So I have been reading yet another article or two on improving attendee experience at events and meetings and felt I needed to chime in here on the discussion. Why another blog on this topic? Well partly because I have been both an event professional and an attendee – as I am sure most of you have – and want to provide my own two cents from seeing both sides of the event table. I also have noticed that the articles I have read are either focused almost exclusively on the logistical angle (ok I am guilty of at least one blog focused on this) or totally focused on how to help attendees party like it’s 1999 (did I just date myself here?)
Surely there is a happy medium of where one can merge the two to discuss the best of both topics – managing traditional logistics and creating experiences that engage attendees and encourage social interactions and relationship building. Both play an important role in the overall attendee experience.
Attendee Experience – What it is, What it is Not
Going out on a limb here and giving my perspective of what the attendee experience is and is not. It’s not just having all your logistics lined up so you’re not panicking. It’s not your attendees fed, moving around effortlessly from session to session listening to speakers and no one complaining (yet) about the WiFi connection. It’s not just having the right content for the right audience. It’s not just about having loud audacious receptions and the latest gaming technology available for them to play with during your event or meeting – although in some situations, these are not the worst ideas. It is, however, expertly packaging all these event essentials and seamlessly incorporating them into your event or meeting. It is the logistics essentials worked out as well as the intangible element ensuring the attendees’ desire for social interactions and relationship building is also part of your event plan. In reality, it IS all about them.
So if we are going to discuss the essentials of the attendee experience, we can discuss the key logistics necessities which put smiles on their faces as well as the ways which events and meeting can ensure those other intangible needs are met to ensure people really are the ultimate focus.
Attendee Experience – What Do You Really Want?
What do attendees really want? This is the $64,000 question and getting inside the heads of attendees to learn the answers can be challenging. I can’t write about everything but I will discuss a few big “I wants” I’ve heard repeatedly and provide some simple solutions. I’ll then discuss addressing the intangible needs of attendees and how you can make them part of your great event attendee experience.
Attendee Experience Really Want – Online Event Registration
Attendees have gone digital and you had better be by now. That’s where they want and expect to register for just about everything. Ditch the paper registration forms – if you haven’t already – and get online now! With the plethora of online event registration and management software platforms available, doing paper registration must not be even a consideration. Collect registration details once and use the information provided to quickly and easily compile future marketing data, print name badges and rosters, personalize all future communications, and check-in attendees on-site or before your event.
Attendee Experience Really Want – Fast Check-in
Checking in should not be the event version of the Beatle’s song, The Long and Winding Road. No reason for this at all with today’s on-site check-in technology readily available. Attendees want to be checked in quickly, not with several minutes of organized chaos while you look for their registration information. On-site line management is both a science and an art for event professionals which can be mastered with the right tools. With technology like scan guns and barcodes and QR codes , scanning keeps lines moving is fast becoming the norm at events and meetings. In addition, on-site self-check-in kiosks are another way attendees can move along without your involvement. Making event check-in as seamless as possible for attendees makes your life easier too.
Attendee Experience Really Want – Communication, Early, Often and Via Mobile
Do we really need to discuss this? Probably not but I will briefly. Your attendees are connected to the outside world via smartphones, tablets or other mobile devices so connect with then wherever and whenever. Send them up-to-the-minute event details, program changes, email notifications and automatic alerts. Give them easy access to event materials that they can share on their social networks, downloads of handouts and relevant links.
Communicate with them early and often. You are not the only email or text message they receive. You are up against stiff competition but you can get through to them. It just may mean being repetitive perhaps through a series of email notifications or alerts over a period of time rather than just one. And email is not the only channel to use – you do know about social media. Communicate with them across all your platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, wherever your target audience is found.
Finally speed is paramount. In a world where connectedness reduces time delays, attendees expect and demand fast action. They are happiest when you respond to their questions or messages quickly, usually within the same business day.
