Author: Kevin Cobb

How Live Experiences Will Change in a Post-Pandemic World — And How You Can Prepare Now to Embrace Emerging Trends

How Live Experiences Will Change | Wellington

If ever there was a time for a functioning crystal ball, this would be it.

Here’s one thing we do know: the coronavirus pandemic will prompt permanent changes to our daily lives, both at work and at home — including how we participate in live experiences.

At Wellington, we’ve found long-running success in being proactive regardless of the circumstances. In this moment, that includes considering what changes might be ahead and how to plan for them now.

Allow us to pull back the curtain on what we predict will be the mega trends in live experiences. Good best practices are often created in reaction to times of challenge. Consider this a cheat sheet that you can use for your own planning as we collectively prepare to embrace our new normal when bringing people together.

5 Steps You Can Take Now to Prepare for the Future of Live Experiences

  1. Anticipate new or evolving attendee expectations. We’re each undergoing some degree of change as a result of the pandemic. Attendees will have questions, concerns and even obstacles that they may not have previously expressed.

    One example that we foresee? Attendees wanting to know details about event cleanliness and sanitation, including cleaning procedures, readily available safeguards including gloves and masks, and, if applicable, an on-site medical professional that can provide voluntary temperature checks and other health-related assistance.

    In response to these participant new norms, you’ll find vendors adapting, too, by offering more transparency regarding their own cleanliness procedures and adherence to relevant local, regional or national policies. Adding visible adaptations like frequent hand sanitizing stations, wiping down of all hard surfaces multiple times per day, providing more packaged meal options vs. open buffet lines, etc. If this information isn’t forthcoming from a prospective vendor partner, don’t hesitate to ask for it or, in the event of inadequate communication, find a replacement.

  2. Enable opt-in decision-making. Your attendee population has had to make some difficult decisions in recent weeks. Taking an opt-in approach to near-future live experiences can offer significant relief to attendees who may not have the resources to attend, or are facing other immediate difficulties. Giving options to attend how they feel most comfortable is in our future.

    One of the more effective ways to include both in-person and remote audiences is by introducing a hybrid virtual and live experience. Not only will remote participants still benefit from the knowledge and insights shared during the event, but you’ll also help them feel included in a time when many people are battling isolation and its related physical and mental health effects.

    To host a successful in-person and live broadcast experience, you’ll need planning and resources to deliver optimal value to both audiences. Many of the familiar experience design questions apply, including:

    • What goals do you have for your event attendees?

    • How can those goals be achieved both in person and virtually?

    • How can you minimize or circumvent some of the opportunity costs of virtual attendance vs. live attendance?

    Virtual experiences will be meshed with live experiences or be used between live experiences in the future to continue momentum. The key is to accommodate as much of your audience as possible while also helping your business or organization stay on track with its own goals. Let’s say community building is a high-priority focus, as it is for many industries. Virtual or hybrid events give you the tools to sustain relationships and community. Yet it’s at in-person events where the relationships form amid efficient and effective work. Keep your own attendee population in mind, as well as your strategic business goals, when determining when and how to plan live events and make them as accessible as possible. Virtual events will never replace live in-person convenings, but it can be a bridge during this time to provide access.

  3. Understand your audience and how they will hear your content and message. This is the time to really dial into your audience and understand how the pandemic is affecting them in their role in or relationship to your brand / organization. That way, you can structure your event content and communications to meet people wherever they are on their post-pandemic journey. Affirmation and validation are more important than ever, especially as people continue to navigate daunting challenges like isolation, financial stress, uncertainty and fear of the unknown. This is a time to look at what you are saying and how you are saying it through the lens of your audience. You don’t have to have loads of content about COVID, or mentions of it throughout but neither should it be the same content that would have been presented pre-COVID.

    It’s during this period when actions become just as, if not more important, than words. Sure, there’s comfort in reading phrases like “We’re in this together.” But going forward, it’s imperative that you show people how you’re unified and how you can support them. Content should be in-the-moment and be rooted in story sharing.That feeling of acknowledgment, of being seen and understood, will go a long way to comfort your audience in the near future, and also solidify their support for the long-term.

  4. Prepare to embrace new behaviors. Think about how air travel changed before and after 9/11. That sort of sweeping behavioral change is just as likely in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic as people gladly sacrifice some degree of convenience to help protect the greater good.

