On the plane yesterday, returning from a visit to see my mother-in-law, I was musing over our recent visit to a holiday program at a historic house museum. And while the historic house was lovely, with beautiful decorations, and everyone was very nice and polite to us, I kept thinking about why the program was not a success, and why events are so tricky.
The program we attended was part of a multi-day city festival. But we did not see any signage in the downtown area indicating where the museum was, or that anything was happening there. A staff member greeted us in the gift shop area, and when we asked how the festival was going, she was a bit negative, saying that it seemed every year fewer people attended, and how hardly anyone had visited the day before. We were a bit taken aback, especially since we had no basis for comparison to know it was not going well. Lesson #1 – even if your program is not going well, figure out a way to put a positive spin on it.
When we entered the house itself, we were greeted and told we were the first ones to visit that day, even though the museum had opened nearly an hour earlier. The first ones?? Where was everyone? Lesson #2 – it is important to build your events around a core audience that have a vested interest in participating, so that all visitors feel they are where the action is.
The house had guides stationed in every room, and they were friendly, knowledgeable, and apologetic. Apologetic? Yes. They kept telling us how sorry they were we could not see how beautiful the garden was in summer. They were sorry the upstairs was closed to visitors. And kept telling us we had to come back. Lesson #3 – unless you are 100% positive your visitors are local, and thus easily able to come back, stop emphasizing what the visitors are missing. It only makes them feel like they are not getting the best experience. And stop apologizing. Tell me how lucky I am to see the house all decorated for Christmas, or how beautiful the garden looks in winter.
At the end of the house walk-through, there was a craft activity for children. By then there were a few more people in the house, and two children entered the room behind us. Their faces lit up when they were invited to do the craft, which is great. But adults like to play with glue and scissors too! Lesson #4 – invite adults to do hands-on activities too. Especially if you are not swarmed with children. Adults will have a great time, have something to remember the visit by, and it lends action and excitement to the event versus having an empty, or sparsely-visited, activity station.
Running events are tough, and these are the lessons I observed at this event that often reoccur at other museums. Another event would probably yield even more lessons, so I ask all the creative event planners out there to share with our readers their best tips and lessons for running a smooth event. We also are using this blog as a testing ground for upcoming Museum Conversations, and if there is enough interest, we will plan an upcoming Conversation on events, from planning to promoting to leveraging the event after it ends. So let us know your thoughts by clicking on "comments" below.