By Stella Johnson
As a travel writer of the meetings and hospitality industry for many years, I’ve experienced some amazing high points in life, most of which were final night events hosted at the end of a corporate conference or non-profit convention. One of the most memorable of these was a formal, candlelight dinner hosted at midnight within the ruins of an 11th Century prison on a deserted island off the west coast of Sweden. That’s a mouthful of words but it was totally unforgettable and that was the point. It was the final night event of an international association that was concluding a five-day educational conference in a most dramatic way. It was astounding and that’s what any meeting or event planner aims to accomplish for their group’s final event, with no stone unturned.
While not all groups can go to such great and costly lengths to create such memories, “final night” doesn’t have to be expensive – just imaginative. The good news is that good ideas cost nothing so create an internal committee and start brainstorming for the next final night event of an upcoming conference or convention now. I’m just skimming the surface here, but embellish any one of the following basic ideas with tailor-made details that suit the group, or combine several ideas into one big event, as follows:
1—The Serious and Silly Side of An Awards Ceremony: Most conventions and conferences include an awards ceremony at some point in the program, be it serious like “Salesperson of the Year,” or silly like “Worst Golfer of the Weekend.” Incorporate the awards ceremony for the final night event. The serious awards will be most appreciated by attendees as everyone likes to be appreciated by top management, especially in front of their peers. The silly awards will go the extra mile and end the event with a few rounds of laughter that will create camaraderie and solidify the group.
2—Preview of Next Year’s Destination: Most associations and corporations already know where the next annual event will be hosted at least one year before the actual date. So, if a destination like Honolulu, Paris, or New York City is on next year’s calendar, why not promote that destination for “final night” and theme it accordingly. (Think Hawaiian Luau, Paris Café, the Big Apple’s Broadway, Florida’s Disney characters, etc.)
3—Sense of Place: Utilize a local historic or cultural site to its best advantage. One company hosted a final night corporate reception at Chicago’s Museum of Natural History. It had a special guest that went by the single name of Sue. She sure created unforgettable memories as Sue is the nickname for one of the largest, most extensive, and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus Rex specimens ever found. Discovered in 1990 by American explorer and fossil collector Sue Hendrickson, “Sue the dino” is the perfect ice breaker and is now a permanent feature at the museum.
4—Foodie Event: In recent years, most successful events usually have a “food element” at its core – like farm-to-table dinners. Go the extra mile and use food trucks instead. They can present a variety of ethnic selections for which the host city is famous. Make it a smorgasbord of food trucks! CVBs are great for assistance on this, and local restaurants are eager to participate. It’s a real crowd-pleasing and tasty event.
5—Sense of Time: Create a final event based on an upcoming holiday. Halloween is a natural for this with costumed attendees, trick-or-treat bags as party favors, elaborately carved pumpkins, and party games with prizes. Or, theme the event based on the upcoming season as in Autumnal Change, Winter Wonderland, Springtime Colors, or Summer Fun.
Finally, partner with the local CVB or DMC at an early point to learn what is possible and what has already been successful with other groups. Then, tell us all about it. Email me at [email protected].