We’ve all attended an event at some point in our lives. Whether it was an industry conference, networking meetup, company retreat, sales kick-off, or even just a friend’s birthday party, it’s safe to say most of us have had an event experience that’s been good, bad, fun, boring…you name it. A few of us may have even attended a disastrous event or two in our lives!
Let’s focus on those events that are truly exceptional. The ones where you walk out feeling excited, inspired, and maybe even ready to take on the world! What makes them so memorable, and how can we bottle up that magic and replicate it in the future?
Designing the Ultimate Event Experience: Where to Begin
There’s a lot that goes into organizing an event. One of the reasons pulling off a successful event is so challenging is because there are often many unique groups of people involved, all with their own definition of what makes an event a success. From attendees, to speakers, to sponsors and exhibitors, there are a lot of people to keep happy and make sure the event experience is top notch!
In this blog series, we’ll take a look at how to design an exceptional event experience for each of those groups, beginning with the primary reason why we even plan events in the first place: our attendees.
Along the way, we’ll share tips and stories gathered from industry peers, clients, and the trend makers of the event industry who make creating an exceptional event experience their daily mission.
Building Excitement Prior to the Event
There are often months between when the event is first announced and when the event takes place. That’s a lot of time to potentially engage with your attendees, to get them as excited as you are about what they’ve signed up for!
1. Let Them Know Why They Should Be Pumped
There are too many event websites that stick to the bare minimum of answering Who, What, Where and When. Don’t forget the Why!
Testimonials from past participants talking about their event experience can make a huge difference, as can a highlight reel from last year’s event. If you’re hosting a first-year event, you may need to get a bit more creative. Consider creating a video of staff talking about which speakers and sessions they’re most excited to hear, or more information about what to do in the surrounding area if the event location itself is part of the draw!
2. Get People Talking
Lots of people attend events in part for the valuable networking opportunities. An event hashtag can be one way to get the conversation started early on social media and help the keeners connect in advance of your event! If you’re making use of an event app, you can kick things off with some Group Discussion topics.
3. Create and Share Relevant Content
By offering content that aligns with your event’s purpose, you can get your attendees in the right mindset and provide background information on any relevant topics. This will allow them to really make the most of the event itself. On social media, be sure to share articles on any current or potentially hot button issues that will be addressed at your event. See if you can start stimulate some debate! Many event planners have also had great success in encouraging their speakers to provide guest blog posts, which can give your audience a taste of what they’ll get by attending the event itself!
Creating an Engaging and Valuable Event Experience
It’s game day, and your attendees are beginning to arrive! How can you keep them happy and engaged from the moment they check in to the final round of applause?
1. Over-Communicate the Basics
Yes, we’re talking about exceptional event experiences, and this seems awfully standard. But the best events anticipate the needs of their attendees, no matter how small. Where’s Conference Room A? What’s the WiFi password? Where’s the bathroom? Your attendees have a million questions, and if you’ve anticipated those questions and have the answers ready, you’re off to a great start! After all, your event could have award-winning speakers and a star-studded networking dinner, but if no one can figure out where they’re supposed to be and when, it will all be for naught.
Communicate this key information in the conference booklet, the event app, on printed and digital signage throughout the venue, and have your event MC start off with some housekeeping items and address frequently asked questions as needed.
2. Make It Easy to Connect
Your attendees want to network, they really do. But striking up a conversation with strangers can be hard! Luckily, there are several things that you can do to ease the burden a little bit. Lots of event planners today leverage gamification to create fun networking opportunities, while others ask attendees to share a fun fact about themselves on their event app profile.
At one conference last year, the event organizer had every attendee choose two unique pins at check-in to be worn on their lanyard, each pin representing a different interest. Connecting with the person sitting next to you is that much easier when you can see that you share a common interest, or know right off the bat that they’re a football fan or a cat lover!
Recommended Read: Looking for creative ideas on how to get your attendees more engaged and connected? Read our Ultimate Guide to Gamification
3. Spread the Social Love
If you’re a millennial or are well-versed in the world of social media, then you’ll know that rush of dopamine that accompanies a retweet. You could also incentivize with actual giveaways, like free tickets to next year’s conference for the most prolific tweeter. But even without a prize on the line, everyone loves to feel seen and to be appreciated for their insights, so shine the spotlight on those people who are contributing to the conversation. Digital signage that highlights the Twitter feed can help that spotlight shine even brighter.
4. Help Attendees Pick the Right Sessions
As an event participant, there’s nothing more discouraging and demotivating than feeling like you picked the wrong session to attend. Whether it’s the expert who accidentally finds herself in a beginner session, or the person who was hoping to get his hands dirty in a workshop but instead is stuck listening to an executive panel weigh in on the topic, we all hate to waste our time.
Make it easy for attendees to find and engage with the session content that is most relevant to them. Clearly calling out the session format within the agenda, encouraging attendees to define their personal schedule in advance of the event, and creating different session tracks based on skill levels and interests can help accomplish this.
Keeping the Good Times Rolling & Being Memorable
The event is over, and you’re breathing a huge sigh of relief. But wait! There are post-event surveys to send, slides and videos to make available, and perhaps even an early bird ticket special to promote.
Before you get carried away trying to wrap things up and execute on your own goals, ask yourself one more time how you can provide value to your attendees at this stage.
Want more ideas? Speak to one of our event experience experts today!
1. Be Their Note-Taker
Events can be a whirlwind, for event planners and attendees alike. While your attendees likely tried to take notes throughout the event, the reality is that there was probably a lot of information that escaped their grasp. Jog their memory! Providing a reference document that summarizes the key takeaways from each session is a great way to offer something of value to attendees, and will make them more likely to do something in return for you (like fill out that post-event survey!)
2. Don’t Let Them Forget
Remind your attendees what a great time they had! One organization asked people to answer one simple question just before they left the event: what was your favorite part of this conference, and why? A couple weeks later, they sent attendees an email, titled “Thanks for the good times!” The content was simply a round-up of people’s answers, nicely summing up what had made the conference a memorable event.
3. Send Personalized Follow-Ups
This one may require you to mobilize the efforts of your larger team, but the payoff will be worth it! While mass “thank you” emails have their place, it’s still true that nothing can replace a personalized follow-up, especially if it’s timely and sent within a few days of the event’s completion. A personalized, friendly follow-up will make each attendee feel as though they were an appreciated participant at your event, and will make them more likely to attend future events you host.
Based on their interactions with attendees at the event, your team may even be able to offer additional value by passing along content or information that would be relevant to that person’s needs. For example, an invitation to suggested industry training for an association member, or an educational ebook for a customer at a user conference.
Have you ever attended an event that went above and beyond your expectations? One that still stands out in your mind today? We’d love to hear about it!