Familiarisation trips are stock and trade for an event organiser. They are kind of a busman’s holiday and every event organiser should go on at least one fan trip (if at all possible) a year. I’ve been lucky enough to be on several familiarisation trips over the years. This week, courtesy of the German Convention Bureau, I head off to Dresden and Leipzig for a four day trip. I thought it would be a good idea to post about how to prepare and cope with a familiarisation trip. We Event Organisers, sometimes, aren’t the best at being guests.
So, here are my top tips for preparing for a familiarisation trip:
1. Rest up and relax before the trip
I have never been on a trip when I’ve had more than an hour to “relax” Familiarisation trips are always pretty hectic. So make sure you have a good meal and a good nights rest the night before the fam trip. You want to make sure you hit the ground running.
2. Study the programme before you get there
Event Planners are so busy, it’s often difficult to take the time to read up on the hotels, conference centres and cities we will visit on a familiarisation trip. However it is essential that you find the time to do that. It’s better to read up on the destinations a few days before the trip, rather than on the train, plane or bus heading to the destination. The programme is likely to be very detailed and very full, so it’s best to know what to expect before you head off.
3. Power up
Phones, tablets, cameras and even laptops will come in very handy during a fam trip. You don’t want to be caught short, and unable to take a picture of the perfect space you have found for your client!
4. Share your stories
As well as using our devices for storing information of the trip, we should be using them to share pictures of the places we visit. This is really, the least we can do, to say thanks for the opportunity to visit some amazing places for free. This approach will also be welcomed and appreciated by the hosts. For my trip to Germany, the German Convention Bureau have set up a hashtag to help attendees share their moments. Should you want to see the types of things you should post, then have a look on twitter for the #GCBEduTrip hashtag.
5. Have an event in mind, but be open too!
The most success I’ve had on a Fam trip was when I arrived in the city with a particular event in mind. I was looking for the right venue for my client. I had decided that the city would be the prefect choice for the event. However, so great were the venues on show (the city was Glasgow) that I mentioned a space to a client who wasn’t actively looking to move their event. I don’t have a particular event in mind this time, but I am preparing to be blown away by the VW Transparent Factory in Dresden and the meeting facilities at Leipzig Zoo. Who knows who I will recommend these spaces to!
6. Pack heavy
The advice you are always given is to pack light when you travel. Well, that often doesn’t work when you go on a Fam trip. Often there will be a black tie (or formal dinner), a walking tour, some kind of physical activity and you will be seeing indoor and outdoor venues. My advice is always to pack heavy. This is easier than on other trips as you are very likely to be transported around during your trip, with your suitcase being whizzed off by hosts and hotel staff.
7. Take inspiration for your own events
On a Fam trip you will see a whole host of different spaces. If you travel abroad you are also likely to see glimpses of a different culture. Even if you have a particular event in mind you should also be on the alert to cherry pick some ideas from your trip. I remember one Fam trip to Gleneagles in Scotland. On arriving the hotel receptionist said to me “welcome back, Mr Thomson”. I had stayed there a few years before and I thought what an amazing way to welcome a guest! I now suggest to my clients that they always welcome new attendees differently then they welcome returning guests or delegates. It is a simple but exceptionally effective way to make your visitor feel welcome and it was picked up on a fam trip.
8. Share your joinery with other event organisers
Not everyone has the time or the ability to head of on a fam trip, so I think it is essential that you take some time to share your stories of the trip. Maybe it’s only an internal briefing to other event organisers, or perhaps you want to write and publish a Linkedin post of the trip. However you share your story, make sure you do.
9. Take the stairs
During a Fam trip you will see venues at their absolute best. They know you are coming and will be well prepared for you. However, you really want to see a venue in action. So make sure you ask some challenging questions, open some doors that are closed, take the stairs when others take the lift. Basically, do everything you can to make sure that was is being said is actually true. Remember, if you take an event to that venue, you want to make sure you are 100% happy.
10. Don’t be afraid to ask for some white space
The mind works much better when it is relaxed and well rested. Too often on a Fam trip the hosts have taken the opportunity to show you EVERYTHING! If you are struggling to keep up then make sure you tell the hosts you need a break. This is for their benefit as much as your benefit. If you are tired you will not take in or retain information, and the venue will simply be talking to an organiser who is there, but who’s lights aren’t on. Science supports you. If you need a break during a hectic few days, make sure you have a break.
If you want to make sure you are able to offer the best advice and options to your own organisation or your clients, you should attend familiarisation trips. You are likely to learn loads about the destination cities and without fail you should be able to have a great time. The final thing to say about a familiarisation trip is that you have to set out to enjoy yourself! It is a time to get familiar with laughing, talking and enjoying the company of other event planners and your hosts.