Each year the holiday season is characterized by a mixture of cheer, hope, excitement and stress. It’s a cocktail of emotions that meeting and event planners know all too well, as there are arrangements to be made, deadlines to be met and expectations to be exceeded. One thing is for sure, the holidays are a magical time for human connection that can provide some great insights for putting on exceptional events year-round.

Here are 4 lessons event planners can learn from the holidays:

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1. Create an inspiring atmosphere.

If we close our eyes and think of the holidays, chances are the same iconic images come to mind: a big tree, colorful lights, stockings, presents and snow! Movies and ads may have helped put these things into our head, but the fact is our feelings about the holidays are tied to the unique, memorable atmosphere.

When an event has a great look and feel, it is inspiring in the same way. An elegantly decorated conference or trade show booth leaves a lasting impression and adds a lot to attendee experience. It’s easy to spend more time in an event space that is decked out in a cool way and that means more opportunity for networking and interaction!

2. Integrate branding into the theme.

If you’re unfamiliar, the story of how Coca-Cola helped shape the image of Santa Claus is a great example of transformative holiday marketing. By seamlessly integrating their product into a highly decorative Noel atmosphere, Coke cemented their place as Santa’s drink of choice. Speaking of drinks, another example of effective holiday branding is the red Starbucks cups that spring up once the weather starts getting colder.

Both companies successfully promote the excitement of the season while simultaneously framing their brand within that environment. This idea of dual promotion is also the key to great branding at events! Sponsors should be integrated into the overall theme rather than clashing with the event aesthetic. Brands should definitely stand out, but incorporating matching (or complementary) colors and motifs will truly tie everything together.

3. Make sure no one feels left out.

We all know how sad it is to be alone during the holidays (see Home Alone, Planes Trains & Automobiles, It’s a Wonderful Life). These times are meant to be spent with family and close friends, and being alone is harder than normal because of it. Our yuletide expectations only add to the pressure, and our desire to be surrounded by loved ones is driven up higher and higher as the new year approaches.

In this way, events are virtually the same. Leading up to an event, we expect to bust through the expo doors, scan a million badges and network ’till the break of dawn. In order to ensure a great social experience, there should be a solid plan in place to promote networking and interaction. Social media walls, gamification, giveaways and interactive sessions are great places to start. The most important thing is that everyone feels like they’re part of the action.

4. Put presents in perspective.

The holidays aren’t just about giving or receiving gifts, they’re about celebrating compassion and friendship! Even if we get that new bicycle, TV or video game we’ve been pining for all year, the most valuable thing is the time we spend together. In the same way, event swag is certainly a fun part of attending a conference or trade show. However, when all is said and done, the relationships formed and meaningful interactions we’ve had are the things that really matter. 

This isn’t to say that gifts should be ignored, rather they should be put into perspective. A valuable gift that adds to attendee experience (or helps them remember it) is way better than a throwaway pen or bottle opener. Shirts are always a great opportunity to promote the event theme on the front, while also offering a branding opportunity on the back! Get creative with your gifts and they will mean so much more to your attendees during and after the event.

Like the holiday season, meetings and events are an opportunity to come together to celebrate our differences and unite under a common theme. The chance to truly connect and create a memorable experience is heightened if we keep this idea in focus during all stages of planning, execution and analysis. With a little hope, creativity and compassion, every event can hold its own form of holiday magic!

Have other holiday lessons you’ve applied to meetings & events? Reach out to us on Twitter!

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