While it’s an obvious statement to say the events industry has changed dramatically since the time Projection was started in 1970, it is valuable to look at how events today are evolving to meet attendees where they are. Because, let’s face it: Today’s event-goer is not coming to your event to sit in a seat while speaker after speaker walks on and off the stage. They want more – more value, more engagement, more personalization, more connection.
But with thousands of people attending an event, it can feel impossible to design and deliver an experience for everyone. While we all know (and likely subscribe to) the saying “you can’t please everyone,” there are things you can do to ensure value for the large majority of your event’s attendees. Or, even more ideally, to create value for each attendee at different points during your event.
One of the biggest values of attending an event is the face-to-face connections people make. And for some, doing that is easier than for others. That’s why it’s important to understand the value and complexity of this aspect of live events and plan accordingly, with your attendees in mind.
Example: ASAE Xperience Design Project (XDP)
XDP is a two-day, business-focused experience for association professionals and partners put on by ASAE, whose focus is on connecting great ideas and great people. During registration, attendees are asked a series of questions that ultimately help the event organizers team and pair people up effectively for the 2-day event.
XDP’s focus: To facilitate industry professionals working together to create better experiences for each attendee’s event audiences and increase the success of their conferences and tradeshows. One day is spent in The Lab, a collaborative learning environment where ideas are shared and industry issues are tackled in three zones of educational content. On the second day, attendees sit down one on one with industry partners at the Business Exchange, where they work and ideate together to start planning future events. The organizers make sure to weave in entertainment and time to connect and network as well over the course of the two days.
The STORY conference is described as “TED for creatives.” In order to continuously improve the experience for its attendees – and value delivered to them – the organizers designed a tea party, carrying on the theme of wonder/wonderland for this year’s event. Attendees signed up in advance for a 15-minute reservation spot during the 2-day event. When they arrived, they were given a table assignment, a cup of tea and escorted to their pre-determined (and well-designed) table; one other person received the same table assignment. Participants put their phones in a box and could engage in a natural discussion, or one that was fueled by creative question cards placed on the table in front of them.
For people attending alone and/or those who do not excel at the art of networking, this gave them a safe space to focus on one other person and get to know them a little bit deeper than most fast-moving, loud conference spaces allow for.
Think beyond on-site
Conference attendees are looking for an experience, and that often means before and after the event starts and ends. With the variety of technology and tools accessible today, it is easier than ever to extend that experience (and your brand) beyond the days when attendees are on-site.
Stephanie Stahl offers a few examples in Content Marketing Institute:
- Create educational and fun videos to define event topics or goals
- Send a clever piece of (snail) mail
- Develop original research to be shared with attendees and used by event speakers
The STORY conference held a series of webinars that began before the event and wrapped up after. The purpose was to help attendees plan ahead, to start thinking about the value they wanted to get out of the conference. Following the event, the idea was to help attendees process what they had just experienced and make a plan to implement all the ideas that had come out of the conference. They also created a STORY 2018 attendee Facebook group, where attendees could introduce themselves ahead of the event, communicate during and share their experience and reminisce after.
Design for all personality types – not just extroverts
Extroverts are not the only people who attend events, and therefore organizers need to take into account and plan for a wide variety of personality types.
Example: National Association of Realtors
The National Association of Realtors incorporated social Q & A into their annual Leadership Summit, allowing even the shyest among us to ask important questions of the panel of experts. During the “NAR Voice” session, industry experts took the stage to participate in a panel Q & A discussion where attendees could ask questions that would pop up on the large screen. With some pressing issues facing the industry, it was important for all attendees to have a voice and their concerns addressed.
How it worked: Attendees opened a URL on their web device where they saw a dashboard that allowed them to type in a question as well as see the other questions that people were typing in. Attendees could “up vote” a question that had already been asked to cut down on the number of questions that the moderator had to filter through.
Beyond personality types, most of us have been to an event that is great and valuable, but overwhelming. (I bet for many, that’s almost all conferences.) That’s why organizers need to start thinking about and planning for spaces that allow attendees to rejuvenate and find some calm. How this is done will vary for each event – based on things like the agenda, attendees, space and purpose – but seeing how other events are integrating meditation might be a good place to start.
Ensure all content is accessible
Imagine attending an event and not being able to access the information to which you were most looking forward. Whether it was because the meeting space was limited or the schedule overlapped with something else, people need to be able to consume all the content you and your speakers have to offer.
Example: American Academy of Pediatrics
Many events move from year to year to different cities and venues. When that happens, the space – including size of meeting rooms – fluctuates, which can impact how many attendees can fit into certain sessions. Despite best efforts to do so, most event planners are unable to identify which sessions are going to be the most popular each year, which can leave some conference-goers out in the hallway (and unhappy). The AAP wants to ensure every attendee has the ability to see every session, so they created a system that both effectively uses each venue’s space and enables attendees to consume the content they want.
Before the event, the team wires/outfits every room where a presentation will be given to enable the broadcasting and receiving of slides and audio over a network. During the event, once the organizer determines a session is full and needs to be overflowed, the appropriate content gets streamed to the closest available overflow location and event organizers usher attendees to the new space. Within a matter of seconds, attendees in both spaces – the main breakout room and the overflow space – are consuming the exact same information as the presenter delivers it.
There are plenty of things you can do to ensure your event reaches across your meeting’s wide spectrum of attendees – personality types, generation, gender, content preferences, etc.; this is just a quick snapshot. More important than the tactics you choose is a commitment to a strategy to think through an attendee “lens” when designing and planning all of your future events. When attendees feel heard and like their preferences are addressed, they are more engaged, willing to attend your next event and share their positive experience with others.