    Some of the behavioral changes we anticipate include:

    • Distancing facilitated by wider seating formats and personal space bubbles

    • Voluntary temperature checks for attendees

    • Mask-wearing, both inside and outside

    • Grab-and-go packaged food options, replacing buffets

    • On-site physicians

    • Sanitizing materials on hand for attendee use

    Gatherings moving forward will joyfully embrace the new normal. These new best practices are not scary, or reminders of quarantine — they are signs of reassurance and care. Your colleagues and attendees will likely share suggestions for additional behavioral changes, so it’s important to be more receptive than ever to feedback, both in encouraging input and turning those thoughts into action.

  5. Keep attendees informed and involved. One of the most effective ways to take a lead role in modeling the new normal is with transparency. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to keep your attendees informed and in the loop. That doesn’t mean you need to send constant emails — especially with so many new virtual technologies at hand! What it does mean, however, is that you can begin to put community building in action, if you haven’t already. Give your attendees a chance to lead discussions about what changes they want to see, challenges they’re facing and how your business or organization can help. Have these discussions internally, too, to ensure that colleagues have ample opportunity to share their firsthand insight and experiences.

    As you begin to identify what your upcoming live experiences will look like, communicate these changes — and, if appropriate, why you’re making them — to your attendees. Making them feel like an integral part of the planning process leaves the sort of lasting impression that’s at the core of community building. Again, what better to demonstrate the concept of “we’re in this together” than by giving your audience the power to guide change?

We consider you a valued part of our community, so we’re ready to walk the walk. What questions or concerns do you have about the future of live experiences? What’s keeping you up at night? What can we do to help you find more solid footing amid turbulent times? Reach out to us any time. We’re always here to listen — and to help. After all, we are all in this together.

Measuring Success: Metrics That Will Help You Understand Your Event’s Impact

You’ve likely heard the saying, “Plan for success.” And when it comes to determining if your event or meeting is successful, a little planning — including establishing and tracking key measurements and setting goals — can ensure you’re collecting the data and feedback to create a robust picture of event performance.

We’ve compiled a list of metrics that will not only help you plan your event, but also ensure you’re collecting the data that will show you the big picture and granular detail. Let’s dive in!

Measure Event Attendance

This is probably one of the most common event metrics to measure. Not only do you want to capture your current attendance; you can also use that data to track year-over-year for recurring events. Ideally, you’ll want to see attendance grow — or, at the least, stay steady.
And if you do see a dip in attendance, don’t panic. Take a close look at your event or meeting and see if you can identify a reason for the decline. Then, factor that input into next year’s planning and set a goal to increase registrations or tickets sold.

Track Social Sharing

Tracking the online conversation around your event or meeting is another important indicator of success. You’ll definitely want to gather analytics on any branded social channels and event or meeting hashtags. It’s also helpful to use dashboard tools like Hootsuite and search for key relevant terms in case attendees are chatting about your event and not using mentions or hashtags.

Ideally, your social channels will be active all year, but you’ll likely see a spike just before, during and just after your event or meeting. You can track the growth of your social channels and hashtag use, much like you would attendee registration, to ensure your event and brand messaging are gaining traction with your audience and you’re delivering an attendee experience worth sharing.

Monitor Event App Activity

If you use an event-specific mobile app, add your event app analytics to your larger repository of event data. How many people are using the app? And how are they using the app? Again, it’s important to not only analyze current activity, but also compare it with year-over-year app usage (or whatever recurring timeline syncs with your event schedule). Particular app metrics to watch and measure include:

  • Downloads and installs
  • Active users (daily and monthly)
  • Average daily sessions per daily active user
  • Average session length
  • App retention (how many users return to your app)
  • App ratings and reviews

Conduct Event Surveys

Your post-event surveys are treasure troves of attendee feedback and insight, and can certainly help you determine your event or meeting’s success. This is another area in which identifying event goals ahead of time is important because they’ll help dictate not just the event itself, but also what feedback you seek post-event. Common post-event survey questions include:

  • How satisfied were you with the event/meeting/conference?
  • How well were the content and agenda structured?
  • Did you leave the event having learned something?
  • Would you return to the event/conference?
  • Would you recommend the event/conference to someone else?
  • How could the planning team improve next year’s event?

Be sure to promptly send out your survey once your event has ended — or even collect feedback throughout the event — so that details are fresh in your attendees’ minds. Try multiple formats, too, to make it as easy as possible for attendees to submit their input, including via email and, if applicable, through your mobile app. Like other metrics that measure event success, survey data can be useful when compared to previous years’ feedback. You might recognize an opportunity to make meaningful improvements to your event that will have a big impact on your attendees and how they perceive the experience.

