5 Outdoor Event Tips from Fleet Week

“Fat Albert” flies over San Francisco for Fleet Week.

I visited my first Fleet Week yesterday just as the ships were cruising under the Golden Gate Bridge. Within moments of stepping onto San Francisco’s waterfront I, along with thousands of event-goers, were swept up in the recruitment efforts of the US Navy, US Marine Corps, and the US Coast Guard. I watched in wonder knowing this was a fantastic learning experience. After all, we each take turns recruiting whether it’s new employees, supporters of our mission, or volunteers.

As I walked away later that day I was struck by two basic questions: What was it about this event that engaged me so quickly? What can we take away from a military event and use at our next outdoor corporate event or nonprofit fundraiser?

In addition to advertising and online engagement there are many ways to gain supporters on the ground. Here are 5 tips to make your outdoor event a success:

Create an Atmosphere

As soon as I set my sights on the waterfront I was greeted by an attractive event with numerous activities spread across Marina Green. An emcee was consistently keeping the day moving with interviews and announcements. The music was loud but never overwhelming and the location was perfect for public transportation with a view of the parading ships. Plan early if you want to secure the best location for your event. When I book outdoor event space I make sure my name is on the books as soon as is allowed, sometimes a year in advance.

Provide Bridge Experiences

Event attendees may not be familiar with your business or mission and some may be reluctant to participate in unfamiliar activities. A “bridge experience” combines a familiar activity with a new one. Fleet Week provided video game enthusiasts with military themed games played on consoles built into Humvees as well as popular TRX workouts alongside members of the military. These experiences also provide excellent opportunities for hard copy or electronic data capture. Know your audience.

Remove the Mystery

Make your event accessible to attendees. The military is lucky that it has such intriguing machinery. Throughout the day, posed in front of camouflaged trucks while supervised children operated bucket-loaders. Provide hands on access to bring understanding to your audience. Remember your first days on the job and how much more you learned and understood once your employer’s mission was made real to you?

Recruit Young

Walking through the grounds there seemed to be more activities for children than adults. Children screamed down bouncy slides of a fighter plane next to another of a tank while yet more climbed a two-story space shuttle to slip back to their waiting parents. The earlier you can attract supporters to your cause the longer you will have their support. When appropriate, ensure that you have activities for children of all ages.

Provide an Experience

The greatest takeaway you can provide is a memorable experience. This is far easier for a military that can provide one of the world’s best air shows including the Blue Angels. You want your event attendees to stay engaged well after they leave. How will you keep the conversation going? This question must be answered early on in the planning stages of your event.

Here is a clip of the experience that Fleet Week brought to San Francisco:

Many of us have not been recruiting for our causes as long as the military however we can learn from their best practices. Each event you hold should be a learning experience as they evolve into a well-oiled machine.

How do you make your events successful? Share your experiences in the comments section below.


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