Author: Jacinda Hoehn

Focus On One Thing — Regardless of Budget — to Make Your Event Successful

Small Group Communication

As more event and meeting attendees demand and seek out experiences, it’s easy for event planning teams to sink large amounts of money and time to deliver a show-stopping event. But is that creating the impact that is the objective?

Regardless of your budget, there’s one element you can focus on to deliver a memorable attendee experience while accomplishing your event goals: the human element.

“Think more about the human aspects of an event, which aren’t always tied to funding,” said Callie Motz, account director, Wellington.

Motz and the Wellington team did just that when helping a client combine two distinct conferences into one large event. Communication—always a priority at any meeting or event—was especially important for this client, given that one of the key event goals was to encourage and collect firsthand feedback to help guide civic development and start-up resources.

“Encouraging conversation doesn’t require a lot of money,” Motz said. “Instead, it requires intentional connection between attendees and a space that allows for discussion.”

Embracing the human side of meetings and events is one of many reasons that the unconference format continues to become more popular. Discussion and collaboration are among the primary goals of an unconference. You’ll typically see a departure from structured agendas that focus on presentations in favor of workshops, custom breakout sessions and other hands-on activities that give attendees a chance to learn and share in a more informal setting.

As you plan your event or meeting, look for opportunities to highlight the human element. Set up a few comfortable seating areas and encourage attendees to converse with others, whether during between-session breaks or scheduled breakout sessions. If your agenda includes networking events, try introducing something new to see what response you get. Attendees could collaborate on a creative activity, for example, or gather in a local venue that’s tied to your event’s industry or theme.

You can also enhance the human side of your event’s digital presence. Encourage dialogue and sharing by creating and prominently displaying event-specific hashtags for use on social media. If you have an event or meeting app, make it easy for users to connect with each other, whether through chat or similar functionality.

And when your event concludes, keep that commitment to personal connection going by reaching out to your attendees for feedback. In addition to getting their input on the event and its various components, you might also seize the opportunity to find out what attendees would like to see added or done differently, especially if the event or meeting is recurring. Giving your attendees a chance to feel like stakeholders is another effective way to make your event feel more personal while demonstrating that you’re committed to giving attendees the best possible experience.

Be sure to include yourself in those feedback opportunities. We’re guessing you’ve attended quite a few events and/or meetings by now. Think back and identify what made an event or meeting stand out in a positive way. Did you make any connections that you still use? Do you remember feeling particularly connected to an event attendee, speaker or element? Jot down some ideas or memories that immediately come to mind, then use that list as a springboard to refine your event plans.

If you’re looking for more ways to make your event feel more human, we’d love to share insight based on our experiences with clients in a similar situation. We can show you some fun and effective examples of what works, including from the client event that’s linked earlier in this post. Drop us a note and we’ll schedule a time to chat.

Planning an Unconference? Try These 5 Things

As demand for a memorable and engaging attendee experience continues to climb, more companies are ditching a traditional conference format in favor of an unconference.

While the details of an unconference vary, the purpose is the same: encourage discussion and collaboration in an informal setting that’s designed to spark creativity.

We’ve helped a number of clients plan and execute their unconferences. Through that experience, we understand it can be challenging — even scary! — to take that first step, especially if you’re revamping a long-running event.

“Planning an unconference requires taking a calculated risk,” said Callie Motz, account director, Wellington.

The good news? It’s perfectly fine — even encouraged — to start with some small yet important changes. And to help kickstart your planning, we’ve compiled five tips that will help you plan an unconference.

Ready to shake things up?

5 Tips to Help You Plan an Unconference

Encourage discussion

Unconferences are built on conversation and collaboration. As you plan your event, look for any and all opportunities to encourage discussion. One effective tactic is to replace at least a few presentations with a workshop-style format. Gather attendees in small groups — with or without a facilitator — and have them share their thoughts on a particular topic.

