Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Curating Memorable Experiences: An Interview with Prevue Magazine

I was recently interviewed by Jessie Fetterling with Prevue Magazine for the professional development section of their website and newsletters related to the same topic.  Prevue provides meeting and incentive planners with insightful, experiential destination coverage to help them imagine and create exceptional group events. Prevue publishes its exclusive content across numerous platforms including a bi-monthly print edition (reaching 35,000 meeting and incentive planners), a digital edition, www.prevuemeetings.com and Prevue Extra (its monthly e-newsletter).


What do you define as a "memorable" experience?
A memorable experience is one that attendees will recall with a smile on their faces and continue to talk about weeks and months after the experience. Most often this is achieved y conducting a short pre-event survey. Find out more about the attendees--what do they want to learn, to see, eat? Allowing attendees to be involved in the process, ensures they have a great experience. A memorable experience involves getting out of the ballroom, outside the four hotel walls--it means hosting breakout sessions in a circle outside on the lawn, in a vineyard, on the beach. It means breaking away from your typical boring F&B options and customizing. Swap out the traditional "continental breakfast" for an avocado toast bar, for example. Lastly, I always try to use boutique properties that have lots of outdoor space and windows. If people are going to fly to across the country to a retreat--let them be reminded every minute where they are. Don't hold them hostage in a big box hotel conference room that could be anywhere in the world.

What tends to be the biggest hurdles to achieving "memorable" experiences at events?
Budget, time, and travel. The company must build in a budget for an experience, they must be willing to carve out time in their agenda, and be willing to have their employees travel to a destination that is often not a single flight away. 

What are three ways you have curated "memorable" experiences at corporate retreats?
1. Reserved a wine cave dinner in Sonoma County with fun photo photo props. The F&B was all local and seasonal and of course the wine was all estate wine. A real farm to table experience. I don't think one person in that group had ever dined in a wine cave. They had so many questions ahead of the dinner. They were excited, some were anxious. It was memorable and they are still talking about it a year later.
2. Arranged a Baja Truck driving experience in Colorado. The son of the resort owner is a well known Baja 500 driver and had a track and trucks on property with a driving school. I had the trucks wrapped with the company logo and they just loved it. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience. 

3. Hired a corporate leadership facilitator to administer a DISC profile--a tool used for discussion of people's behavioral differences. Attendees completed the profile and received tips related to working with people of other styles. The exercise increased self-knowledge and attendees were better able to understand how they respond to conflict, what motivates them, what causes them to stress, and how they solve problems. It not only helped facilitate better teamwork, it helped the leadership team, to manage more effectively by understanding the dispositions and priorities of employees and team members.Now when the company needs to make company-wide decisions, they ask, "How will the D's react to this? Do we need to be concerned about the S's?" Overall, a fun exercise that truly made a difference to the company and it's employees.

What are three ways you have curated "memorable" experiences at off-the-beaten-path destinations?

1. I use a remote property in Western Colorado often as I can do a buy-out, and produce a truly memorable experience. It's a pain to get to, but once you're there, you forget about the travel. It's two hours from anything really, so everything must be done onsite. They have an Auto Museum on property and I produced a "Dinner through the Ages" Welcome Reception. The museum contains cars from the early 1800's up to 1989. I worked closely with Chef to choose small bites and a cocktail from each time period. That "Dinner through the Ages" is now a part of their menu--a huge compliment!

2. Chartered a boat to a private island off the coast of Southern Belize for attendees to enjoy the day as they pleased. Simply building a few hours into the agenda for attendees to explore the destination on their own and with whom they want can be memorable. Often Corporate Retreats are structured so much that there is no free time. 

3. Scheduled a hands on cooking class with an award winning James Beard Chef and author in Santa Fe. Everyone divided up into teams: appetizers, salads, main course, desserts. The experience was very interactive and the cuisine was all local fare and allowed for collaboration across different cross-functionally teams. Some people had never cooked before, others were "at home" in the kitchen. It was great to see everyone working together toward an end goal: a memorable, and delicious lunch. I made sure the recipes were all printed out so everyone could try cooking the meal back home. And, as a bonus, everyone was able to keep their branded apron as a reminder of their experience.

What tends to be the attendee feedback in regard to these experiences?
Attendees love the free time. Again, often agendas are jammed packed, run over, and there is no time to even breathe. Building in an hour every day--right before dinner--is always appreciated. It gives attendees a chance to checkin with family, clients, workout, rest and refresh. Some attendees don't mind the travel time to reach the memorable destinations, and some do. It just depends on the personalities of your group. They definitely enjoy experiencing the local food, culture, and activities. They especially enjoy the time away form he office and getting to know colleagues on a different level. The partnerships and bonds that are created during these retreats strengthen the work relationships and often translate into higher revenues and ROI. 

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