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I’m going to begin this post by doing something that, as a brand marketer, I’m never, EVER supposed to do: tell you about a client who wasn’t blown away by my services.

Recently, I produced a team building activity in New York City for a group of about 75 people. This was a brand-new client, I’d never worked with them before, nor had I heard of their company. But within the span of a couple of hours, I’d received not one but two event inquiries from two different people within the organization, both reaching out to me regarding the same function. Clearly they were interested in corporate game show trivia events, so I knew I likely had a customer whom I would be a perfect fit for (I wrote another article on this subject a couple of months ago, which you can read here).

Now, I always put 100% into each and every gig I produce, regardless of the client or the event. However for this one, I really went above and beyond – honestly, I bent over backwards for them, to give them amazing customer service. Their event was being held the following week, which is an INSANELY tight turnaround time for customized corporate entertainment. On top of that, they wanted an event where the content was 100% tailored to their company and products – a rare request, and something that I really don’t like to do as it is a HUGE commitment of time and resources, and in my opinion not really necessary to achieve the desired result.

I wish I could say that at least I’d be well compensated for my efforts, however I also agreed to a significantly reduced fee, in an effort to accommodate to the budget of a client in last-minute need – hopefully securing future business and referrals as a result (click here for a related article on my pricing structure).

I wasn’t really looking forward to devoting the next few days almost entirely to producing this gig, however such is life here in the client service world. I hunkered down and did what I had to do: spent hour upon hour drafting the trivia questions, and built a custom slide deck to accompany the company game show. Next came assignment of staffing, and even though I was only contractually obligated to send one staff member – an emcee – I sent an additional grader as well, for no extra fee. I also threw in up to 30 minutes of “roving” trivia entertainment before the team trivia contest kicked off.

After the event had concluded, I wrote to my client contact to see how everything went. He response? While the event went well overall and the group had a fun time, it wasn’t the “wow” experience she was expecting. I was a bit stunned by this, given the amount of time, effort and accommodation I’d made to deliver what I was sure would be a smash hit. I wrote back, apologizing that the event hadn’t met her expectations, and asked what I could have done to deliver the kind of experience she was seeking.

She never wrote back.

This episode clearly left me with an unfamiliar bitter taste in my mouth. I’ve been doing this for a long time, nearly ten years, during which I’ve produced and/or hosted well over 1,000 trivia events for corporate clients of all kinds. And I have to be honest, it ALWAYS goes well; with very few exceptions, people who hire TrivWorks for a trivia game show to entertain a corporate party are blown away. They love the emcees, the customized content is a crowd-pleasing hit, and the ease and professionalism of the entire process is genuinely appreciated by the organizer.

That’s why this client’s comment about not being a “wow” event caught me so off guard. The fact that I didn’t even receive any feedback as to WHY the event didn’t deliver only added to my frustration. After all, my events ARE “wow” in that they’re so well-done, always exceeding clients’ expectations. And so, I’ve decided to do what I always do when something unexpected, unpleasant or unwelcome happens during the course of conducting my business: I find the “teachable moment,” and write a blog post about it.

What is a “Wow” Experience?

I’ve been thinking ever since this incident happened: just what constitutes a “wow” experience, anyway? Through TrivWorks and my previous professional career working in the event programming and entertainment industries, I’ve been a part of planning and executing a LOT of moments which were designed to be fun and memorable. But it’s that extra “something” which takes a really good event, and propels it into something that’s justifiably great – a “wow,” if you will. Here’s what you need to make those special moments happen.

Make it Unique

For something to be truly remarkable, it has to be just that: remarkable. It must be something which the attendees simply don’t encounter on a day-to-day basis, if at all. What does that mean, exactly? Well, I can’t say for sure. Every event is different, every audience is different. What I CAN say is that is that whatever the audience is expecting, you must exceed it. Define that however you will, but make whatever it is you’re offering something special that they’ve NEVER seen or done before, and you’ll help make this a memory they won’t soon forget.

Add a Surprise

Building upon the point about exceeding expectations, you should try and build in a surprise (or surprises) to make the event truly exceptional. What would this group really respond well to, that they’re not expecting in any way? What would be a guaranteed hit, a crowd-pleasing delight? I used to have a lot of fun with this back when I was living in Brooklyn, producing NY1 anchor Pat Kiernan’s pop culture trivia nights at the Bell House. Whatever the theme for the event was, I always made sure to have at least one big theme-appropriate surprise: a celebrity guest appearance, onstage activity, etc. It’s just another way to take an already enjoyable experience, and boost it to the “wow” zone.

Make it High-End

Speaking of Pat Kiernan…

There are many ways you can take an event to the next level. Having a celebrity appear – or in the case of TrivWorks, emcee a corporate trivia event – is gold. It’s not the cheapest way to make an impact, but it WILL definitely affect the overall “wow” factor, both for live and virtual events such as this. Of course, you’re not limited to celebrities here. Any way you can splurge to make the event more chichi will have a direct translation into how memorable it will be.

Make it Low-End

Believe it or not, the opposite can also true. When the audience is EXPECTING a high-end event, and instead it turns out to be something quite different, this can be very effective in making the event special. With the Pat Kiernan Bell House gigs, what makes them special isn’t that we bring in thousands of dollars in lights, rigging, props, digital answer submission and the like to try and recreate a TV game show experience; rather, the charm is in going low-tech: simple microphones, hand-written answer sheets, a rickety prize wheel, etc. There is an important asterisk here, however: this must be DELIBERATE, by design. If your crowd is expecting high-end and you fail to deliver, that’s not going to wow them at all.

Add Value

The more value you can add, the better. This can be in the form of production, but also prizes/giveaways, content, or any other tangible (or intangible) take-home the participants can get.

Mind the Details

It’s the little things that count. The more attention you can give to small touches, little accents and minor personalizing, the more your audience will feel special. When my wife and I were planning our wedding back in 2010, we took great pains to ensure that it wouldn’t be a “cookie cutter” affair, but rather a truly one-of-a-kind event which our guests would love. What did we do? We didn’t spend a fortune, or have a celebrity performer or anything like that; rather, we added as many personal touches as we could, big and small, to every aspect of the event. The result was better than we could have hoped for: to this day, people still tell us ours was one of the best, if not THE best weddings they’ve ever been to.

Conclusion

In the end, what really makes the difference between an “8” event and a “10” is knowing what your group THINKS they’ve signed up for, and kicking it up a notch. In the above example I cited which was the impetus for this blog post, it seems that I didn’t quite know what the client was expecting – even though I thought I did, and by all rights delivered what I thought was a highly “wow” experience. There’s no flawless way to do this. We’re talking about events with people, after all, and people are – well…HUMAN. It’s hard to know what people are really thinking, and impossible to please everybody. But if you can manage to obtain a firm understanding of what the audience is expecting – through clear communication and articulation of priorities, goals & desires – you are in a good position to then try and exceed those expectations, in order to create “wow” moments.