The familiar movie line, “if you build it, they will come,” is true in many cases, including building the itinerary for a big event. However, if what you build fails to grab your target audience’s attention or keep them engaged, they won’t come back.
That is especially true when you are planning an event. Whether it’s a small meeting for a few dozen movers and shakers or a major convention for everyone in the industry, if you don’t engage your attendees and give them a reason to talk about your event and come back again, it probably won’t be successful in subsequent years.
That’s why you need to do everything you can to build engagement during your event and keep attendees excited so they want to return next time. Even if you are running a small, specialized event, you can use some of these tactics to get your audience talking.
Hire the Right Talent
When you watch an awards show on television,what do you do when the accountants come out to talk about tallying the votes, or when an executive makes a speech about the history of the event? If you are like many people, you take a bathroom break and grab a snack, until the more interesting celebrities take the stage.
When planning the speaker roster, remember that people attend conventions and meetings because they want to be inspired, educated and entertained. The accountants might be lovely people, but unless you offer the chance to learn something new from someone interesting, they are not going to be excited about attending — or they will skip the speeches in favor of lunch.
As youexplore your options with an organization like the Leading Authorities Speakers Bureau, look beyond your industry’s bold-faced names to find speakers who can offer unique insights or a new perspective on the issues and problems facing your industry. Save the technical experts for small group educational sessions, where a less engaging but highly informative talk will be better received.
There’s an App for That
When you’re planning a large event that takes place over several venues and involves thousands of people, keeping everyone informed and getting them to the right place at the right time can be a challenge. Consider developing or using an event-specific application to help keep attendees up-to-date on everything that’s happening. Daily schedules, appointment syncing and reminders, navigation assistance, links to bonus content (such as speaker CVs or articles) and other helpful information, such as local restaurant recommendations, allows you to giveattendees everything they need to be productive during the event.
Hashtag, Update and Instagram
Social media is a great way to keep your event attendees engaged while also building buzz for future events. Not only should you use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to build excitement before the event, but during the event, you can leverage your social media presence into a form of engagement for the attendees. Create a custom hashtag for the event that attendees can use when posting on social media, and encourage them to share updates, thoughts and reactions using the hashtag so others can easily find out what others at the same event are thinking. Consider using an application to project a live stream of the social media conversation during speeches and panels, and don’t be afraid to join the conversation.
Offer Unique Networking Opportunities
Social media is a powerful form of networking, but many people attend industry events in order to personally meet new people or strengthen their existing network. Make it easy for them to do so by scheduling compelling networking events beyond the standard cocktail party. Stand out from other events by scheduling pub crawls, sightseeing tours, scavenger hunts or sporting events (either participatory or spectator) to encourage people to get out of their comfort zones and connect on a more personal level. Attendees will have more fun, and it’s far easier to reconnect post event by saying “I played shortstop on your softball team” than “We met at the keynote speech.”
Stay Connected Post-Event
When the event ends, don’t let the closing speech be the last time attendees hear from you. Follow up after the show with an invitation to complete a survey or evaluation, and post wrap-ups on your blog and social media feeds. Ask attendees to share their feedback as well, and keep the conversation going.
Many new events take several years to be established, while some well-established events feel stale after a few years. Try some of these techniques to increase engagement, and breathe new life into your event and build a following for years to come.