As professionals in the events industry, it can be easy for us to forget our first experiences attending an expo or conference. Recently, I shared with you the lessons I learned while exploring the Charleston Wine + Food Festival as a first-time attendee. Today, I’m recapping those lessons and proposing a few suggestions as to how event managers can apply the learnings to their own shows and meetings.
Lesson 1: Attendees Need Guidance
The first time attending an event can be a little overwhelming and be confusing until you learn the ropes.
A clear path to navigate the experience helps eliminate the confusion and focus on content and interactions.
Light the way – Provide attendees with a quick start or newcomers’ guide at the “front door” of you event – your website or app. Many events provide first-timer sessions pre-show, but the journey from event discovery and exploration through registration and participation isn’t always an obvious, straight line. Giving attendees a checklist of the resources they’ll have to interact with and how to get from point A to B will alleviate a lot of stress and guess work.
Give your attendees a “compass” to navigate your event in the form of an app. Even if you’ve provided your attendees with pre-show planning resources, they’ll need something they can reference quickly and easily for things like sessions start times, meetings, and exhibitor locations, depending on the nature of your event. They might even learn about something they missed in their initial planning by way of app content updates. If your event app allows for notifications, that’s a great way to draw attention to the highlights of your event and give attendees a nudge in the right direction.
Lesson 2: Attendees Are Innovative
While you’ve been evolving into an event management ninja, your attendees have been turning into pro participants.
Attendees have a lot to teach us about how to best take advantage of the events we produce.
Watch and learn – Easier said than done when you’re rushing from room to room or hall to hall, but try to dedicate some time to observe your attendees while onsite. If you take a breakfast/coffee or lunch break, try to do it in a common area like one of the cafes. If you have a lounge in the hall or lobby area, use that as your satellite post while you’re in between sprints to the next location. Watch for (and talk to!) the attendees doing things a little differently or more confidently. No doubt they’ve figured out something along the way to make their experience easier and more efficient.
Just ask – Pose questions through social media, surveys, or onsite whiteboards and simply ask “What do you do to make the most of your time while onsite?” or “Can you share a pro tip that makes your event experience better or easier while at the show?” These can be great conversation starters and will give you key insights into the minds of your participants while bolstering engagement and connections.
Lesson 3: Returning Attendees Make Great Advocates and Tour Guides
Most people want to share with others and help fellow participants if given the opportunity.
Identify your advocates and give them a forum in which to communicate with others.
Connect with your experts – If you have a way to track attendance year-to-year, take a look at your regular attendees. Who has been coming for 3, 5, 10+ years? Also, check out you social media feeds. Who is talking about how excited they are to be attending their 8th time at your show? Much like meeting a local in a new town, connecting with a long-time attendee can be a boon to an event first timer. However, one attendee can only guide so many people face-to-face, so…
Hand over the microphone – Once you’ve identified your event pros, extend their reach by giving them a voice. Engage with them on social media and repost their content. Ask if they’d like to be contributors to your blog or website and interview them about their participation over the years. Feature all of this in a way that other attendees can access easily. Remember the mobile app we talked about before? Add a section dedicated to attendee insights to help make the most of the show or event.
Lesson 4: Attendees Need Breaks
Learning and experiencing new things is invigorating, but everyone needs a little downtime.
Give your participants a moment and environment in which they can pause and regroup.
Let them recharge more than their phones – Most events have lounges sprinkled throughout the venue, but striking a balance can be hard. Again, while you’re moving between rooms and halls, keep an eye out for spots where everyone seems to be hovering and waiting on seats, what lounges look like a no man’s land, and where attendees are stopping mid-sprint to juggle belongings and planning their next moves. If you can adjust accordingly from day-to-day, great! If not, make a note for the following event. Do the more popular spots coincide with featured areas like a learning lounge, localized session tracks, new product pavilions? Boom! Add some coffee and other beverages and you’ve got yourself a sponsorship opportunity to boot. A refreshment might feel odd in the middle of a hall between sessions during your site walkthrough, but if that’s where everyone is passing, go with it.
Make their trip home a little more zen – Extend the experience just a little bit more and give your attendees something to take home. This could be something as simple as sharing a low-key, relaxing Spotify list to listen to on the flight home. Maybe have a sponsored treat, like tea or an eye mask. Now that they’ve had a successful event, give attendees the opportunity to slow down and reflect on what they’ve learned.
Are any of these learnings or suggestions applicable to your event? Are they close, but need some tweaking? A good way to find out what fits best with your audience is to do your own discovery mission. If you have a new member on the team that might not normally attend, have them walk through the event as an attendee. Really. Hand them a company card, ask them to register, plan, and attend the event. Check in with them at every step. Make mid-course adjustments things like messaging, signage, and seating, as and when you can and take notes for the next event. You might be surprised by your own takeaways.
Want to share your own lessons and suggestions? Tweet at @a2zUserGroup with #DiscoveryMission. We’d love to hear what you’ve learned from walking a mile in your attendees’ shoes.