A bird's eye view inside the Ag and Hort Building at the Ohio State Fair.

Five tips for successful event management

I recently shared friendraising ideas to engage fairgoers at the Ohio State Fair. We also learned what NOT to do, and by making some last-minute improvements, our guests had a much better experience (and we had a lot more fun).

Here are the top five challenges we had and what we did to fix them:

1. The door is open but nobody is home. The holy grail of mistakes: not staffing the booth! People attract people. Someone must be physically there to invite people into your booth. Otherwise, 97% of your potential new friends will pass by and not even remember that your booth was there. Would you rather have a presence or make an impact?

2. Stay in the back of your booth. Use your space wisely. We had 20’x20’ spaces. We could make a wonderful open space by putting our tables and workers near the back. WRONG. It took us about a half a day to figure out that we get a LOT more interaction and perceived as a lot friendlier if workers are at the front. It automatically encourages a lot more interaction with guests.

It’s like inviting folks into your home. You can stand in the back room and yell to people in the street OR you can come out to your front porch and invite them in. Which is more inviting?

3. Keep quiet. Quiet is boring. This year, we had music throughout the building. Playing music through Pandora, Spotify or an iPod through speakers brings an amazing new energy level to the building. When we forgot to play music there was a noticeable difference: it seemed very dull. Use music, sound, lights, movement… ANYTHING that stimulates the senses. How might you use the five senses (touch, taste, smell, sight and sound) to make your booth come alive?

4. Don’t do anything unexpected. Predictable is safe, but it’s boring. After the first few days we were getting into a rut. Time to try something creative: a bubble gun and jump ropes. Bringing out the bubble gun and shooting a steady stream of fast-moving bubbles into the air created an instant party. Little kids started giggling and jumping in the air to catch the bubbles. Parents and grandparents smiled and grabbed their camera. All that fun from a $10 bubble gun.Kids (and parents too) lined up to jump rope. Our guests had a blast and we did too. How might you create unexpected fun?

5. Think like someone installing a display, not like a fairgoer. Fortunately we caught this early and it changed our entire approach. If we looked through the eyes of a fairgoer how would we think differently? How would a child, parent or grandparent see it? What would the whole family or groups of friends think is fun?

It all boils down to this: help guests make a mental scrapbook of memories. How did you make them feel? What photos will they snap and share? In the end, it’s not statistics and brochures… it will be the memories and experiences they treasure and take home.

With that in mind, what could I do differently next year? How can I think, “What if…?” How about you?