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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.