That’s not to say that you can’t still welcome presenters or keynote speakers. Perhaps you could kick off the day with a keynote presentation, then divide attendees into groups to discuss. Or, depending on the size of your attendee pool, you could kick off your unconference with a roundtable discussion that examines questions like why your attendees are here and what they’re hoping to take away from the event.

Change the seating

As part of an unconference for a large food franchiser client, Callie said they introduced non-traditional seating that included couches and coffee tables, as well as high-top tables strategically placed throughout the venue.

“By taking people out of the traditional classroom or theater-style set-up, you’re immediately putting them in a different headspace,” she said. “They felt like they were sitting around a living room, casually chatting.”

Add activities

Give attendees a chance to move, share, create or think by adding some activities to your agenda. For example, you could start the day with a yoga or other exercise class, or schedule an energizing mid-afternoon break.

Another effective approach is adding a continual activity that attendees can enjoy at their own pace. Perhaps you design a large writing surface and ask attendees to answer a question or share a thought. Or try something as simple as a large display with a question written at the top, followed by several answers separated by columns. Attendees could place a sticker in the corresponding column to indicate their response. This could be an especially helpful way to gather feedback about a particular topic or challenge in a way that lets attendees know their input is valued yet not feel like they’ve been put on the spot.

Give a gift

Everybody loves conference swag, but do we all really need another generic gift? While you’re shaking up your event as an unconference, don’t hesitate to channel that same creativity into your attendee gifts.

A natural starting place? Your event theme. For example, our food franchiser client wanted the unconference focused on journey — and more specifically, each attendee’s journey with the company. For a fun twist on that concept, Callie and her team suggested giving attendees branded Converse sneakers.

Keep this in mind: unconferences are about emotions and experiences. Think about what you want your attendees to feel and take away from the event, then brainstorm a few gift ideas that will support that goal.

Tap into your sense of humor

Here’s one of the best parts of planning an unconference: having fun! An unconference is all about stepping outside of the box and trying things that are new and different. And if you find yourself wanting to get a little silly, that’s great!

“We used some unexpected elements like the Dr. Seuss book ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go,’” Callie said. “We did an installation of company leadership reading the book because it connected to the event and made sense. People connect to different things and, for some people, a children’s book could really hit home.”

We can already hear those wheels turning as you think about how to make your next event an unconference! Don’t hesitate to reach out to us if we can help you plan and execute an unconference. We live outside the box, and it would be a pleasure to show you more about how an unconference can delight your attendees while helping you accomplish your strategic business goals.

Improve Attendee Engagement, Part 3: 3 Tactics That Will Keep Your Attendees Involved After Your Event

Post-event engagement can be challenging and often overlooked, despite its demonstrable potential to support your long-term event strategy. Your attendees are leaving the meeting or event excited and energized, while your planning team likely wants nothing more than a few uninterrupted days of sleep!

That’s why it’s important to make a plan for post-event engagement before your event begins. As we’ve shared throughout our “Improve Attendee Engagement” series, you don’t need to unveil significant or costly initiatives to make a big impact with your attendees.

Instead, start with the following three tactics that will help your attendees feel appreciated and connected. One note: you can use these ideas for both recurring and one-off events or meetings. Simply tweak the messaging to fit the logistics of your particular event (we’ll give some examples below).

  1. Send a personalized thank you: Saying “thank you” is a simple but meaningful gesture that can make a big impression on your attendees. If you have a smaller group of attendees, consider handwritten notes to thank them for their attendance and involvement.

For larger audiences, it’s fine to go the digital route, but personalize the message and address attendees by their first names. Look for other small yet meaningful ways to personalize the message, maybe with a closing line like “We hope you made it safely back to [home city].”

You could also include a thank you note with a small parting gift that ties into your larger event theme and experience. Perhaps your host city is known for a particular food item or souvenir. Or depending on what products and/or services your company offers, you could offer attendees a gift that enables them to get a firsthand look at what you do. If you go this route, just be aware of possible travel logistics, including carry-on restrictions. If your budget allows, you could also send the gift and note to each attendee so that they have a surprise waiting for them when they return to the office.

