I always enjoy attending large budget, signature events and conferences so that I can look for elements we can apply to our clients with smaller budgets. Just because your budget is missing a zero doesn’t mean you can’t wow your attendees.

The Vancouver Convention Centre hosted the famed TED conference for the first time this past March and they had a challenge to overcome – the facility does not have a theatre. When you have a budget the size that TED has, it’s no problem, just build one. Take a look at this video and blog that explains the process for designing and building the custom theatre inside the convention centre’s meeting space.

When I saw the theatre built for TED I was of course very impressed, but I also discovered that some of the technology that they used (from our mutual supplier partner Freeman Audio Visual Canada) is large screen video technology that we have used for our clients’ signature events, but on a smaller scale. Where did we get the idea to do this? From working with our supplier partner and being inspired by an international conference I attended a few years back in Europe.

While TED did not disclose their budget for theatre design, building or audiovisual equipment and services I am confident that it is larger than our typical client’s budget. The key to learning from TED is “scaling” – how to apply a million dollar idea to a much smaller budget.

The design of the TED theatre allows for audience interaction and for delegates to be as close to the stage as possible. When you think about the main plenary room setup for your next conference think about how you can get your delegates closer to the speakers. Can you use a cabaret setup like TED did? Many older venues have former dinner theatre spaces that can be used in this way. Don’t take a tiered room to be a negative, make it a positive.

At a signature event can you place the “head table” in the middle of the room rather than next to podium? I learned years ago from former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien to place the honouree in the middle of the room with major donors circled around the head table. When Canada’s Jewish community honoured the Richardson family we designed a large dining room style table in the middle of the room for the immediate family and community leaders with the surrounding tables being for other family members, sponsors and major donors. This helped get more people closer to the honourees.

Large, signature events and conferences spend more than many “average” size events can on audiovisual, staging and production. But what can you learn from them? The cost of large screen projection keeps dropping, as does the software to create impactful visuals at your next event. We are now commonly using screens 48 feet wide (and wider) but when budget does not allow for the latest in technology for content creation, we custom create traditional PowerPoint presentations to emulate what more sophisticated software can do.

In 2013 we transformed the audiovisual presentation at the Rady Sports Dinner with guest speaker Drew Brees from two traditional screens into one 48’ wide screen. The impact was substantial; guests assumed that the audiovisual budget had increased exponentially, but it didn’t. While the costs did increase, the increase was manageable as we scaled the “million dollar” idea from another client event that had a 100’ wide screen and all the bells and whistles, to fit the smaller budget of this dinner.

Simpler ideas can also be borrowed from big budget events. We worked with a convention centre to re-think the traditional “bread basket” based on a concept from a luxury hotel. While we changed the concept, the more expensive “bread basket” inspired our team to design something different that added less than $2.00 per attendee to the cost of the dinner.

Take the grand ideas you have, be creative and challenge your supplier partners on how to maximize your budget to achieve your vision. Not everything is possible, but lots of great ideas can be scaled to fit more reasonable budgets.