rethink how we are going to plan and design events of the future. First, is the meeting going to be in person, virtual or hybrid? Second, do we really want/need all these attendees or only a core group?
In the past, it was a broad distribution of invitations. And, for conferences, often there was no limitation who would be invited, just fill the room and spread the word. Basically, the more people the better for marketing purposes. However, with new safety protocols and physically distancing, clients will be looking very closely at who should be invited. They will be asking if their attendance could benefit their organization, justify the expense, and show the highest ROI. That will be the new norm.
Can you speak to how this is affecting planners and their final budgets? And, what advice would you give to them to help them protect that bottom line?
Planner and clients will be affected in multiple ways, and not just by the budget. If a venue contract has already been signed, it will be important to renegotiate the terms. That is why it is so important to make sure during the sourcing and contracting process that you have clauses to minimize your risk and it also helps to have strong relationships in the industry.
For example, hotels traditionally have had space and room ratios that no longer apply. While you may have fewer attendees, which means fewer sleeping rooms – you will still need the same amount of meeting space due to safety protocols.
On the other hand, if you still want the same number of attendees, or maybe only reduce the number of attendees slightly, larger spaces will be required. Especially with food and beverage set-ups.
One item that planners may not think about is that the load-ins and load-outs need to be staggered. This is not only for your event but also for other programs at the property in addition to all the vendors that the hotel works with from laundry, landscaping, F&B deliveries, waste removal, etc.
Specifically speaking to budgets, do you have some tips or recommendations?
For watching the bottom line there are many options. Here are just a few:
- Simplify the menu and options to reduce food cost as your overall F&B might increase due to additional staff required to serve your guests.
- Change your beverage packages. If hosting a reception, consider just beer/wine/soda for cost reduction. And, if on consumption, it will take less time for guests to stay in line to obtain a beverage.
- Reduce printed items. Everything should be online, accessible on your phone, or a tablet.
- Eliminate the amenities and room drops.
There are creative and less expensive ways to add to the attendee experience.
Can you tell me the value of hiring a professional event designer, and why a meeting planner would want a professional event designer’s input?
A meeting or event is more than just tables and chairs. It is more than just sit down and get through the program. The way I work is that I carefully listen to what my client wants and needs. It is the overall feel of the room and the venue, too. That can be a hotel or offsite venue. Also, I don’t go to vendors and venues just because I know them. I select vendors and venues because I understand what the client is looking to achieve. I do my research to see which one benefits them the most. For vendors, I might use a variety (a little bit of this and a little bit of that) to create what the client is looking for versus just going to a vendor because that is who I work with. If it just a room set (tables and chairs), does the client really need an event designer? Maybe not. However, if it is about flow, design, and décor – we are an important part of creating those experiences.