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You know what’s fun? Being on vacation.

Actually, you know what’s even more fun? Being on vacation with friends.

Is it even possible there could be something more enjoyable than that? Well, we’ll leave it up to you to decide for yourself, but in our view, seeing a new place, learning something new and doing it with friends/colleagues/people who share common interests is pretty hard to beat.

One of our team members described an experience at a conference that we thought was pretty great. She was in a hotel, riding an escalator with the intent of heading back to her room for a little phone charging and getting-out-of-her-too-high-heels time.

However, (cue the dramatic music in your mind) fate had other plans.

A few steps ahead of her on the escalator, she saw a woman carrying a backpack with a familiar logo – one from a company headquartered near her own home office.

They struck up a conversation that led to sitting together at the conference’s next few sessions, which then led to a fun dinner and the best burgers in town with her new friend’s team of coworkers, which in turn  created a whole new network of local friends and colleagues.

In other words, a good time was had by all, and her conference attendance was worth its weight in gold and new connections (and, in case you were wondering, she did change out of those heels before dinner!).

If you’re thinking about planning a conference or large-scale event, Western Mass has some great options available for meeting planners.  We’ve put together a list of the ingredients we think add up to a conference experience that’s unbeatable:

1.  Having a top-notch event space.

You can have a great meeting without being in a great space, but that’s kind of like saying you can see Paris just as well from your AirBNB’s roof as you can from the Eiffel Tower. The atmosphere’s just not there.

When you’re planning an event, you want to make sure you’re allocating enough room for people to explore freely, to visit trade booths and exhibits without being cramped, and to be comfortable during the sessions they attend as well.

The MassMutual Center, for example, offers a wide variety of spaces that can be customized to your event needs. Options can be as grand as an 8,000 person arena or a 40,000 square foot exhibition hall, or can be scaled to a collection of meeting rooms.

2.  Bring in vendors/partners that attract attention (in a good way).

Allowing vendors and sponsors to host booths and connect with prospects can be a great way to offset event costs and help your guests feel like they’re making worthwhile connections.

Just make sure the vibe they’re giving off is collegial and fun (handing out cool swag is high on the list too!), and that they’re not buttonholing unsuspecting passersby to talk to them about something like cemetery plots (unless you’re hosting a funeral directors conference, in which case, have at it!).

3.  Make sure the schedule allows for some exploration and networking.

You don’t want your event to be all work and no play. One big reason people choose to participate in conferences and events is because of the relationships they can create.

Consider planning wrap-around events that include partnerships with popular local restaurants and attractions.

  • Wouldn’t it be fun to offer a tour of the Seuss Museum, then partner up with a local restaurant to create a cocktail inspired by Horton or Thing 1 and Thing 2?
  • Give basketball fans a chance to indulge in their own hoop dreams by planning a reception at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
  • Include excursions that allow plenty of time for shopping and chatting, like a visit to the Yankee Candle Village. As a bonus, you could include an interactive activity like candle making, to give your attendees a chance to create relationships and have bonding moments.

4.  Host your event in an area that’s suitable for your attendees.

If you can create an event that is tailor-made for your audience, you’ll have ongoing success if you try to replicate it over several years.

When it comes to conferences, a common first thought is “Yay Vegas!”, but honestly, do you think many people’s bosses just love paying for company-sponsored excursions to Las Vegas and hoping their high-flying team members show up to a few of the sessions (no offense to those who are actually working diligently every single second of their Vegas vacation – I mean, very educational conference experience)?

Instead of trying to make your conference compete with that glitz and glamour, focus on the ways you can make an event provide value and also feel unique and special for your audience. Every community has options that can be a good fit, and Western Mass has plenty of entertainment options that can be appealing.

For example, is your event’s target demographic people between ages 25 and 44? Guess what a lot of them have, besides too much on their plate and a chronic case of sleep deprivation? Kids. If you’re marketing a local event to them, highlight the amazing children’s museums in our area (Dr. Seuss and Eric Carle – we love them both!).

Aiming for an audience of adrenaline junkies, maybe an entrepreneurs’ event? Six Flags New England and white water rafting should do the trick, with maybe a follow up round of fun at MGM Springfield.

5.  Provide plenty of transportation options.

You’re probably asking yourself, “Is transportation a big issue in this era of Uber and Lyft?” The answer is yes. You want to make getting to you a seamless experience, so travel is the least of their worries.

In Western Mass, we’ve got you covered, whether you’re thinking planes, trains or automobiles; it’s easy to get to us via Bradley International Airport, Peter Pan Bus Lines or Amtrak, and easy to get around once you’re here.

BONUS TIP: Great food is always appreciated, as is a great place to stay.

Nobody wants to attend conference sessions all day, then settle back into a crummy hotel with a bag full of fast food.

Make sure your attendees have plenty of places to choose from when they’re planning where to stay. Fun (and kind of amazing!) fact: there are more than 1,300 hotel rooms in downtown Springfield. And, if you want to pretend that number doesn’t impress you (we know it does!), try this one on for size: there are more than 5,800 hotel room options in the Western Mass area.

Exceptional dining choices abound, whether you want to go surf and turf at Latitude or go farm to table at… well, The Farm Table.

And there you have it: your recipe for creating an meeting/conference/event that guests will love, and that they’ll be ready to come back and attend again next year. Western Mass offers all the ingredients you need to cook up a meeting or event that’s truly extraordinary – the rest is up to you!