  1. Encourage action: Refer back to your initial event or meeting strategy:
  • What do you want attendees to do once the event is over?
  • What information or ideas do you want them to take away?

Then, you can craft your post-event messaging around those goals.

Here’s a great place to start: encourage feedback! Send a link to a quick survey or form so that attendees can share their thoughts on the event or meeting.

What other types of actions can you help your attendees complete? Maybe there’s a way they could get involved with a particular company initiative, for example. Or perhaps your event, meeting or conference provided a place to begin discussions and you’d like to see that dialogue continued in the weeks to come.

Whatever those action steps are, you’ll first want to articulate them internally and ensure they align with your larger event strategy. Then, create an email campaign (or, if you have one, consider using push notifications within your mobile app) so that you can periodically touch base with attendees and give them ways to continue their involvement. That way, attendees feel like they have a larger stake in not only the events themselves, but also the outcomes.

  1. Prove value with targeted content: We’re betting that your event team and attendees create a veritable mountain of content during the event or meeting. Don’t let all of that incredible information go to waste! Instead, assess what you’ve gathered and see what content you can send to attendees to show them exactly what sort of value your event (and business) provides.

Sending out presentation slide decks is a common starting point. But before you send out an email filled with links, re-examine what decks you want to send out. Can you package each of them in a short yet valuable email that features a compelling pull quote from the presentation, along with 1-3 supplemental links that give attendees more information and context about the topic and presenter?

Look for other types of content, too, beyond presentation decks. Maybe you have some short video interviews with presenters or attendees. Did you distribute any collateral that you could easily repurpose into a single-page PDF or, better yet, an infographic? Or do presenters have any materials such as previously published blogs or whitepapers that you could distribute to attendees?

Think of it this way. You’ve invested a significant amount of time and money into crafting a thoughtful, strategic event experience. And that experience doesn’t have to end when the event does. Instead, look for ways you can evoke similar feelings and reactions in the weeks that follow your event or meeting.

Another tip, especially for sending out content? Allow for breathing room between the messages. There’s no reason you need to flood your attendees’ inboxes with an avalanche of content in the days immediately following your event. Instead, look at what resources you have and what you want to send, then make a brief editorial calendar that will keep you on schedule. You may also want to write some blog posts that summarize key event takeaways or showcase some of the content created at the event.

No matter your event specifics, the goal here is simply to provide value to your attendees. This not only reaffirms their decision to attend and invest in your event, but also demonstrates why it’s important for them to continue their relationship with your company and, if applicable, attend future events.

Plus, by showcasing insightful event content on your website and social channels, you can also entice prospective attendees to join you at your next event or meeting. There’s nothing like a little FOMO (fear of missing out) to show people why they don’t want to miss out on another event.

And that concludes our three-part attendee engagement series! We hope you have plenty of ideas to boost attendee engagement before, during and after your event or meeting. If you get stuck, we’re just an email or phone call away. Reach out to us and let us know how we can help make your attendee engagement strategy as effective as possible.

Improve Attendee Engagement, Part 2: 3 Ways to Involve and Excite Attendees During Your Event

Engagement

You’ve put in the work to connect with your attendees prior to your event or meeting. And now, it’s time for the show! Attendee engagement should be top of mind throughout your event lifecycle, but it’s especially important as your event unfolds. After all, engaged attendees are more excited about what’s happening around them, more likely to tell others about their experience and more likely to be a champion for your business goals long after the event concludes.

Of course, attendee engagement during a meeting or conference can be tricky. You want attendees sharing photos and content on their social media channels, for example, but you don’t want them to go through the event with their eyes glued to their smartphones. Like most other things in life, attendee engagement is all about balance. You want to encourage actions like social sharing, but also deliver entertaining, relevant and insightful programming so that attendees focus on what’s happening around them so they don’t miss a minute.

