How to Prioritize Attendee Experience on a Budget

January 4, 2018 |
budget

An interesting pattern of activity is emerging in the corporate meetings and events industry. The focus on attendees—and more specifically, attendee experience—continues to grow. Yet more companies are opting to closely scrutinize their meeting and event budgets. The big question: can companies still dazzle meeting or event attendees and stick to a budget? You bet.

“While there is awareness that cost pressures will continue as hotel and air rates rise faster than meetings budgets, planners indicate a focus on the attendee experience,” said Issa Jouaneh, senior vice president and general manager, American Express Meetings & Events, in the company’s 2018 Global Meetings & Events Forecast. “When respondents consider where to cut and where to add as budgets shift, they are doing so with the attendee experience top of mind.”

So how do you keep attendees interested, engaged and coming back for more, even while dealing with a tight budget? The keys, of course, are strategy and planning. It’s always a good idea to look at your meeting or event strategy and remind yourself what you want attendees to get out of the experience.

Then, use that information and compare it to your event plan, keeping a careful eye out for areas to trim or expand. To help get your brainstorming wheels turning, we’ve highlighted four areas where you can prioritize attendee experience while adhering to your budget.

 

Look at logistics

When you want to ensure an optimal attendee experience without derailing your budget, your event’s logistics are an ideal place to start. Where are you hosting your meeting or event? What meals, refreshment and entertainment are you providing? How long is the event? Are there any changes you can make to these logistical areas that will actually deliver a better (and more cost-effective attendee experience?)

This year, for example, saw a greater interest in shorter meetings. Data compiled in the 2018 American Express reports indicates that the average days per meeting is expected to hold steady this next year, but there’s still a consistent focus on quality meetings or events in a shorter timeframe.

Another logistical detail to examine? Your guest list.

“Stakeholders agree that regardless of meeting size, length or frequency, more analysis is needed to determine whether meetings are successfully bringing together the people that need to attend,” according to the American Express report.

It’s tempting to want to invite anyone and everyone to a huge annual corporate event or meeting, but a little deliberation can go a long way. Again, revisit your event or meeting goals. What do you want attendees to take away from the event? What do you want them to do once the event or meeting is over? Then, use that sort of strategic information to help refine your guest list so that you’re inviting attendees that will help you achieve your goals and play a bigger role in your event or meeting’s success.

 

Go local

Speaking of logistical details like venues, why not go local for your next corporate meeting or event? Sure, it’s fun to give your attendees a chance to explore a far-flung location. But you can deliver just as memorable an experience closer to home (and you’ll likely save money, too).

Embrace local brands, points of interest and even people by incorporating them into your event or meeting. Try an unexpected venue, for example. Or treat attendees to some event swag that incorporates local flavors, art or other notable products. If you’ve saved elsewhere, maybe you’ll have room in the budget to book a high-profile local speaker, musician or other live entertainment. And that leads us to…

 

Deliver high-value programming

We mentioned earlier that event and meeting planners are increasingly interested in delivering a quality event in a shorter timeframe. Your event or meeting programming is a critical part of the overall attendee experience. And this is the perfect time to shake things up.

Ditch the traditional conference format in favor of an unconference. Or, start small by replacing a few presentations with more collaborative, interactive work groups. Another tip? Don’t hesitate to let your attendees take a more active role in how the event unfolds. After all, you’ve invited them for a reason, so why not give them a chance to share with and learn from each other in a more informal way?

This is another ideal spot to revisit your event goals. You’ll want to ensure your programming not only delivers an immersive experience, but also aligns with your strategic event plan and your company’s brand. If you can deliver the same impact with a shorter agenda, for example, don’t feel the need to lengthen your programming just to fill time.

Or, you could view your meeting or event as a way to start conversations, sharing and planning, and then encourage attendees to continue the work on their own. Build in some downtime on the agenda, for example, then provide them with a custom list of recommendations for nearby places to meet and mingle over coffee, a casual meal or happy hour. Attendees will likely welcome some flexibility in their schedule, and you might save some money by incorporating a block of time that doesn’t require any formal programming.

 

Generate excitement

One of the most effective ways to deliver a top-notch attendee experience is to excite your attendees! And you don’t have to whisk them away to a five-star private beach resort to make this happen (although we’re packed and ready to go if you do!)

Strategic, thoughtfully planned and seamlessly executed meetings or events can be exciting without a ton of glitz and glamour. We already talked about programming, but delivering information in an insightful and entertaining way goes a long way in making an impression on attendees.

And rather than sink your budget with a big spend on a fancy venue or costly presenters, focus more on the details—you know, the small stuff. Greet attendees with a small memento or handwritten note. Develop an engaging and thought-provoking agenda that will keep their attention. Treat them to an offsite event like a private tour or a stop at a favorite local landmark. Show them you value their presence and that they play an important role not just in the success of your event or meeting, but also your company. That feeling of being welcomed and appreciated is priceless—and it ensures you’ll leave your meeting or event with a group of loyal brand ambassadors that will continue to deliver on your initial investment.

Attendee experience and event budget doesn’t have to be a “chicken and the egg” scenario. It’s important, of course, to use your budget as an important planning tool. But if you find yourself needing to watch costs, don’t fret that you’ll also have to compromise your attendee experience. It might require a little extra planning and creativity, but you can wow your attendees and stick to a budget. Are you ready to embrace the challenge?