Track Expenses

Your event budget can absolutely serve as a success metric. Did you stay on track throughout the planning and execution? Did any unforeseen expenses arise? If you did see a significant difference from a previous budget, that’s not always a bad thing. Assess what caused the change—did you try a new venue? Add different event elements? Expand your programming or off-site activities? Then, you can go back to other data—survey feedback, for example, or social sharing—to determine if those new expenses were a hit with attendees.

Measure Attendee Engagement

We all want our attendees to be engaged before, during and after our events and meetings. Simply stated, “attendee engagement” can be a challenging goal, since you first need to qualify what that engagement looks like. What does it mean for your attendees to be engaged?

We’ve already discussed several metrics that can help give you a holistic picture of attendee engagement, including social media conversation and sharing, mobile app activity and survey feedback.

To ensure you’re doing all that you can to keep your attendees informed, entertained and active, take a three-part approach to your attendee engagement and be sure you’re focusing on attendee outreach and measurement before your event, during your event and after your event.

Before the event, you can help keep attendees informed about travel and other logistical details and generate excitement about what’s to come, including speaker profiles, sneak peeks of activities and locations and reminders to download the event app.

During the event, make social sharing easy by prominently displaying hashtags and account names. Enlist the help of someone on your team or a third-party contractor to monitor the conversation and respond accordingly. Consider shaking up your programming to keep attendees involved and give them a chance to share their own insights and questions.

And don’t forget post-event follow-up. This is a prime time to send a survey, but it’s also a great time to send a personal thank you note and a small gift, if time and budget allows. You can also share recaps and actionable takeaways to help your attendees continue using what they learned. That will also help keep them excited for your next event or meeting and more likely to recommend the experience to others.

By using some or all of these metrics, you’ll have a clear picture of whether or not your event or meeting is a success. Plus, by collecting this data, you’ll be able to make informed decisions about things you can change or add to make your event an even bigger hit.

Now, go forth and measure!

Event Customization 101: 3 Tactics to Deliver a More Personalized Experience

People attend events and annual meetings for a variety of reasons, yet increasingly, they share a common demand: a customized experience that feels tailored to their interests and goals.

“With the overwhelming number of conferences, panels and happy hours taking place in a given event cycle, the personalization factor is a marketing must,” writes Kristen Alexander for AdWeek. “Understanding attendees’ personal interests is critical to standing out and marketing to all of these individuals.”

Here’s the kicker: customization, like other strategic marketing initiatives, can seem daunting, especially if you’re not yet doing much—if any—customization.

The good news? Making small changes to deliver a more customized experience can add up to a big impact on your attendees. And you can work with what you have, including an event itinerary, messaging and collateral to begin your journey to a fully customized attendee experience.

Let’s take a look at three key tactics you can use to shift toward a customized attendee experience that feels more thoughtful and personal.

Know Your Attendees

Just how well do you know your attendees? Collecting and analyzing attendee data and input is a critical part of event customization. After all, you’ve got to know to whom you’re customizing and what they want! Consider the following questions:

  • Why is this person attending your event?
  • What is their role, company and industry?
  • What information is this person interested in?
  • What does this person hope to accomplish during and after the event?
  • What event feedback does this person have to offer?

Depending on your existing attendee engagement plan, you may already have some—or all!—of this information at your fingertips. Post-event surveys can be a valuable resource, for example. Another possible goldmine of information? Your event’s social feed. Do some basic research by searching your event and related hashtags to get a sense of what attendees are saying about your event, including their impressions and takeaways.

And if you find you don’t know much about your audience, don’t panic! Simply make a plan to learn more. Again, effective starting points can be your social channels and feedback surveys, whether administered via a mobile app during the event and/or with a survey link sent in a post-event email.

Knowing your audience helps you better understand why they’re attending so that you can deliver a more customized experience. Let’s say a number of attendees are coming to your event to solve some sort of challenge. You could modify your event itinerary to include a breakout work session or roundtable discussion, which would be more conducive to knowledge sharing and problem-solving.

Maybe your attendees are interested in networking, but would prefer something besides the standard networking reception. Instead, you could ask people to gather in a memorable setting, like an unconventional space or rooftop, which helps you take advantage of your host city while also giving attendees a welcome change of scenery. Another great option is to invite attendees to an activity—a walking tour, for example, or a trip to a local landmark—that helps them combine networking and sightseeing.

