This post is part of the HopSkip Planner Spotlight Series where HopSkip spotlights planners across the industry to bring awareness of how they adapted to COVID-19, communicating and lessons learned and sharing how they are viewing the meetings and events industry in a post-pandemic world.
Name: Jake Dixon
Company Name: The Locker Room
Job Title: Founder/CEO
Years of Experience: 9
How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
I have always been an avid learner. Attending personal development and business conferences always gave me so much energy and insight into what others are doing to be successful. It was so motivating to see what is possible when you get a group of like-minded and positive achievers together in one room. Therefore, I was inspired to begin hosting our own events as a way to build relationships and pay forward the value I have received from so many others. Events are such a great way to connect, amplify your voice and message to your ideal audience, add value to others, and create a ripple effect!
How do you compare planning your first in-person event post-pandemic, to planning meetings/events pre- Covid? What was different and unique? What was similar?
What was your number one challenge in hosting your first in-person event(s) and how did you overcome it?
Event planning takes a lot of thought, consideration, and logistics as it is. Our first event Post-Covid was certainly challenging. We felt like we had to allow extra time for planning and promotion in order to get guests confident enough to register for an in-person event. We gave ourselves about 9 months to market and promote our big conference, and we were able to sell out. There was definitely some hesitation initially and, unfortunately, some registrants who could not come last minute due to getting Covid, but in all, I felt the time allowed us to be diligent, plan appropriately, and allow enough space for others to feel comfortable getting together in person again. We took into consideration things we did not have to previously, such as hand-sanitization, a protocol of wearing masks if comfortable and respecting those who choose not to, as well as things like food and beverage and doing a boxed lunch option vs. a buffet line where some may not feel comfortable with the proximity to food. We also had to consider the seating logistics and the setup of the room in order to allow enough space for our guests to be comfortable. This translated into group exercises being done differently than we would have pre-Covid due to the involvement and proximity with peers. Much of our activities were slightly less intimate, and we opted to make them more instructional or group discussion based.
I would say our greatest challenge was the comfortability factor. We controlled everything within our control, but at the end of the day, a person's personal choice is theirs to make. So as much as we tried to take every precaution and take into consideration every detail to make our guests feel safe and welcome - you could never truly get to the root of how the other person was feeling. Our efforts gave confidence, so it was never personal, but at the end of the day, I know individuals did not come out of fear of risking their health or perhaps just not being ready to be in a room again with people traveling all over the country in attendance. This really made us think about future events and how we may be able to incorporate a virtual live-stream option, so those who wanted to be in attendance aren't strong-armed into being there, but instead can participate online.
What is the top learning that you uncovered from the last two years that you’re implementing in your planning process today? (any other tips or tricks you want to share?)
Be a 360-degree leader. As ambitious as we are and as enthusiastic as we can be to share our knowledge in a room filled with people, you must slow down and consider every angle, every perspective, and every probability. By doing so, you are at least communicating the message that we care, we have thoroughly thought through the planning process, and aren't oblivious to the needs and perspectives of others. I have found this really helps build confidence in your guests and creates a solid foundation of trust, regardless of whether them attending in person or not. People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care, and in this case, we should sweat the small stuff. The event planning process is hard enough already, yet considering the small details, including health protocols, can serve you well and go a long way toward the success of your event and the reputation of your brand.
Get creative with your options. Hotels are a great option, but there are other beautiful options out there who would love an opportunity to earn your business for an event. Local colleges and universities or other convention centers may be great alternatives that are also budget-friendly since they may not come with associated fees such as food & beverage minimums. The more control you have allows you to be flexible in your approach while still providing a great experience. Additionally, we have found the importance of "boots on the ground." Instead of guessing or re-inventing every time you want to host an event, have a team you can rely on who is able to drive to see a venue, host conversations, assist with setup and tear down, etc. Not to mention, many venues are willing to give you a good deal by re-booking with them or booking multiple times, so the more you master the venue, it creates predictability for the future when you no longer have to commit to an event site unseen.
We have begun diversifying our interests more so than in the past. Meaning, that we are seeking quotes and options from various sources, whereas, in the past, we may have stuck with the familiar. It's amazing to see the spectrum of prices and options when you slow down to compare and contrast instead of just committing to the first available. This is especially true if you have flexibility on dates. One weekend could be astronomically higher due to weddings or other events taking place, so it's essential to ask for quotes for multiple dates if possible so you can really compare your options side by side.
Due to the pandemic, our events community had to evolve, adapt, and grow. Many planners started to embrace new technologies as a result of the pandemic. What new tech are you using today in your planning process as a result?
We have really utilized the Monday.com platform to plan our events. We make project lists, assign people to tasks, put deadlines and reminders on assignments, and use them as a place to store notes, so everything is housed in one location. This has streamlined our processes while improving our communication channels within the team. We are also utilizing Active Campaign as our CRM for drip campaigns and promotional emails when we have events and have seen an increase in the click-through rates of our database.
Since education and relationships are two major pillars in the meetings and events industry, any suggestions on how other planners can learn and network with their peers across the industry?
Reading these interviews is a great start! I believe hosting masterminds or establishing Facebook groups for people to ask questions goes a long way. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, and we can learn so much from each other if we just believe in collaboration over competition. We can take the ideas of someone else and make them our own by putting our spin on things. So be proactive and seek input from others. We're all busy and caught up in our day-to-day whirlwind, so being intentional about learning from others should be time-blocked and made a priority. The time now will save you much time, money, and headache later!