Giving Attendees the Engagement Opportunities They Desire
If event planners have an advantage, it is this: When someone attends an event, they want to engage with it.
Unfortunately, that’s about where the advantages stop because, unless you are successful in your engagement attempts, attendees will become distracted and move on. According to a 2015 study, the average person has an attention span of eight seconds, which is shorter than the attention span of a goldfish. It has become generally accepted that this study was a bit premature in suggesting that our brains have changed; it illuminated that people face an overwhelming number of distractions in their daily lives. The truth of this study is that, when someone is not entirely engrossed, they will quickly move on to something else.
In other words, if you don’t want your attendees staring at their phones, you need to find ways to keep them engaged.
Engagement at Events
Events offer four general attendee engagement possibilities with:
Exhibitors and sponsors
These opportunities are what make events so enticing for most attendees. They provide promises for problem-solving, educational enlightenment, and career advancement.
What attendees may or may not realize is that these engagements help forge a genuine emotional connection between attendees and your brand. Interestingly, the engagement does not need to be directly with your brand. If someone makes a valuable connection through networking or a sponsor solves their needs, the attendee will feel appreciative toward your event and realize the value gained by attending.
However, while attendees may journey to an event bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, once on-site, they may find it difficult to take full advantage of these opportunities. Whether they’re overwhelmed by the event or just uncomfortable around people, some attendees may not notice engagement opportunities until they’re gone.
On the other hand, some attendees have no trouble engaging, hustling from activity to activity, and networking session to networking session. These attendees often become so congested with experiences that their valuable interactions become lost in the sea of their transactions. It’s engagement overload.
As an event planner, you need to create environments that benefit both types of attendees. For the first, you can develop environments that comfortably motivate engagements. For the second, you can help guide attendees to the exhibitors, sponsors, and other attendees that will be most advantageous to them.
It should come as no surprise that an audience in the year 2020 expects event personalization. Fortunately, event planners have more data – and more tools – available to them more than ever before. Utilizing the right techniques, you can deliver an event for every attendee that feels like it’s just for one.
According to a recent report from Accenture, 73 percent of event attendees are willing to share private information in exchange for personalized event experiences. However, this exchange must be open and clearly defined.
Any effort at personalization begins with identifying your audience, which means creating attendee personas. By carefully combing through your data, you can develop pictures of your audience segments. The level of detail in these personas is ultimately up to you, but there should be enough information that the persona feels it could walk out of a computer screen and into your event.
With personas, you can design elements of your event (and event marketing) to appeal to large swaths of attendees instead of appealing to each individual (an impossible task). Once you fully understand your crowd, you can design an event tailored to their needs: educational sessions that address their problems, exhibitors that offer solutions, etc.
There are also technological solutions that will ramp up the personalization. For example, wearable tech, such as wristbands or smart ID bands, can inform exhibitors of an attendee’s name as they approach. Experiential activations can also use names and personal information to become more meaningful. Wearables can also help keep an event line-free since attendees can simply walk past a sensor to check-in to the event and educational sessions.
This tech also gives event planners detailed insights on each attendee’s journey, which means the event experience improves year after year (and, maybe day by day). Once the event is over, the data gathered by the wearable tech can illuminate which aspects of the event were a success and which need to be reworked or discarded.
Chatbots paired with the event app are another method to personalize your event. An artificial intelligence-powered chatbot can help pair attendees with exhibitors, sponsors, and other attendees that will be most beneficial to them. It can also answer questions, give show floor directions, and manage the user’s experience. In return, apps provide event planners with a wealth of valuable data about each attendee’s journey.
Lectures are boring and ineffective.
A study conducted in 2014 reviewed the impact of traditional lectures (a teacher speaking to a group) on students in undergraduate classes compared to classes employing active learning techniques. The results concluded that “active learning leads to an increase in examination performance that would raise average grades by a half a letter, and that failure rates under traditional lecturing increase by 55 percent over the rates observed under active learning.”
If you want your educational sessions and keynote speeches to be effective, you need to design them to engage.
Consider this: undergraduate students have to sit through an entire lecture. They may not have to pay attention, but they can’t take out their phones (not obviously, anyway), they can’t have a conversation with the person next to them, and they can’t leave.
Attendees don’t have these restrictions. Lectures do not promote learning, and they certainly do not promote engagement. If you want impactful educational sessions, you need to rethink the traditional approach and design these sessions for interaction. This does not mean doing away with a subject matter expert. It means discovering methods to make the learning active, such as:
Design breaks during the talk
Encourage audience participation
Convert traditional, limited Q&As into AMA (Ask Me Anything) sessions
Break an auditorium into small groups that motivate peer-to-peer discussion and learning
Use technology that creates collaboration; for example, run live polls through the event’s app
Attendees are indisputably appreciative when an event delivers genuine learning opportunities.
People love games and the sense of accomplishment they deliver. It’s the driving principle behind many successful smartphone apps where the entire point is just to grind from one achievement to the next.
Think of ways to gamify your event that also benefits attendees. For example, traditional networking sessions do not work for everyone. While some attendees are social butterflies, others are uncomfortable approaching strangers. Instead, create a scavenger hunt where people earn points for every contact they make. You could also add bonus points when a meaningful connection is made. Create a leaderboard so people can track their progress and engage in some friendly competition. This scavenger hunt idea can also be used to motivate attendees to visit specific exhibits and sponsors.
Another possibility is to gamify breakout sessions. Create a problem or event-specific riddle that a group has to solve. Include prizes for the team that finishes first. (This can also work during a networking session.) Try to make the problem-solving issues relevant, such as something they could encounter in their professional lives.
With the right data, technology, and strategy, you can deliver a world of engaging possibilities to your attendees.