360 Live Media
360 Live Media is an event strategy and digital marketing agency in Washington, D.C. serving association, professional society, and not-for-profit conferences.

Great Expectations

Fourteen years ago, and two metro stops away from the 360 Live Media office, I was sitting in a round booth in the Marriott Wardman Park atrium, with two landline phones—one for each ear. I was serving as a dedicated event concierge for a large conference my company was working, which meant I was receiving complaints and then trying to solve the issues.


This particular conference involved a number of meetings taking place in hospitality suites, and instead of pre-ordering, most of the meeting hosts relied on room service to deliver snacks and beverages. The people in the suites would call me when their room service wasn’t fast enough or wasn’t correct, and then I worked with our hotel contact to fix the issue.


The phone rang non-stop, and it was very much the classic sitcom scene of talking into two phones at the same time, only lacking the humor and laugh track. I picked up a call, and the person on the other end was irate. He was hosting very important clients in his suite, and the room service had just been delivered, but there was a problem. I posed my mechanical pencil so I could write down whatever I figured had been forgotten from the order, but this issue was different. His problem was that the ice cubes that came with the beverage service were too large for the tongs.


I asked him to repeat himself, thinking I must have heard him incorrectly. But no, that was the actual complaint. The ice cubes were too big for the tongs.


I took a breath, opened my mouth, and what came out was, “Oh, that is excellent sir! Room service makes the ice cubes too big on purpose because they tend to melt on the way to the suite. You must have gotten super-fast service! If you just wait a moment, they should be fine.”


Now instead of being upset, he was happy, thinking he had gotten something special. I had flipped the script and his expectations for service.


So much of our experience is rooted in expectations, and therefore setting the proper stage for an event can help elevate the attendee experience—even turning a potentially negative situation into something positive.


If your budget does not allow for you to serve breakfast, don’t try to gloss over this. Instead, make it something you celebrate. List in your agenda that the local diner pancakes are not to be missed, and it’s only a five-minute walk from the hotel, or that your trip to the fill-in-the-blank city isn’t complete without trying this famous local coffee shop located just around the corner. (Maybe you can even work out a discount for attendees who show their badge). If something like this isn’t an option, then a simple note stating that coffee and breakfast are not available in the morning, but there is a Starbucks in the hotel lobby, and you suggest leaving a little extra time for a line is also fine for creating the proper expectations. It eliminates attendees walking all the way to the registration desk, only to be disappointed, and therefore starting their day with a negative experience.


Do you know that your meeting space is going to be tight? Let attendees know that sessions are popular and may be standing room only. No room for bags in this year’s budget? Tell people to BYOB—bring your own bag—to the event. Unable to secure a sponsor for your evening reception? Send your attendees on a dine-around, pub crawl, or scavenger hunt. Did your giveaway items get held up in customs? Give your group directions to that perfect souvenir shop.


I honestly believe that you can host an event with no tables, chairs, AV, or food, as long as you set the proper expectations first. It’s a fun thought exercise on how to sell it:


  • Breakout sessions will be held as “walk-and-talks,” and those who gain the most steps by the end of the conference win a prize!


  • We are using of-the-moment technology to share the slides with your phones, eliminating the need for a big costly screen!


  • This is the first conference customized for your palate—visit our taste concierges for a list of the local restaurant options!


Who knows if I’ll ever make it happen? But if I do, know that you can expect a great time.