We mentioned this before, but keep this important tip in mind: you don’t necessarily need to overhaul your entire event agenda. Instead, start small. Gather the information you have about your attendees and assess it. Then, make a plan to begin implementing meaningful changes that increase the customization of your event experience. We all have to start somewhere, right?

Refresh Marketing Materials

Pro tip: effective customization goes beyond simply addressing event communication and collateral to your attendees by name. Instead, examine your existing marketing materials to identify opportunities for customization.

Do you welcome attendees with a gift? If so, consider adding a handwritten note that lets each attendee know how excited you are to have them with you. This particular tip certainly depends on the number of attendees you’re expecting. If it’s in the hundreds or thousands, handwritten notes can quickly become unrealistic!

Or try this basic starting point: separate your attendees into two groups, returning and first time. Then, tailor your marketing accordingly, especially pre-event communication. For returning attendees, you could emphasize what’s new and exciting this year and underscore how glad you are to have them back with you. For first-time attendees, you might offer some tips for an optimal event experience (a short testimonial from a recurring attendee would be an effective resource). Also include travel tips and local recommendations so that first-time attendees can make the most of the experience, especially if they’re traveling in for your event or meeting.

Segmentation can also extend to your attendees’ roles and industries. Let’s say you have a pool of attendees who are vendors or partners. You could create a customized marketing piece that shares recent company highlights, product or service changes, and even testimonials so that this group of valued stakeholders can easily get up-to-date on what’s happening and why they should continue the relationship.

This is when it’s especially helpful to know your attendees’ “why”—what brings them to your event and what they expect to take with them. Then, you can supply them with the content that helps meet those goals.

Build Tracks

Understanding why your attendees are with you—and how they like to consume information—will give you the insight you need to make a particularly impactful change: creating topic-specific event tracks.

You might already be doing this, and if so, excellent! Yet there still might be room to make additional changes. The first step, of course, is to create tracks focused around a specific topic. Maybe your tracks are as loosely defined as “B2B” and “B2C,” for example, or more nuanced, depending on your event.

Consider also incorporating different content styles in those tracks. A mix of presentations, panels, breakout discussions or workshops can help ensure your attendees learn in the way that fits them best. And again, this is why it helps to know how your attendees prefer to consume their event content. Perhaps many of your attendees prefer a more structured, traditional style that’s largely comprised of presentations and keynotes. If your attendees want to take a more active role in the event, an unconference format might be a better choice. That way, attendees have ample opportunities to roll up their sleeves and collaborate.

You could further customize your event tracks by adding a special event to each. Let’s say that one of your tracks is technology-focused. Why not set up a small exhibit area so that attendees can drop in and out and demo new tools and gadgets? For those interested in cultivating their thought leadership, you could host an author talk and signing with someone who’s written a relevant book. And if you find you have an event full of bookworms, setting up a small bookstore or book swap is a fun and thoughtful way to give your attendees easy access to more resources.

We hope this list has sparked some inspiration so that you can start your own event customization! Remember: it’s perfectly fine to start small and to work with what you already have. With regard to customized event marketing and experiences, small changes really can have a big impact. Plus, those small changes will give you a foundation on which to build a more comprehensive customization strategy.

Keep an eye on our blog. Now that we’ve covered the basics of event customization, we’ll periodically revisit this critical topic so that you have no shortage of information and inspiration. And if you find yourself interested in customizing your next event but aren’t sure where to start, let’s talk!

Small Businesses, Big Impact

small business

Kansas City is known for a lot of things – fountains, barbecue, a winning baseball team. It’s also known for its thriving entrepreneurial culture and an ecosystem that supports local businesses, large and small.

We are thrilled to announce that, along with nine other phenomenal local businesses, we have been selected as one of the Top 10 Small Businesses by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. From a group of 75 applicants, a panel of judges from the chamber selected the top 10 companies to be in the running for the Mr. K Award as Small Business of the Year.

We work with companies large and small, local and international, to create brand experiences that are focused, strategic and memorable. Our roots in Kansas City run deep – one of our very first projects was the grand opening of the expanded Bartle Hall. We also work regularly with the Kauffman Foundation, the Kauffman Center, KBP Foods, Kansas City Southern, and other fantastic Kansas City businesses.

The annual Small Business Celebration is hosted by the chamber, and began 32 years ago to shine a spotlight on Kansas City’s flourishing small business community.

Congratulations to Blue Nile, Charlie Hustle, International Express Trucking, Lead Bank, Orbis, Pro Athlete, Royal Services, SwimZip, and Veracity! We’re in great company.

