How One Planner Curates Memorable Experiences for Corporate Retreats

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Sonoma County, The Shakedown, memorable meetings, memorable events, creative meetings, andgreat, Andrea Cannistraci
Sonoma County

Groups are always looking for “memorable” experiences, but as the meetings industry evolves and attendees crave more creativity, who’s to say what they’ll find memorable or “been there, done that?”

In this Shakedown, Prevue speaks with Andrea Cannistraci, president and founder of andgreat, a marketing, branding and events firm that specializes in top-rate experiential programming. Here she shares how to overcome the hurdles in achieving unforgettable events as well as some of her best program ideas yet.

How do you define a “memorable” experience?

A memorable experience is one that attendees will recall with smiles on their faces and continue to talk about weeks and months after the experience. Most often this is achieved by conducting a short pre-event survey. Find out more about the attendees—what do they want to learn, to see, to eat? Allowing attendees to be involved in the process ensures they have a great experience.

A memorable experience involves getting out of the ballroom, outside the four hotel walls; it means hosting breakout sessions in a circle outside on the lawn, in a vineyard, on the beach. It means breaking away from your typical boring F&B options and customizing. Swap out the traditional continental breakfast for an avocado toast bar, for example. Lastly, I always try to use boutique properties that have lots of outdoor space and windows. If people are going to fly across the country to a retreat, let them be reminded every minute where they are. Don’t hold them hostage in a big box hotel conference room that could be anywhere in the world.

What tends to be the biggest hurdles in achieving memorable experiences at events?

Budget, time and travel. The company must build in a budget for an experience; they must be willing to carve out time in their agenda and be willing to have their employees travel to a destination that is often not a single flight away.

What are three ways you have curated memorable experiences at corporate retreats?

  1. I reserved a wine cave dinner in Sonoma County with fun photo props. The F&B was all local and seasonal, and, of course, the wine was all estate wine—a real farm-to-table experience. I don’t think one person in that group had ever dined in a wine cave. They had so many questions ahead of the dinner. They were excited; some were anxious. It was memorable, and they are still talking about it a year later.
  2. I arranged a Baja Truck driving experience in Colorado. The son of the resort owner is a well-known Baja 500 driver and had a track and trucks on property with a driving school. I had the trucks wrapped with the company logo, and attendees just loved it. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
  3. I hired a corporate leadership facilitator to administer a DISC profile—a tool used to discuss people’s behavioral differences. Attendees completed the profile and received tips related to working with people of other styles. The exercise increased self-knowledge and attendees were better able to understand how they respond to conflict, what motivates them, what causes them to stress and how they solve problems. It not only helped facilitate better teamwork, it also helped the leadership team to manage more effectively by understanding the dispositions and priorities of employees and team members. Now when the company needs to make company-wide decisions, they ask, “How will the D’s react to this? Do we need to be concerned about the S’s?” Overall, it was a fun exercise that truly made a difference to the company and its employees.
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