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Event leadership | 29 October 2015

Lessons From History’s Greatest Event Organizers

Kristy O'Connell

We often look to history to learn from others’ successes and mistakes. In fact, some of the best pieces of advice have come from historical figures who exist in every sector and industry that you can think of, including event organizing.

In order to inspire and motivate event organizers, we searched for some of the most prolific event organizers from history and distilled what made each of them so successful at creating outstanding experiences for their attendees.

1. The Woodstock Team

“A good time makes for a successful event.”

These four certainly wouldn’t have been considered experienced event organizers — or even professional event organizers —  prior to the Woodstock festival But, by generating enough funding through sponsorship, they managed to host an event that is now a defining experience of an entire generation of Americans.

These event organizers had to overcome many challenges to create such a memorable experience. From having trouble finding a sizeable venue, to combatting bad weather and angry locals, the four organizers had to find innovative solutions to overcome sizeable obstacles.

Yet, the entire event ended up being a success — all it took was the mutual love of music and a shared attitude of enthusiasm and support from the crowd.

Whether things went as planned or not, the Woodstock team facilitated an unforgettable three day concert thanks to their unflagging determination to bring something new to people searching for just that.

From Woodstock, we are reminded that the attendee’s experience is completely different from the organizer’s. People are not always as concerned about minor details as they are about having a genuinely good time. At the end of the day, it is no use to sweat the small stuff if your attendees are focused only on the big picture.

2. Elsa Maxwell

“Novelty & Anticipation engage attendees.”

Commonly referred to as the “hostess with the mostest,” Elsa Maxwell, gossip columnist and party planner from Iowa, is considered one of the most iconic event hostesses of the Twentieth Century.

Maxwell is remembered for a wide range of engagements. In particular, she is remembered for her chic, luxurious gatherings with social luminaries. Her events were not only marked by their uniqueness but also by their ability to involve and engage attendees. An invitation to a Maxwell party could only have meant one thing: be prepared for something fun and original.

Although costume parties and scavenger hunts are not always appropriate for professional events, the principle of engagement is still a key principle that event organizers must always strive to incorporate in their events.

A few ways event professionals can engage their attendees, encourage participation, and ultimately, raise ticket sales include:

  • Holding contests

  • Interactive presentations

  • Themed events when appropriate

  • Encourage the use of a creative hashtag

  • Live-stream related social media posts throughout event

  • Fundraise for a cause

Engaging your attendees will go a long way. Like Maxwell, finding ways to involve your guests before, during, and after your event will result in satisfied guests who are eager to return to the next one.

3. Elizabeth Cady Stanton

“Fantastic events are purposeful”

Together with a handful of other women’s rights activists, Stanton played a major role in coordinating the Women’s Rights Movement, and more specifically, in organizing the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848.

With Stanton’s immaculate speaking abilities and empowering energy, the fervor of the Convention continued with a series of National Women’s Rights Conventions.

Stanton’s conferences were not meant for fun. Yet, hundreds of people opted to join her in the support of women’s rights. Why? Her strength and ambition were contagious, and her cause was legitimate.

She demonstrated a compelling quality of leadership that awed people around the world, and this resulted in not just a one time event, but an ongoing movement for years to come.

Of course not all events will have the social impact that Stanton’s events have had, but with Elizabeth Cady Stanton in mind, it is important to remember that events do not always need to be fun to be successful– of course, fun is an added plus, but the promise of inspiration and empowerment alone will attract attendees and make for a fantastic event.

4. Caroline Astor

“Exclusivity goes a long way.”

Caroline Astor, once a flashy socialite of the late 19th Century, is known for her exclusive, posh parties in her Fifth Avenue home.

Astor’s events were widely publicized and filled with extravagance and luxury– so extravagant in fact, that she became known for “the first 400.” Just 400 lucky people made it onto the list of invites to each event.

Although 400 people is still quite large, it was the sense of exclusivity that made receiving an invite such an honor.

Directly acknowledging your attendees and their value as guests is a great way to increase attendance. It is as simple as personalizing an e-mail/invitation.

5. Randi Lesnick

“Go big or go home.”

Known for her celebrity events, Lesnick has organized events for some of the biggest names in the music industry, including Tim McGraw and Taylor Swift. She is also a repeat- planner of the annual Country Music Awards.

With her event company’s motto, “We make the impossible possible: no is not an option,” Lesnick rose in the ranking from a one woman event planner to establish an event planning empire.

She has become the go-to planner for artists around the country because of impeccable budgeting, designing, and event execution.

Lesnick reminds us that setting tough goals and maintaining high standards results in positive growth and wondrous events.

Conclusion:

Even as culture and trends change, there are several key event guidelines that have stood the test of time. Looking to become a better event planner? We encourage event professionals to look to history’s greatest event organizers for a few simple guidelines when the going gets tough.

Remember, sometimes it’s okay not to sweat the small stuff. Facilitate a good time, dare to be different, and engage your attendees. Where there is a strong purpose and inspiration, there will always be support. Don’t forget to make each and every attendee feel special and important to your event. Lastly, go big or go home, and strive to make the impossible, possible.

Wondering how you can create legendary event experiences? Download our latest ebook on event marketing strategies, and learn how to build events that inspire audiences and draw record-breaking crowds.

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