Event Experience Design Best Practices from PCMA’s Convening Leaders 2018
Continued education and keeping up with industry trends such as event experience design is a key focus at EventMobi. So as a new Mobier within the content marketing team, I had the opportunity to attend PCMA’s Convening Leaders Conference for the first time.
Event Experience Design Best Practices
PCMA is the largest and most reputable association in the events and meetings industry, and is well known for their educational programs and events to keep members engaged and informed. So, if anyone knows how to design an event experience, it’s the event organizers at PCMA!
Here’s a recap of the tactics and promotional strategies that PCMA used to design a great event experience at the 2018 Convening Leaders Conference, especially for first-time attendees.
The registration process was nothing out of the ordinary – your standard form-fill procedure with confirmation emails delivered to my inbox. Simple and easy to follow. Even though this doesn’t sound very exciting, the registration experience was exactly what I was expecting as an attendee. It was efficient and met my needs in providing all the necessary information required to logistically prepare for my trip to Nashville (the city where this year’s conference was held). The confirmation email contained details on hotel accommodation, travel options, and things to know about the city and venue.
A few days after I registered for the event, I was put onto a mailing list for a newsletter program that they created specifically for attendees. It contained tips and information that helped me prepare for the event, and provided guidance on how to make the most of my event experience. The newsletter also provided exclusive content such as a sneak-peek at gamification challenges, social events, and discounts for things like Lyft rides and local shows.
First Timer Insider Access
A few days after registering and indicating that I was a first time attendee, I received an email from the member services team. They sent me information on programs that they developed specifically for others like me. This included a mentorship program where I could meet face to face with an ‘expert attendee’, a crash course webinar on how to maximize my Convening Leaders experience and gain the largest ROI on my conference time investment, and a ‘know before you go’ style webinar with tips from PCMA staff on the best way to experience Nashville.
I heard from colleagues and peers who had attended PCMA’s annual conference in the past that the event is massive, with non-stop content and social programming. So, as a first timer, I was concerned about how best to prepare myself and ensure that I would get the most out of my experience.
The welcome email I received from the member services team put my mind at ease. The fact that they had programming in place to help guide newbies really impressed me. It showed empathy and understanding of their audience’s needs, and made me feel more comfortable to participate and engage in the programs they were offering.
PCMA brought back a program called Braindates this year. Heralded as one of the best ways for attendees to learn and build meaningful relationships, the program was run in an ‘unconference’ format. Essentially, attendees created their own meetings with topics that were of interest to them, or joined a meeting that was already created by a fellow attendee. Each meeting was limited to a small number of participants so there was more opportunity for high-quality interaction.
Expedited Badge Pick-Up
The impressive part of the pre-event experience for me actually happened at the Nashville airport. To expedite and streamline the badge pick-up process, and reduce lineups at the actual convention center, attendees were able to pick up their event badges in the airport, right after they picked up their luggage.
There was lots of signage throughout the airport leading us to the pick-up area, plenty of helpful staff were onsite to give directions to shuttles and provide water and snacks, and check-in lines for badges were really short because they had so many people at the counter.
On the first day of the conference, a welcome email was sent out with reminders on airport registration and transportation to the hotel, and the details about the reception parties, such as location and scheduling of concerts and speakers. It was great to get that reminder email because that meant I didn’t have to spend time digging through my previous emails to reference that information again.
Event App & Printed Schedule
All the basic details, such as daily session schedules, were provided in a printed booklet, but to really get the full event experience, attendees needed to download the event app. This allowed them to star sessions of interest and create a customized schedule. Attendees were also able to go into the profile of each session to learn more about the agenda and presenters, as well as view any resource content provided, or give session feedback. The event app was also a great way to network and connect with new and old colleagues. Push notifications were also sent out to notify attendees of important information, such as reminding them to participate in the Walking Challenge.
Daily Recap Newsletters & Magazines
Every day during the event, a newsletter was emailed out to attendees with highlights from the previous day, including exciting speakers, pictures from social events, and video recordings of on-the-spot attendee and speaker interviews throughout the day.
To take it a step further, PCMA also printed a daily magazine with similar highlights that was distributed to attendees every morning. It was great to be able to read the highlights of the previous day because there was no way that anyone was able to attend all the sessions and social events, given how large scale the event was. The daily updates keep attendees in-the-know and feel included in everything that was going on.
Food & Beverage
Food & bev is usually the biggest chunk out of an event planners budget, and for good reason, because whenever you ask someone how they enjoyed an event, one of the things that always gets mentioned is the food and bev. PCMA did not disappoint in providing plenty of high-quality food and bev throughout the event. They were great in catering to special dietary needs and always had great variety.
In addition to engaging content and speakers, PCMA did a great job of creating attendee engagement by incorporating gamification into the event experience. They partnered with Heka Health to create a Walking Challenge. Participants competed for various prizes by tracking their steps using their own personal Fitbit, Apple Watch, or step trackers integrated on their iPhone/Android smartphones. Our very own Account Manager, Amanda Toms (pictured here), was so engaged and motivated by the challenge that she got up at 6 a.m. to compete in a 5K race, and won the women’s division!
The Walking Challenge required participants to download a separate app, which tracked their steps and synced back to a leaderboard where everyone could see who was in the lead.
Recommended Read: EventMobi’s Customer Success Coach, Noah Opolsky, shares his experience at PCMA, where he got the chance to try out new event technologies that will be making a big impact in 2018 and beyond. Read his blog post here.
There were hundreds of friendly and helpful PCMA and convention center staff onsite throughout the event. Even though the convention center was huge, it was easy to get around because whenever I got lost, there would be someone right around the corner to ask for directions.
Logistical Layout & Design
PCMA made great use of the available space and layout within the convention center. Food and bev was spaced out strategically, wherever large crowds were going to gather, or outside of conference rooms. Creative makeshift stages and classroom style layouts were constructed throughout the venue to create spaces for content sessions.
For those looking for quiet space to get work done, or just take a breather from all the activity, the top floor was devoted to seating that provided a bit more privacy. And in addition to the speaker sessions, vendor booths, and luncheons, PCMA designed the layout so that there were plenty of other opportunities to network with attendees. For example, there was a section dedicated to Braindate meetings, and ad-hoc spaces throughout encouraged meetings.
Most sessions were recorded and shared after the conference. Slide decks were also provided after the conference, which was really helpful for in-person attendees so that they didn’t have to worry about writing down notes. Instead, they could concentrate on participating in the actual session.
Post Event Survey
PCMA shared a post-event survey with about 30 questions through the event app and email. It asked typical questions like how was your overall experience, would you recommend the event to a peer, and would you come back again. This is a great way to get feedback from attendees to help improve the event experience design for the next year.
One final e-newsletter was sent to attendees with a recap of the entire event, another prompt to complete the post-event survey, information on how to get CE credits for attending sessions, and discounts on PCMA products.
I had heard through word-of-mouth from longtime event professionals and planners that PCMA has a reputation for putting on memorable and well-designed events, and for good reason. They definitely lived up to expectations and even went beyond in designing for a first-time attendee experience. The venue, the food and bev, the amazing customer service, the smooth logistics and registration process, and not to mention the top-notch content programming and speakers. The overall event experience design was something that we can all learn from in providing our attendees with unforgettable event experiences that will get them wanting to return year after year.