Tips from the Trenches: 3 Outside-the-Box Engagement Strategies for Your Next Event 

Every event planner knows that audience engagement is key to event success. There are a few tried and true strategies: book top-level speakers, invest in an event app to increase engagement onsite, and provide them with plenty of networking opportunities.

But what if you’re looking for something different? You’re in luck!

Karen Hill is the Director of Meetings and Events & Engagement at Barcami Lane, an Association Management Company (AMC) that works with national and regional nonprofit associations. She recently spoke at EventMobi’s ‘The New Rules of Engagement’ webinar, where she shared numerous audience engagement strategies—each tried and tested over her 19 years of experience delivering engaging association events.

Some of the insights Karen shared include:

  • Leveraging your event’s location to amp up the fun
  • Sourcing inspiration from diverse voices as you design your program
  • Adding mystery and intrigue to build anticipation
Picture of Karen Hill, Director of Meetings, Events & Engagement at Barcami Lane.

Keep reading to learn three new event engagement tactics that actually work!

3 Unique Ways to Increase Audience Engagement

You want to increase engagement levels at your next event. But you’ve already exhausted your usual tactics. Karen has a few outside-the-box ideas for you:

1. Pick the Right Location

Any real estate tycoon will tell you, it’s all about location, location, location.

Well, location matters when it comes to event engagement as well. The right city and/or venue can surprise and delight your audience. Take inspiration from your host city’s unique locations, scenery, and landmarks to create more engaging and memorable experiences.

Karen recently helped plan the annual conference for the Association of Academic Surgical Administrators, which was held in Boston. This was a new city for many of the attendees.

“I think one of the things was a lot of them had never been to the city—or if they were in the city, they were just stuck in a meeting room…. This was just the opportunity to almost push them, go out, go see the city, team up with other attendees, and just explore.”

-Karen Hill

Karen and her team used the city to their advantage, planning fun activities for attendees that encouraged them to explore their surroundings.

An aerial view of Boston, MA, USA.

You can do something similar. Take a page out of Karen’s book and plan a city-wide scavenger hunt for your audience (more on this below). Or take a small-scale approach and use your pre-event communications to highlight unusual facts about the location where your next industry conference will take place.

If you’re lucky enough to have your host city’s Destination Management Company (DMC) as an event sponsor, you could collaborate to ensure your attendees experience exclusive locations or activities highlighting the city’s most unique and exciting aspects.

Any of these approaches will give your attendees something special to get excited about.

“We presented a list of 10 different items throughout the city of Boston… We had to get them to go out, explore, try new things, new foods. We would have them actually upload them in the app and then we get all their photos immediately… So we cut out social media completely and just focused on having people engage more in the app and share their experiences.”

-Karen Hill

As an added bonus, the scavenger hunt required attendees to upload photos of their progress to the Activity Feed in the event’s mobile app. This was a great way for participants to break the ice and make new connections with other attendees.

An image illustrating a scavenger hunt in Boston, a map of the city of Boston with location pins of the different items of the scavenger hunt, and different posts from EventMobi's Activity Feed showcasing different reactions from the participants.

To participate, attendees had to log in to the app, which was a win-win scenario for Karen because it guaranteed attendees could also access all the event information, content, and engagement features that would help them make the most of the annual conference.

2. Listen to Diverse Voices

To ensure her events offer real value to all attendees, Karen taps into her volunteer base. This enables her to source inspiration from diverse people representing the event’s target audience. 

A group of committed volunteers can help you handle administrative tasks, raise funds for future events, and market and deliver your association’s next gathering. They can also be a rich source of information about their own demographic. Since your most engaged members are likely to be your volunteers, gather their insights into what activities will be most compelling to people like them who may be considering joining your association—or exciting to existing members.

“So we work with a committee to come up with and brainstorm different ideas to help new members or first-time attendees engage with each other and also get out and enjoy the city that they’re in.”

-Karen Hill

The question is, how do you connect with and recruit volunteers? First, ensure the people in your association know the benefits of volunteering. For example, they’ll be able to make a difference in their industry, connect with other professionals, and develop new skills. In certain situations, they may be able to enhance their resumes, too. Plus, it will be a ton of fun!

Association volunteers working behind a registration desk to register attendees into an event.

Second, supercharge the recruitment process. A simple way to make it happen is to streamline the application process. The easier it is for people to apply, the more volunteers you’ll get.

Also, make sure to define each volunteer’s responsibilities. What do you expect of them? Total clarity in this regard will help keep everyone on the same page.

Next, promote your volunteer opportunities across your association’s website, your event’s registration website, community app, and social media channels. Explain the benefits of volunteering, highlight the fun, and include your events’ hashtags in your social posts to drive registrations. 

Finally, consider rewarding your volunteers for their efforts. What can you offer them? Potential options include hands-on training, industry-wide recognition, and networking opportunities.

3. Add Mystery and Intrigue

There are two ways to drive excitement before your event: tell them exactly what you have planned with your activities and hope they get excited. Or, keep key information under wraps so the element of mystery builds a new level of anticipation. Karen took the latter approach.

“We didn’t release any information about the actual photo scavenger hunt until the day of… We wanted to make it exciting—like this is what you have coming up.”

-Karen Hill

We know what you’re thinking, “Did this approach actually work?” Absolutely!

A group of event attendees lined up to speak to volunteers behind a registration desk.

The scavenger hunt was designed to encourage networking and direct attendees to must-see spots in the city. Instead of providing a list of recommendations in advance—a more common approach—Karen ensured attendees had dedicated time and a great reason to get out there and see them.

“We saw an increase in engagement and people downloading the app and getting involved… They’re actually looking for recommendations on what place to go to get the cannoli or get something, some chowder or something else. So it went well.”

-Karen Hill

A scavenger hunt might not work at every event. Rather than copying Karen’s exact playbook,  you can use mystery and intrigue to increase engagement with just about any fun activity you have planned for your attendees.

Elevate Audience Engagement With a Proven Event Platform

There are many different ways to engage your attendees. Thanks to Karen Hill, you now have a few more unique strategies to help capture their attention.

Want an additional tip? Invest in a proven Event Platform to keep your audience engaged and excited during your events—as well as in the weeks or months between gatherings.

Two women talking while happily looking at a smartphone. On the right, a phone screen showing an EventMobi's group discussion in the Event App, and on the left, a laptop showing the desktop version of EventMobi's Video Library.

Your association can use EventMobi to manage events, host content, build an engaged community, and communicate with members year-round. A single platform where your members can log on to register and attend events, learn, and network throughout the year and across events.

To learn more about EventMobi and see how the event platform can help you engage your members at and in between events, sign up for a free demo!