Event and meeting planners are expected to contribute to or write formal invitation letters and materials for the meetings, incentive trips and other programs that they organize. This doesn't have to seem like an overwhelming task, but it's important to follow certain steps in order to follow proper invitation etiquette and avoid missing important details for your guests.
Create an event theme. Before writing formal invitation letters and materials, planners must make sure they have an enticing theme for the program. The following questions will help begin the brainstorming process: Is it an educational conference, seminar or incentive trip? Where is it being held? What is unique about that destination or venue? What is the rough schedule for the event? What are some of the goals behind the program? Why would an attendee wish to attend? These questions will help to establish a great event theme.
Create an electronic invitation. Many formal invitation letters and materials for major events have now been moved to online registration systems because of the volume of important event logistics that must be captured during the RSVP process: spelling of names, contact information, dietary requirements, disability access, transportation needs, program details, activities information and more. Note: Less complicated events may use a single web page or graphic design image sent by email to convey event details and RSVP contacts.
Create a printed invitation. Depending on the nature of your program or event, invitation etiquette may suggest that you should be writing formal invitation letters and notes to let your guests know that you really value their presence. This is different than the event materials; instead, consider a simple invitation card that provides valuable information to your guest, including the host and his/her title, theme of the event, date(s) and/or time(s), and an RSVP contact.
Writing formal event invitations. As part of the electronic invitation, you should outline high level information about the program and event. For example, if this is an incentive trip or multi-day conference, you will want to include the following: the destination, main hotel/conference venue, the main topic, speakers (including bios), schedule, activities, logistics and details about registration. Invitation letters and materials should provide guests with a reason to attend, and always include a call to action.
Invitation etiquette begins with destination/venue overview. When writing formal invitation letters and materials, it's always safest to assume that nobody has been to the location where you are hosting the program. That means you should write a brief overview of the destination and/or hotel/facility/venue where the program is being held. If you are planning a multi-day event, keep this information as high level as possible, but make sure there's enough information to provide the guest with unique insights about the place, and why they should invest their time there with you.
Invitation etiquette requires the event schedule. If you're planning a multi-day event such as an incentive program, invitation materials should include as much detail as possible so that guests may appropriately plan their time with you. This means that your invitation should identify arrival methods and times, when they will be expected to participate, times for business meetings and activities (and choices of activities), information about meals and departure information.
Invitation etiquette requires activities descriptions. When writing formal invitation letters and materials, provide an overview of the various activities to help guests better determine what matches their interests. Is your golf program a 1/2 day or full day event? What is the "class" of that river rapids float? What is the elevation where you are hosting the event, and how high will that mountain biking program take you? What is the length of time to a painting class and what will they learn?
Invitation etiquette requires information about meeting logistics. Again, assuming you are hosting a multi-day program, guests must be provided with details about each of the following items:
- Flight reservations
- Event registration
- Room reservations
- Airport transfers
- Dress code
- Check-in procedures
- Non-reimbursable items
- Host staff contacts
Develop the final event agenda. This will look different than the initial invitation materials, but should be provided to invited guests upon arrival or just prior to attending an event. It should include an hour-by-hour (it's fine to combine hours) overview of what is scheduled when and where. If you have multiple educational tracks scheduled concurrently, it's helpful to outline those tracks in groups so that attendees know what topics are scheduled when and where.
Create the event welcome letter. Many planners struggle with what information they should or shouldn't include in welcome letters. The best advice is to keep the welcome message simple, and let the guests know that they are welcomed and appreciated. Invitation etiquette suggests that the letter should be signed by the official host of the event.
One of the most overlooked event invitation items is the departure notice. As part of the welcome letter and any arrival gifts, it's important to attach details about how guests will depart.
Create menu cards. Whether you're planning a breakfast, lunch or dinner, guests always appreciate seeing menu cards that outline menu items for each course of the meal. This gives them something to talk about when gathering with others at their table, and allows the wait staff to quickly obtain menu choices from guests, helping to keep the schedule on track. Note: If you're planning a special surprise during the meal, such as a themed dessert to some unique entertainment, it's helpful to keep those items off the menu card to enhance the special effect.
Create appreciation gift note cards. Whether it's an arrival gift or a pillow gift, every appreciation gift should have its own gift note card. This is an opportunity to reinforce "thank you" messages and make your guests feel extra special. It's helpful to incorporate wording and messages that reflect the theme of the event itself.
Create individual departure notices.
On the day prior to departure, deliver notices to guest rooms that remind them when they will depart, including flight number and departure time. This provides an opportunity to fix any last minute errors that may have been overlooked during the scheduling of logistics.
- Make sure you have a great graphic designer and an online registration process. The challenge still today is that many different online event registration systems exist, but they either require a lot of customization or the use of third party systems are still considered a bit pricey on a per invite basis. That's why many planners still rely on their own home-grown tools and resources.
- Find yourself a great stationery shop. Although organizations are moving more and more to the use of electronic forms of communication, that still doesn't replace the impact that printed invitations and event materials deliver. Look for stationery that will compliment your event theme, and vary the styles of paper and sizes to create more interest and drama. Your guests will notice the effort.
- Create a template and replicate from there. Planners should create a template invitation letters and materials, and simply update new events from the templates of previous programs and events. Of course, new stationery, graphics, text, etc., should be selected and used, so there is a certain amount of customization required each time.