It used to be enough to get people to attend your event. Now, your goal as a planner is to get attendees fully engaged and participating in your event. Clearly, it’s critical that you create a meaningful event “experience” that extends beyond the event itself. But how?
Q. Where do I start when planning an event “experience” rather than simply another event?
A. First, start by recognizing that your guests are investing valuable time and money to attend your event and they are much more perceptive than in years past. That’s why you want to design an experience to cater to what your attendees care about and deliver it in a way with which they’re comfortable. For example, a target audience of millennials who are more tech savvy are going to expect a different type of engagement than baby boomers who may not be up on cutting edge social media or technology. The goal here is to get your attendees involved in the experience, the presenters, the vendors, and one another. This should carry over well past the event itself.
Q. Speaking of technology, how has it changed an event experience?
A. The fact that nearly everyone is in constant possession of their smart phone has changed the entire event planning industry. Apps can be used to register guests, teach, gather and track data, communicate with and update attendees in real time, and improve follow up after the event has ended. It’s amazing how technology has improved attendee engagement.
Q. From where do I draw inspiration to create an engaging experience?
A. Again, it comes down to knowing your prospective audience. Really consider demographics and how these people prefer to interact. Plus, there are many ways to make an event experience memorable. One that’s often overlooked is incorporating the sense of smell. Smell is one of the most evocative of the senses and is proven to trigger memory and cultivate an atmosphere. That’s why many realtors will infuse a space with the scent of baking bread, brownies, or apple pie prior to an open house. These aromas conjure up a sense of hominess for many people and actually help them envision a house as their own.
Q. What can I do to encourage participants to interact with exhibitors?
A. There are hundreds of ways to do this, but for the sake of brevity, we’ll stick with three. First, exhibitors need to build a buzz about the event prior to the event. Social media, email blasts, appearances on local TV or radio all work well to achieve this.
Gaming is another way to get guests out gabbing with the exhibitors. One year, the Minnesota Office of Tourism offered Minnesota State Fair goers a prize if they visited several state-run booths scattered across the fair grounds. At each booth, the visitor received a piece of a magnetic puzzle. At the end, when they had visited all the booths, they had a fridge magnet in the shape of the state, and the exhibitors interacted with more attendees than they might otherwise have done.
Leveraging social media is another great way to draw in attendees. Vendors simply ask their visitors to “check in” at the event, tag their booth or business, and share the post to their social media page. The exhibitor then enters the attendee into a drawing for a valuable prize while also gaining exposure to any of the visitor’s social media friends and followers.
While there’s no shortage of ideas for getting your attendees involved in your event experience, it’s critical to remember your first goal…to create an event that your attendees will never forget.