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What I Learned From Disney

There’s a particular entertainment empire headquartered in sunny SoCal known for its masterful branding that’s anchored by a pair of round, black mouse ears. Included in this magical corporate kingdom is a fleet of four luxury cruise ships outfitted with a clear nod to nostalgia and the good ol’ glam days of cruising; yet infused with modernity through and through, not to mention personalized customer service that simply sets the standard for all others.

Recently, my wife and two young children (Ashlyn, 8, and Aidan, 6) went on our second cruise aboard this line and came away delighted. It strikes me that there is a very powerful correlation between the cruise and a corporate meeting or event – it’s all about the guest experience.

The experience doesn’t begin when your attendees arrive on property and head for the check-in desk. It should begin well in advance of your program, build and peak onsite, and sustain itself long after the program ends. It means stirring anticipation, setting high expectations, delivering on those expectations (if not blowing them out of the water), and keeping the energy and momentum alive and productive long after the program ends. It means putting together an array of educational offerings that attendees can pick and choose from (much like activities, floor shows, and restaurants aboard ship), so their unique needs and desires are met.

For the Jones family, excitement built in the weeks leading up to our departure. A phone call came in for the kids from Goofy one day. “Hey, Ashlyn! Hey, Aidan! I can’t wait to see you on board the ship!” the big mutt told them. Fun little touches like that enhanced our overall experience.

On a more serious note, my son has a number of food allergies and managing his diet can be tricky. Not to worry, the cruise line couldn’t have been more attentive to his dietary restrictions. We filled out paperwork in advance, and he was given a color-coded wristband to alert staff that he had unique needs at mealtime. (Incredibly and to their credit, the cruise line actually has allergy consultants assigned to each of its restaurants to make sure proper meals are served to those with special considerations.) The chance for Mom and Dad to relax at mealtime and not worry if Aidan was being served something he couldn’t tolerate was priceless. A mini-vacation within the vacation!

We stayed very busy each day and found the shows to be great; kids’ activities were engaging, playful and well-supervised; and adults-only areas tasteful and classy. We were able to spend time together as a family and time together as a couple. It was the best of both worlds for a Mom and a Dad. The atmosphere was always upbeat, energetic and genuinely enjoyable. It was everything we’d hoped it would be. The fun photos and spectacular memories we took with us will last a lifetime.

I share this with you as a reminder of how important it is for those of us in the corporate meetings and events business to thoughtfully consider, plan and tend to every little detail of the guest experience – before, during, and after a program. It’s critically important to align ourselves with partners who share your desire for excellence. That includes every member of the team and every little task because a single miss-step can be the make-or-break difference in your program’s success. Experience, professionalism and partnership are the keys.

Remember, it’s not a meeting or an event, it’s an experience. That said, not every program needs to be designed and produced at a 5-star level with all the whiz-bang flourishes that everyone enjoys. But each program must live up to the expectations of the attendees as established in your pre-program communications. If you fall short, you’ve failed your attendees.

Whatever you do — at whatever level — do it the very best it can be done. Start to finish. Morning, noon and night. That includes pre-event communications, online registration, ground transfers, venue check-in, registration desk, welcome reception, general sessions, breakouts, workshops, motivational speakers, presentations, after-hours social events, offsite activities, amenities, check-out, luggage handling … everything!

Do it. Do it right. And do it for one reason: the guest experience.

Photo Credit: Juan Camilo Bernal /

Until next time!