We’re coming to you virtually from the Association of Club Catering & Event Professionals (ACCP) National (Virtual) Conference!
We arrived at the Fairmont Hotel in Santa Monica, computers, remotes, lead wires and power packs expecting anything. But thanks to months of minute-by-minute preparation with our client, Lynne LaFond DeLuca, the Executive Director of ACCP, we knew there wouldn’t be any surprises. The only wild card would be the internet, but happily this was a glitch free event.
“This was the first virtual conference since the pandemic began for the private club industry,” DeLuca recalls, “and it was flawless. Nothing’s come close to it since.”
Like everyone else planning events this past April, it took DeLuca a little time to realize that her annual August event would have to be virtual. The pandemic was showing no signs of lessening and in May she made the decision.
With 22 speakers, a couple hundred attendees, dozens of sponsors and a reputation to uphold, her first order of business was a good-looking platform which she found in Cadence. Second, with all those moving parts, she knew she’d need a producer.
“As I was looking, David’s email came in featuring the company’s new virtual abilities. It was an easy phone call to make especially because David is familiar with our conference and the attendees having spoken at it before.”
Of utmost importance to DeLuca was to maintain the “high-touch, high-experience” style of conference that the attendees have come to expect every year.
“Each year, we challenge ourselves to create an over-the-top, inspirational, educational event”, DeLuca explains. “When you are planning an event for people who plan events for a living, we know we have to go big and create experiences that they have never seen before. We never do the same thing twice and there are surprises at every turn.”
So how did the ACCP go about accomplishing this? It’s all in the details and planning. The attendee’s experience started when they received their “swag box”, filled with high-end products ($425 in value) in a custom created box. The inside lid of the box gave shout-outs to all of the Creative Partners who sponsored an item in the box.
As well as the amazing gifts, custom printed items in the box also included beautifully designed agendas for both the Sunday Kick-Off Party and the Monday Conference, a personal letter from Lynne LaFond DeLuca, a door-hanger that said “Shhhhh! Do Not Disturb! ACCP Conference in Progress!” and a “Meal Prep” Recipe Card and Grocery Shopping List.
The meal prep card was for a custom recipe, created just for the ACCP Conference attendees, by Michael Ponzio, Executive Chef of the Union League Club in Chicago. During the Sunday night Kick-Off Party, Chef Michael did a cooking demonstration so that everyone could prep the meal and share it together on Monday during one of the breaks. DeLuca explains, “We wanted to somehow replicate one of the things we would miss most about the live event – sitting down and sharing a meal together. We had everyone all over the country eating the same meal together at the same time.”
Other factors that contributed to the outstanding experience was the socially-driven “Kick-Off Party” on Sunday which included a virtual variety show by Entire Productions with entertainment including a mentalist, singer songwriter and a caricaturist who created drawings of attendees and then shared them virtually; networking in virtual breakout rooms so attendees could brainstorm and share best practices together; a Coravin pouring demonstration which enabled all of the attendees to use the Coravin they received in their swag box and become part of the largest Coravin pouring in history; and a custom commissioned “story,” written and performed by Brett Culp, in collaboration with the ACCP, about the Catering Directors and Event Planners specifically in private clubs.
Monday’s conference agenda was fast-paced, keeping attendees engaged with 20-minute speakers, a panel discussion and a segment called “2 cents in 2 minutes”, where past speakers all shared two minutes’ worth of advice and inspiration in this tumultuous time in our industry. DJ KC Campbell of VOX DJs kept the energy high with music throughout the day and a few “dance breaks” along the way.
Working in advance with rehearsals and scripting, pre-recorded and live materials, AOO’s technical team and DeLuca broke down the agenda by the minutes. To keep risk at a minimum, much of the presentations were pre-recorded. The transitions between them were live as were the question and answer sessions with speakers.
The conference ended on a high note with DJ KC Campbell playing them off after DeLuca introduced the next year’s location. “The best part of this was that as soon as he signed off, KC jumped in his car and drove from Torrance – with cupcakes – to celebrate with the entire crew.”
DeLuca is already getting ready for possibilities next year. “I might try a hybrid event as some people still might not be ready to travel by then. But hybrid is a whole new challenge. The pace of a live event is slower whereas a virtual event needs to be high-energy. It will be like planning two different events.” But she’s ready for the challenge with eh right attitude – “All of this has been hard on our industry, but a lot of good has come from it. It’s allowed us to expand our creativity and stretch our capabilities.”
BEST PRACTICES OF A VIRTUAL EVENT
Look at all your speakers and determine if they are better live. DeLuca geared her agenda to the virtual platform to accommodate the way that people experience virtual versus live.
Create high energy. KC DJ’d the entire conference from start to finish.
Create high-touch, interactive activities and experiences and try to duplicate some of the elements that the attendees might be missing at a live event.
“Hire and work with a great team and producer,” DeLuca says. “With all eyes on you, you want your virtual experience to be as flawless and experiential as possible for your attendees.”