Attendee Experience Really Want – You to Be Prepared
To paraphrase the words of a song in Mel Brooks’ movie The Twelve Chairs, hope for the best but expect the worst. Perhaps a bit dire, but you do need to be prepared for the unexpected and make such happenings as painless as possible for you and your attendees. The most common “unexpected” is when an attendee can’t make it and wants a refund. Make sure your policy is clearly stated. What’s your viable back up plan for inclement weather? Or if the staff at the hotel you are having your event goes on strike. (this last one did happen to me – oh boy!)
Recently, there is a movement to establish an event code of conduct. Setting up your expectations upfront and ensuring your event is a safe place for everyone is increasingly becoming part of your event or meeting preparation. A code of conduct is your public statement that you value your attendees and will protect their rights to attend and learn without harassment.
Attendee Experience Really Want – The Important Intangibles
So well planned logistics put the smiles on attendees’ faces and lowers your stress level. What about those intangibles which are harder to measure but are critical to the attendee experience? You cannot shy away from addressing this part of the attendee experience just because it is more elusive to design and plan or difficult to measure success.
As Jeff Hurt with Velvet Chainsaw wrote about improving attendee experience, “Successful conferences will focus less on the logistics and more on creating experiences that foster communication, interactions and relationship building of their attendees. They will focus less on providing experiences that transfer information and more on experiences that will allow people to discuss content, share stories and build connections.” (Improving Conference Attendee Experiences, Velvet Chainsaw, March 19, 2012).
This statement is as true today as it was four years ago when first written. Today’s event attendee demands and expects more time to connect and communicate with other attendees at an event or meeting. Large audacious receptions and gaming opportunities may provide some of this for certain types of events and attendees. However, it has been my experience both as an event professional and an attendee, people are looking for more intimate one-on-one or small group opportunities to discuss, communicate and build the important relationships. My perspective has a lot to do with the type of events I did but even so, peace and calm are eventually where people go to get their best interactions done.
What are some ways to design these attendee experiences? Going back to articles by Jeff Hurt again, he validated some practices I have used (after trial and error and making many mistakes) but also provided some additional great ideas. Let’s start with the typical event or meeting format. When possible, move away from the large sessions with talking heads and promote discussion among attendees by designing for small group interactions within the larger session. Better still create smaller sessions for the more intimate exchange of ideas and greater attendee participation.
Craft sessions which lead with questions that encourage attendees to participate and ask more of the right questions rather than provide “the” solutions to problems. This format encourages out-of-the-box thinking, new insights and fresh ideas to address old professional or work problems facing attendees. What value that adds to an attendee experience!
Move away from the “expert” speaker monologue with PowerPoint slides and actively involve attendees. Facilitate this with a dynamic question and answer format that immediately engages attendees. Speaker or panel interaction with attendees reduces the droning head and heavy eyelids of attendees. The sleepy one-sided presentation is replaced hopefully by buzz and energy as people talk more informally and share insights and ideas more freely.
How about those networking and relationship building opportunities? Creating the small group sessions is a great beginning. Attendees are interacting already on a more personal level. Although meeting up at receptions is still common, deeper dives and closing the deals are often best left to private conversations. Provide attendees with comfortable physical space on-site if possible to conduct these conversations. You also can help match them up in advance using the registration information – with their permission of course – to help make initial connections.
Finally, be thoughtful and creative with physical setup. Design purposeful seating arrangement so attendees have all the tools and encouragement they need to achieve their personal goals for attending your event or meeting. Facilitate social interaction and networking opportunities. Create meeting spaces, networking spaces which simplify interaction attendees’ desire.
Attendee Experience – rsvpBOOK
Although rsvpBOOK cannot provide you the intangible needs for your attendee experience, we can provide you more time in the day for you to focus on creating them. The tools in the rsvpBOOK online event registration and management software are made to make your life easier. We’re here to save time and money so you can work more efficiently and be successful, no matter the type or size of your event or meeting. We want you to work smarter, not harder. rsvpBOOK lets you use your time to take care of more demanding matters – creating an outstanding attendee experience.
Try rsvpBOOK today! Smart, simple online event registration software.