The One Thing That All Successful Meetings and Events Have in Common: Creativity

Meeting and Event Planning: 3 Ways to Get More Creative

Corporate meetings and events haven’t traditionally been associated with creativity, but that’s quickly changing.

It’s easy to take a more formulaic approach to planning a corporate event like an annual meeting, a tradeshow or a conference. Yet as attendees continue to demand engaging experiences and corporate events become a more significant driver of business strategy, meeting and event planners are under increasing pressure to step outside of the box.

And that’s why creativity plays a growing role in both planning and execution. In fact, survey results highlighted in the 2018 American Express Global Meetings Forecast indicate that creativity is one of the things that most excites meeting and event planners, especially in the next few years.

“‘There is a need to mix it up and make sure we are engaging the audience,’ said a North American meeting planner in the American Express report. ‘The expectation is that we’ll create a level of excitement and engagement so attendees want to be there and part of the conversation.’”

The looming question, of course, is how to tap into the power of creativity when planning your next event or meeting. We’ve compiled a few ideas to help capture your imagination. Ready to think big?

Change the Venue

One of the easiest ways to leverage the power of creativity at your next meeting or event is to change the venue. Think about trying another city. Or, if the logistics of a geographic move aren’t feasible, consider different venues in your host city. It’s amazing how a change of scenery can refresh and invigorate not just your event, but also the attendees themselves.

And here’s the thing. It’s absolutely fine to start small. Perhaps you host a large group of attendees with a presentation-heavy agenda, and it’s easier to keep using conference or convention facilities. No problem! But can you also experiment with adding a different venue to your programming? Try an evening happy hour or networking mixer at a creative space like an art gallery or a museum. Or coordinate with a local coworking space to host smaller breakout sessions or workshops. Just one creative change can make a big difference to your attendees, and give you room to expand and refine your creative approach in the coming years.

Try a Different Format

Event agendas are another area that’s ripe with creative potential. You may have heard about the rise of the “unconference”—a more informal approach to a conference that includes ample opportunities for collaboration, learning, and sharing. As you plan your next event or meeting, take a look at your agenda (as well as your event goals). What do you want attendees to do, learn and feel while at your event? And what sort of impression do you want to leave them with? The answers to those questions can help you identify opportunities to make some creative changes to your programming.

Again, it’s perfectly acceptable to start small. Let’s say your event or meeting always includes a keynote address and a mix of relevant, topic-specific presentations. Can you modify your agenda to also include some informal breakout discussions organized by attendee role or area of interest? Even a small change like adding some welcoming collaborative areas throughout your event venue, complete with comfy seating and refreshments, can help your attendees feel a greater sense of connectivity to the event and to each other.

Embrace Experiences

Whether they’re on vacation or attending an annual meeting or company event, people want experiences. This is especially true for young professionals, who are focused on seeing, doing and sharing.

Delivering an immersive, experiential event is one of the most effective ways to captivate and delight your attendees. And that means that they’re not only likely to return next year, but they’re also more likely to spread the word about what they experienced in a way that makes them influential brand ambassadors.

As you consider ways to add experiences to your meeting or event programming, it’s always helpful to go back to the basics. What are your event goals? What do you want attendees to know about and associate with your brand? And what are some ways you can tap into the allure of your surroundings?

We recently worked with an automotive client who wanted to kick off its annual incentive program in a memorable way. Not only did they want to make an immediate impression on attendees; they also wanted to highlight the warm, rustic aesthetic of the event’s Utah location. Our approach? An authentic farm-to-table dinner with five mouthwatering courses cooked open-kitchen style. The client had a chance to highlight the incredible culinary talent and array of local ingredients in a way that also set the tone for the event.

There’s no shortage of ways to add experiences to your next meeting or event. Some of our favorites include private musical performances, behind-the-scenes tours of local attractions or points of interest, rooftop dining or networking, and off-site workshops or demonstrations.

Embracing creativity as an integral part of your event or meeting not only delivers a more enjoyable, memorable and effective attendee experience—it’s also fun! Because let’s face it, if you’re planning a recurring annual event, it can be easy to slip into auto-pilot and follow the same tried-and-true format. Now, however, is the perfect time to shake off the cobwebs and try something new that makes a lasting impact on your attendees and your brand.

And if you find yourself in need of a gentle push to take that first step outside of the box? That’s why we’re here. We relish the opportunity to help you deliver innovative, engaging events that produce results. Whether you want to start small with a few key changes or go in a completely different direction from past events and meetings, we’ll help you bring your creative vision to life. Let’s explore the art of the possible.