In today’s world, people crave connection and experiences. With so many demands for their time and attention, when guests show up to your event, they show up looking for something real and authentic. Nowadays you need to get more creative, especially with virtual events where interaction is limited to video and chat.
Experiential events do not just happen, they take hard work and a lot of creativity. Everything down to the details matter. The information in this post will help you and your event management team design an event that meets the needs of your attendees, creates connections, and places you in the realm of the truly unforgettable.
What Makes a Valuable Event Experience?
The value gained from an event will depend largely on the type of event itself. A trade show or tech convention is going to create an entirely different experience than a fundraising dinner or gala.
As event planners, the ultimate goal should be to manage and sell an experience. To do this, it is important to make clear and conscious decisions about the environment you create. Consider the following factors when designing an event experience:
- Anticipation: You can impact the way an attendee feels about your event long before they ever enter the event venue. A solid marketing campaign and an easy ticket purchasing process will go along way to creating positive anticipation.
- Anticipation Meets Reality: You’ve managed to promote your event in a way that has created positive anticipation, now the reality needs to match. It is important to balance your efforts so you don’t have an exciting marketing campaign and nothing at all to back it up. Trust us, you do not want to be the next Fyre Festival.
- Emotional Engagement: One of the primary factors in a valuable event experience is emotional engagement. If you can connect with and create a sense of well-being in an attendee, it is likely that they will report a meaningful and memorable event experience. It may take more effort when hosting a virtual conference because of face-to-face interaction limitations. Make sure to choose a platform that allows organizers, attendees, speakers and sponsors to interact and network virtually. Take a look at this list of top virtual conference platforms that can provide you the features that you’ll need to effectively engage with your participants.
- Value: For a positive event experience, your attendee needs to be able to see and feel the value in their attendance. Whether this value comes through exposure to industry advancements, an increase in knowledge, or networking opportunities, it needs to be obvious to them.
These factors are all essential to a positive attendee experience. But knowing these things is not enough to manifest them. Here’s a closer look at the steps you can take before, during, and after the event to design an event experience that attendees are sure to remember!
Prior to the Event
As mentioned above, anticipation plays an important role in any event experience. By understanding this, event organizers and experience designers can craft a strategy to properly address this element and create a real sense of excitement.
Identify Your Audience
Before you can start crossing things off your event planning checklist, you need to clearly define your target audience. Who are you creating this experience for and what is it that they need the most?
Understanding your audience will not only help you develop a streamlined marketing campaign, but it will also help you create better brand experiences and a greater opportunity for a more personalized experience. Personalization, where possible, is significant in creating a memorable experience. You can’t personalize an event if you don’t know who you’re attempting to reach.
Consider the Basics
Before you get into the finer points of your event, you need to make sure the most basic needs of your attendees are being met. Whether you’re organizing a corporate event or something more relaxed, proper planning is essential.
To give a common example, no one likes to stand in line. A long line can sour someone on your event before they’ve even had the chance to really experience it. To avoid this, take advantage of available technology and use event management software, or an event app, to enable online registration and reduce wait times. Event staff can use mobile apps to scan tickets, streamlining event check-in.
At this point, you should be thinking about the layout of your event. Avoid creating pockets of space where people will congregate without room to move. People want easy access to food, beverages, and their seats. Depending on the nature of your event, some crowding will be unavoidable but try to design and arrange the space to keep traffic flowing smoothly.
Once you have come to understand the psychological and emotional needs/goals of your audience, you can begin building the anticipation!
Take advantage of the time before your event to engage with attendees. Create an event brand that will speak to your event goals AND speak to your target audience.
Your marketing should not only draw attention to your event, but it should also build anticipation Create a hashtag for social media and be sure to tell people why they should be excited about your event.
Don’t be afraid to get creative! Tease details, film event trailers, and make sure your event website is up to date and interactive.
Create Relevant and Shareable Content
Keep your social media pages active by creating and/or sharing relevant content.
