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.

Let Your Restrictions Be Your Guide

I’ve been on crutches the past two months, and it has really changed the way that I view the world. Having only ever had full mobility, the biggest problem I’ve had is that I can’t carry anything with my hands (because they are otherwise engaged—crutches! Ergh!). So, I’ve had to get creative with my everyday tasks.


For example, I had to figure out how to fill the dogs’ water bowl. Our dogs like to tip the bowl, so we have a heavy ceramic bowl on the floor to keep them from spilling it. Even if I carried it to the sink in a bag, I couldn’t carry a full bowl back. The restrictions of the situation forced me to think creatively and use the resources I could find at my disposal. In this case, a large seltzer bottle in the recycling bin with a screw top became a new, useful tool. I can fill that, cap it, carry it in a bag, and fill the water bowl. Mission accomplished.


This forced creativity reminded me how a disruption to our status quo can inspire new ways of thinking. A few years ago, I worked on planning a large corporate party. It was a big success, and we decided to repeat it. But then the budget got cut in half. And then it got cut in half again. But (surprise!) they were expecting the same level of event that we had delivered the year before. So the team and I had to get creative.


Instead of hiring a vendor with games, we reached into our membership for anyone with cool demos they could show. We asked our speakers to demo their products as well. We only served food for an hour and made it a special VIP hour. We restricted the bar to beer and wine. We used a playlist instead of a DJ, and some simple colored up-lighting and glow-in-the-dark bracelets from Oriental Trading Company was the extent of our decor. The end result: a strong event that still delivered on the fun of the previous year, but on a quarter of the budget.


I feel like I’ve repeated this budget exercise with at least half of the events I’ve planned in the past five years. And each time, the restrictions have forced a new way of thinking and opened me up to new ideas. There was the time we needed to generate additional revenue to cover a budget shortfall, so we added a “VIP Access” ticket, which essentially just gave them access to our speaker’s lounge. Another time, we couldn’t afford to add breakout space, so we created small-group stand-up conversations, spread throughout the hotel. And just last week, 360 Live Media had a booth at XDP, but a finite budget for activations. (It would’ve been so easy to go big!) We spent about $500 on a giant Jenga game, finger paints, some fancy jelly beans, a scent kit, and some cool headphones, and we were able to provide a fun experience using the five senses.


So, the moral of the story is, instead of lamenting those small-budget restrictions, embrace them. Try to view it as a launchpad towards new ways of thinking. And don’t automatically write off being creative with your event because you don’t have a budget to deliver something like XDP. Instead, try to think about how you can deliver the essence of the experience using the resources you have. You might just surprise yourself.


P.S. We have a number of free tools and resources to help you get started on thinking creatively. Check out 360livemedia.com/xdp2019