Multi-day conferences. Day-long networking meetings. Business symposiums. Today, these events don’t end after the usual panels, Q&As, new product rollouts, and tech demonstrations.
After-parties and post-event receptions have become a common extension of many events, as well as an opportunity for brands to make a lasting impression on attendees. Organizing post-event gatherings requires all of your event planning skills, with a slight shift in priorities and tasks to differentiate the affair from the main event. Here we lay out 6 tips to help you design the after-party or post-event reception everyone wants to attend.
How to Plan an After-Party a That’s Huge Hit
1. Lockdown after-party venues early
If you are planning the post-event reception for a company at the culmination of a trade show or conference, remember you’re one of many companies with the same idea. It’s essential to start your research and negotiations early if you want to book the hottest venue near the conference. Explore event venue sourcing sites, such as the CVENT supplier network to find top locations near the conference locale.
Even if you’re planning the main event, create a separate file in your event planning software for the after-party. The planning timelines for the events will be different, and separating out the after-party will help keep you and your team organized. Begin writing and sending out your RFPs to venues, caterers, and entertainment companies ASAP so you can quickly move on to finalizing contracts—hopefully with your top choices.
Ideally, you’ll hold the after-party at a separate venue than the main event as a way to generate buzz, give guests an experience of the city outside the conference center, and distinguish it as an extra-special offering. Just don’t select a venue that’s challenging to reach and be clear about the easiest ways to get there, or you risk no-shows.
There are benefits to holding the post-event reception in an event space within the conference center or right next door. You can direct guest attention to the party location during the main part of the conference, logistics aren’t usually an issue, and if you’re a planner working on the larger event—you may well get a discounted rate. If you hold it within the venue, it’s important to get creative with the décor to differentiate the after-party from the main event.
2. Make post-event parties a no-pressure zone
Whether it was a one-day event, multi-day conference, or a week-long film festival, major events are draining for attendees and presenters. They may be rolling out a new product, or networking with peers in their industry. Company symposiums may involve back-to-back classes that require sustained focus.
Aim to make your post-event receptions and after-parties laid-back and fun for guests. There should be no pressure to network, and guests should take the lead on socializing. (There’s a time and a place for networking icebreakers and activities. This isn’t one of them.) Make sure the venue offers introvert-friendly quiet zones for low-key conversations in addition to spaces for more raucous partying.
3. Offer outstanding post-event exclusives
You have to give your guests a good reason to show up when the conference or meeting is winding down. How is this after-party different than the rest of the networking luncheons and panel discussions? Your choices here will vary based upon your budget, of course, but you can create the wow factor on a limited budget too. Here are some ideas for unique offerings that people will stick around for:
- VIPs. Invite luminaries from the primary event as special guests of the after-party. Guests will love the opportunity to break bread with CEOs and celebrities from the event program.
- Swag. Create a swag offering related to the event that is only available at the after-party. This could be an exclusive code for a song download, a book authored by a conference speaker, or branded cocktail shaker.
- Specialty cocktail. Ask the restaurant venue or bar catering company to create an original cocktail for the occasion and give the drink a name connected to the after-party.
- Snapchat On-Demand Geofilters. Design a Snapchat geofilter for your after-party and create a geofence for the venue. Keep it simple, in line with the theme of your event, and give yourself some lead time—approval from Snapchat takes one business day.
- An immersive theme. Though it wasn’t an after-party, you’ll appreciate how Smirnoff went all-in with a comic book theme for the brand’s “Graphic” Smirnoff Experience. Create drama by using a single color throughout the space or creating a theatrical theme, such as the Roaring 20s, steampunk, or a vintage library.
4. Market your post-event reception to build excitement
Marketing on diverse channels gives you the “Extra! Extra!” boost your post-event reception needs. Once you finalize your venue, time, entertainment, and food offerings, your marketing campaign should begin. Boil down what makes your post-event soiree special (whether it’s the entertainment, the rooftop view, or a local chef’s farm-to-table tasting menu) and spell it out in a bold and appealing font. Here are marketing ideas to consider:
- Email campaigns. Essential components include vibrant pictures of the event space and communicating how easy the venue is to reach from the main conference. Be specific with phrases such as “Five-minute walk” or “Ten minutes by rideshare.”
- Social media campaigns. No need to use every platform, but do pick the ones that are popular among your target audience. Facebook is well known for its appeal to Baby Boomers, while Snapchat and Instagram are the platforms of Generations Y and Z.
- After-party hashtags. Give your post-event reception a recognizable hashtag so attendees can start sharing their anticipation in the runup.
- Geofencing. This is only useful for multi-day conferences and festivals where many attendees will decide to attend your after-party during the event. With geofencing, your promoted social media campaigns will only show up on mobile devices within the designated area (i.e., within the conference center).
5. Include local flavor whenever possible
That farm-to-table tasting menu by a local chef mentioned above would fit the bill here. So too would flights from a local brewery. Or a local wine and cheese tasting. Local performers are also a great option.
The key is picking an offering of F&B or entertainment that event attendees can’t get back home, or at least without some effort. Here are more options to explore:
- Whether you opt for an acoustic folk-rock band, a rapper, or a pianist and cabaret singer—events featuring live music take on a fun and festive quality.
- Ditto if you hire an outstanding local magician who can perform tricks through the crowd, or face-paint artists who cater to adults.
- Nab Killer Po’boys for your after-party in New Orleans. Event attendees will appreciate one more chance to enjoy the local fair.
- In Chicago? Order deep dish pizza for your guests from as close as possible so it’s still gooey.
- Hire a favorite regional food truck for post-event receptions held in a courtyard or other outdoor space.
6. Seek out face-to-face feedback from attendees
Hold off on those post-event surveys until the event or conference is truly over. People are still enjoying the event and won’t appreciate homework before they’ve left. However, event organizers and planners should circulate through the party, enjoy conversations with guests, and determine how guests are responding to the event through real-time interactions.
In many cases, your guests will spontaneously share how they are enjoying the after-party—especially those having a positive experience. But being in the thick of it also lets you pick up on body language and the energy of the room. You’ll know the post-event reception is going well when the conversation is flowing, and people are smiling and laughing. Keep an eye on the after-party hashtag as another indication of engagement, interest, and appreciation.
Beyond getting a feel for the event’s success, this is a good opportunity to course-correct overbearing, or the caterers are taking too much time refreshing trays of champagne and appetizers—problems you can rectify immediately.
It’ll also help you make improvements in your after-party planning next go-round.
Event after-parties take as much planning as any other event, but successful ones often have a unique joie de vivre. This makes them a particular pleasure to organize and even to enjoy some as people kick back and relish the end of the affair.