Content marketing can help get (or keep) your attendees engaged and fired up. For live events like concerts, share music videos and interviews from your performers. For a conference, feature speaker bios or links to their relevant research and work. Another great way to build excitement is to ask questions of your guests on social media. Find out what they’re looking forward to at your event and use that to make the day better than they imagined.
Aside from building anticipation, this is an opportunity to highlight sessions that attendees may be interested in. Again, using an app, guests can register for the sessions that are most interesting to them, creating a further personalized event agenda.
The Day of the Event
An important step in event planning is making sure that you, your staff, and volunteers are all on the same page. Before you open the doors to eager guests, hold a meeting to make sure everyone is ready to engage and assist attendees at first contact.
Make Navigation Easy
Few things are worse than being lost in an already unfamiliar environment. Ensure that all rooms and areas of significance are clearly marked. It is always better to over-explain where things are than to have attendees confused and looking for assistance.
In your registration materials, include things like the wifi password and a floor map to help navigate the space.
Create an agenda that clearly marks when and where various sessions will be taking place. Attendees need to be able to easily figure out where they are supposed to be. Missing the speaker or seminar they were most excited about is a sure-fire way to ruin an event experience.
It may also be useful to create tracks for different sessions so, again, an attendee can pre-register for, or plan ahead, to attend the ones that are most meaningful to them.
Allow for Social Shares
In our current digital age, creating experiences people want to share on social media is incredibly important. Whether you do this through your unique catering or the way you brand and decorate the space, you want people posting about you on social media. But more than that, you want people to know that you saw that they posted on social media.
Creating a hashtag is one of the easiest ways to do this. Designate a volunteer or event staff member to follow the hashtag and like, comment, and reshare anything that comes up. If guests see that you are likely to engage with their post, it increases the chances that they do share their experience.
If it makes sense for the event and the venue, it might even be worth it to have a live social media wall where you can project and highlight attendees’ posts and tweets in real-time. This will increase engagement and encourage greater participation, as well as being a fun way to entertain guests.
One of the most valuable elements of corporate events and conferences is networking. Live events are a way to connect with people who have similar interests or work in a similar field. But, that isn’t always enough to spark a conversation between two strangers. Help them out!
One way to assist is through creative entertainment options — games are always a great way to get people to loosen up. At check-in, you could also have attendees choose a sticker or pin that aligns with one of their interests. By wearing these on their lanyard, other attendees can see who shares their interests or who has an interest that piques curiosity.
After the Event
Before you begin evaluating the success of your event, take a few more steps to ensure the happiness of your attendees. Obviously you will be sending out post-event surveys to attendees but go further with it and include something a little more. While it may require a little extra work from you and other organizers, it can go a long way to making your event all the more memorable and help you improve for subsequent events.
It is likely that most attendees tried to take detailed notes during your event. But, it is just as likely that they missed some important points. It is also just as likely that they weren’t able to attend all of the sessions of interest.
Follow up by offering a document that provides a detailed summary of each session. These reference materials allow attendees to reaffirm what they have learned and potentially further expand their knowledge.
If your event was a fundraiser or some sort of charity campaign, share with attendees some of what they have made possible. Did they help you meet your goals? Tell them so!
Share photos and videos of the event as well as links to positive press or the stories of real people that have been helped by the attendee’s presence and donations at your event. Remind them of how much fun they had and how much good they did for the community or cause. You can even plug your event hashtag once again here to inspire further social media sharing!
Send Personalized Emails
A few days after the event is over, follow up with attendees through a personalized email. More than just addressing the attendee by name, try to use their event interactions to further personalize the email.
For example, if there was a common thread in the sessions that an attendee participated in, share something with them that would be relevant. Perhaps there is a nearby training session or a new trade publication that could be of interest/use. Anything of value you can offer an attendee will improve their event experience.
The keys to planning and designing an event experience that attendees will remember is knowing who you are designing for and then giving them what they need.
Event design seeks to create a social community that fosters connection and growth while meeting specific event goals. It is not necessary to have a massive budget or eye-popping effects to be memorable. By following the aforementioned tips, you can welcome people to your event and generate the sort of positive experience that will not only make your memorable but ensure that people will be checking you out again in the future.