In this second part of our three-part attendee engagement series, let’s take a look at three ways you can boost attendee engagement throughout your event.

  1. Make social sharing easy: There’s a good chance that many of your attendees are active on at least one social media channel. And if they share what they find interesting or exciting about your event, that can give you a big boost of brand building and help recruit new attendees for next year.

The trick is to make it as easy as possible for attendees to share what’s happening in a way that helps support your business goals and messaging. Prominently display your company’s social media handles and any event hashtags on event signage, handouts and in your event mobile app (if applicable).

If your event includes presentations, encourage speakers to brand their slides with the event hashtag (and their own social media handles).

Depending on your company’s social media expertise and budget, you could also consider event-specific social media marketing ideas, such as a branded Snapchat filter. If you do go that route, be sure to let attendees know what’s happening so they can participate.

And speaking of your company’s social media marketing, make sure you have at least a couple of people watching the hashtag on applicable social channels. Share and repost the content that your attendees are creating. Not only does it help lighten your content creation load during a busy time, but it also helps attendees feel appreciated and that they’re sharing worthwhile information.

  1. Shake up your programming: Let’s face it. It’s difficult to keep attendees engaged and energetic if they’re sitting through hours (or even days) of speaking presentations.

That’s not to say that you should eliminate all presentations from your event or meeting! But it’s worth taking a look at your event schedule to see if you can make some small yet impactful changes to the programming.

Unconventional keynote speakers continue to be a popular choice to energize attendees and set the tone for what’s ahead. That could be a fun around-the-office activity: brainstorm your wish list for event speakers, then see what you can make happen depending on your event budget and other factors.

If you’re hosting a conference, consider incorporating some elements of an unconference to encourage networking and sharing. Instead of a solid block of presentations, mix speaking segments with more workshop-like sessions to give attendees a chance to talk about what they’ve learned and put that information into action.

Or instead of a standard break, incorporate a wellness activity to get attendees moving. Try a quick yoga session or a short stroll near the event venue (bonus points if you can work in a fun or interesting stop for photos at a local point of interest or other photogenic location). Distribute healthy snacks before attendees head back to their respective sessions or programs.

  1. Surprise and delight: Who doesn’t love a (happy) surprise? Receiving an unexpected gift or opportunity is typically met with happiness, gratitude—even giddiness or excitement. And those sorts of emotions not only skyrocket attendee engagement during your meeting or event—they’ll also help create a treasured memory that will last long after the event ends.

Set the tone for a successful event experience with a welcome bag filled with a few thoughtful goodies or an event “survival” kit with water, snacks, a portable charger and related items. Or go a little bigger and introduce a surprise element into your programming. Maybe it’s a secret keynote speaker who’s identity will be revealed that day. Or it’s an unexpected after-hours gathering—a meal prepared by a well-known local chef, a surprise musical performance or a visit to popular local destination, to name a few examples.

You could also focus less on the surprise and more on the delight. Thoughtful details such as ample refreshments like fruit- and-herb infused water throughout the venue, a self-care zone with chair massages, locally prepared meals that aren’t the typical conference or event fare, or varied event programming that helps attendees customize their own experience are all examples of ways you can have a lasting impact on your attendees. And because you’ve made social sharing easy, attendees will be more likely to share what a great time they’re having.

This piece of advice is a recurring theme in our blog posts, but it’s worth mentioning again. When it comes to strategic initiatives like attendee engagement, don’t overwhelm yourself by feeling like you need to try every idea right this minute.

Instead, take a look at your event or conference schedule, your budget and your larger business goals and identify a few small steps that could help make an impact. It’s always easier to ramp up than scale back, especially when you’re talking about something as critical as attendee engagement.

Stay tuned to the blog for the third and final post in our three-part attendee engagement series. We’ll focus on post-event engagement, why it’s so important (yet often overlooked) and how you can approach it.