It’s time again for another blog article in our event masterclass series. To recap, this is a regular blog feature in which I espouse my sage like wisdom (or something like that) on the frenetic and often maddening world of event management. In this post I’m going to be looking at perhaps one of the most important areas of running any successful regular event and that’s keeping your attendees happy.
For the purposes of this series I haven’t focused on any specific type of event, so the advice in here is generic in that it can apply as much to a large trade conference or expo as it can a corporate training day or roundtable event. Also I’ve used the term attendees to refer to anyone attending an event whether it be sponsors, company staff, exhibitors or vendors.
Identifying your VIPs
Whilst it’s important to ensure every single attendee at your event has a memorable and worthwhile experience, it is important to appreciate that not every attendee is always created equal. For various reasons, some attendees may carry a lot more clout in the eyes of your exhibitors or your own marketing than others do. It’s therefore important to understand who these attendees are and give them the VIP treatment.
Sponsors should also always get this VIP treatment, as they are unsurprisingly very important to your event and its continuing success. VIP treatment could include a pre-event dinner, access to vendors or exhibitors in a more informal environment or special giveaways. Whatever it is it’s important to make the event experience for your VIPs as good as it possibly can be (whilst not compromising anyone else’s experience obviously).
Introverts and Extroverts
As we’ve mentioned, not all attendees are created equal and that goes for their personalities as well. Some individuals are inherently more introverted than others and actually loathe large crowds of people, let alone the idea of turning up to network and mingle in these kinds of environments. It’s important to try and recognise the range of differing personality types at your event and cater for that part of your audience who aren’t quite as comfortable as their more outgoing and gregarious colleagues.
Introverts hate small talk but this can easily be addressed by introducing icebreaker activities to get people talking. Many people (not just introverts) hate the idea of speaking in large groups of people but are usually fine in smaller groups. You can therefore encourage open discussion and debate by facilitating smaller groups or set up round tables within a larger group. Introducing this kind of structure to networking can often take the pressure off those who aren’t that comfortable with it and allow them to come out of their shell and get the best out of your event.
When it comes to creating an impression amongst attendees and other event stakeholders it really is true that a little can go a long way. Indeed, it’s often the little things that can set your event apart from others. By paying attention to the details and looking to add value where its practical you can really enhance each and every attendee’s experience (without bankrupting yourself).
Personalisation is huge when it comes to running successful events and a huge challenge. If you’re giving out goody bags, for example, you could try personalising them to the attendees company or even to each attendee. Make the effort to reach out to your exhibitors and vendors (not just your VIPs) by talking to them on the phone about their marketing objectives and what they are hoping to get out of your event. The more you are seen as being willing to help and listen to people the more kudos your event will rack up.
No one likes queues but at large corporate events, exhibitions or trade shows getting through the door can sometimes be a testing experience. Many corporate events and certainly most trade fairs and expos don’t require attendees to turn up at a set time. This usually means people will flow into your event at a steady trickle, allowing your front desk staff to get everyone registered, badged up and through the doors pretty quickly. On occasion though lots of people may turn up at once or in a very short space of time, meaning inevitable queues as your staff struggle to get everyone in.
Using more modern registration and badging services is one of the best ways of mitigating against this eventuality. Moving over to a modern registration system also allows you to better track your attendees as they come in and leave your event. The real lesson here though is to plan for every eventuality and always have a plan B. So if you think you might end up with people queuing, why not put on some entertainment while they wait. First impressions count for a lot at the end of the day.
Keeping Attendees Informed
It’s important that you give your attendees access to all the materials and information they need, when they need it. This doesn’t just mean sending out reminder emails to your attendees. Your website should have a dedicated event page or section where people can download schedules, sponsorship packs as well as get more information on speakers and exhibitors. It’s also vital this information is kept up to date across all your online assets as soon as anything changes or there is an update. Be proactive in reaching out to your attendees. Webinars, FAQs, blogs and an active and regularly updated social media feed full of photos and videos, help to keep people in the loop and part of the conversation.
As well as your online presence, being contactable by telephone and email is important as people may well have specific questions to ask. Try to manage expectations here, so if you say you’ll respond to an email in 24 hours then you need to make sure you have the capacity to do this, as failing to will send out a very bad message.
Return on Investment
Events cost money to run but they often cost money to attend as well. In the case of trade fairs booths cost money and so for exhibitors it’s important to know that they’re getting a return on their investment in terms of new leads, sales and reconnecting with their existing customer base. This means exhibitor retention (and by extension the success of your event) is closely tied to exhibitor ROI. This means driving a healthy number of attendees towards the exhibit hall and your exhibitor booths.
There are some simple steps you can do to maximise exhibitor ROI, such as not scheduling keynote speakers during exhibit hours or even getting your exhibitors out of the hall and into a more informal setting with your attendees. One method that has been tried in the past is to turn the tables and put your attendees in booths and have the exhibitors visit them.
Acting on Feedback
One of the tricks to running any regular event is constantly looking for ways to improve it. However successful your event is there will always be little things you could have done differently. Key to this is collecting but also acting on feedback. By getting the opinions of attendees, sponsors and all the stakeholders involved you can build up a picture of what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong and what you’re not doing at all. Addressing attendee issues will not only improve your event in the future, but it will be seen as exemplary customer service by those who took the time to tell you in the first place.
Keep it Fresh and Interesting
It’s always tempting to think you’ve found the winning formula when running events but this is a dangerous mindset to fall into. At their heart events are just collections of people and people get bored with repetition and predictability very easily. What was surprising and exciting to your attendees at one event might look very hackneyed and recycled at your next, whatever spin you put on it. If you’re running a regular event, whatever its size or scope, it’s important to keep things fresh so no two events feel the same.
Tried and tested ways of keeping events fresh and exciting include secret guest speakers, product giveaways and competitions, as well as interactive media and activities. Keeping your guests fed and watered may seem like just another necessary cost to you but think out the box a bit by introducing different and interesting cuisine you may end up with some pretty good feedback.
Unlike other forms of marketing, events aren’t just seen or heard, they are experienced. In other words, you are creating an experience so try to create one that caters to senses beyond just the eyes and ears. From smell to taste to touch the more experiences you can conjure up for your attendees, the more memorable your event will be.