Pack 'em in tight
Apart from speeches (you know I hate speeches) and bright white light, there is one thing that really kills any event. It is:
a room that is too damn big.
I learned this lesson from bike industry guru Silvio Manicardi back in my distant youth. We were organising the publicity auction of the first road-legal NR750 ultrabike. The bash was due to take place in Milan, and I was told to book a function room.
"How many people are we expecting?" asked the boss.
"About a hundred, maybe a hundred and forty," I replied.
"So book a room big enough for seventy."
The effect was spectacular - people were struggling to get in, and standing on tables to see. Photographers were - literally - fighting to get a shot. The atmosphere was electric, and our little event felt like the hottest spot in town. The NR sold for a monster sum - securing a pile of money for Unicef and our bike's place in the Guinness Book of Records.
You can see the reverse of this effect at any half-full soccer game, or half-empty nightclub. It's an easy equation: under-filled venue equals zero atmosphere.
When you are planning an event, product launch or party and want people to have a good time, it's crucial to avoid a feeling of empty space. (This is the reason why are never going to have a hit event on your trade-fair stand, so don't even try.)
Choose a room that is slightly too small, and go for a low ceiling if you can. Warm acoustics are important - nobody wants to laugh or applaud into cold silence. Even a door onto an echoing foyer can kill the atmosphere if it is left open. Don't listen to the venue if they suggest putting in free-standing partitions to make a large room smaller. This will not take away the echoing space above, and will only make the event feel more like a flop.
And don't under-heat the space. You want people to be taking off jackets, loosening collars, and letting their hair down. It's easier to open a window than to turn up the heating...
In the worst case - and if the event is suitable - you might need to consider "papering the house", as they say in showbiz. This involves inviting free (or even paid) guests to make up the numbers. Even the Oscar-organisers have a regiment of students in tuxedos primed to fill up the seats during the boring technical awards, when half of Hollywood heads for the bar and the bathroom*.
So pack 'em in. And remember - no crush, no rush.
* Of course, not every event is as inviting as the Academy Awards, so it's hard to be sure your "wallpaper" will come. Broadway tradition says the best place to give away free tickets is at the dorms where nurses live. Students will accept your free ticket, then forget to show up. Nurses are more reliable - thank goodness.