Imagine this: you’re busy planning your next big event. You have all your ducks in a row: awesome venue booked, killer catering secured and tickets to your event are sold out. But you’ve forgotten one important piece of the puzzle: how do you plan on engaging your attendees?
Attendee engagement is an oft-overlooked component that is just as important as the venue or food and beverage. Whether your event has 50 or 5,000 attendees, we have three solid ways to engage your audience to ensure your guests have an unforgettable experience.
According to a survey conducted by Hubspot and Constant Contact, 40% of nonprofits, B2B, and B2C companies who responded noted using social media as a form of event marketing. But don’t let the social media fun grind to a halt when the event kicks off. There are a myriad of opportunities where you can leverage social during and after your event.
Before an event, you can promote the use of the event hashtag by incorporating it into your tweets. If you tie the event hashtag into more common hashtags that would be used by your attendees, in this case, #meetingprofs and #eventprofs, it increases engagement rates two times higher than tweets without hashtags.
— Choose Chicago (@ChooseChicago) December 28, 2014
Event organizers and attendees alike can use the event hashtag to find out who else will be in attendance and engage with one another beforehand.
During an event, the easiest way to keep the momentum going is to live tweet. Posts can range from takeaways from keynotes, photos of the event, or a heads up to your location in order to meet other event attendees. When you incorporate the event hashtag into a live tweet, it makes it easy for other attendees to join the conversation.
— BizBash Live (@BizBashLive) October 28, 2014
Just because the event is over doesn’t mean you can’t continue to engage with your attendees. After an event, organizers can share valuable recap content, like videos and blogs, with their attendees and give them previews for the following year’s event, if held annually. This is also a great opportunity to request feedback to improve upon future events.
Employing live, social media feeds that display real-time posts, tweets and hashtags will transform digital engagement into an in-person affair. Tagboard is a free resource that tracks a specific hashtag that updates in real-time. (Hint: creating an event-specific hashtag is a great idea). If Twitter doesn’t strike your social media fancy, Livewall lets you broadcast a variety of social networks live, allowing you to display photos, videos and even contests via their platform.
What these two tools have in common is that they leverage the excitement of individual attendee’s as they see their content rebroadcast to the entire event audience. Making your attendee’s famous is never a bad route to take.
One surefire way to encourage your event audience to engage is to set up a situation that pushes them to do just that: a networking event. If you don’t have a networking opportunity at your event, it’s easy to write one into your schedule before or after a keynote or breakout session. South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive masks networking events in the form of parties, gaming expos, and mixers scheduled throughout the life of the conference.
Attendees can create their own opportunities to network at any event they attend, whether or not there is a designated networking session. In order to maximize your face time with other event attendees, Career and Workforce Expert Dan Schawbel suggests sticking by his networking rule. Schawbel encourages network event goers to meet no more than five people in order to truly make a connection and build a meaningful relationship with these new contacts.
Networking can also be a fairly stressful affair for attendees. The Harvard Business Review suggests attending networking events when you’re at your best in an environment that works for you. For those of us who aren’t morning people (like yours truly) or would fare better in a smaller networking environment, don’t sign up for the conference-wide networking breakfast. Instead, find a few networking events and see if they fit your target audience and a size that you’d feel comfortable in. When you do the planning on the front end, you’ll be more likely to make quality connections once you’re at the event.
Room diagramming is the cornerstone of meeting planning. Social Tables’ goal is to be the industry’s tool of choice when building that foundation – we’ve helped our customers create over 350,000 diagrams to date. One of the things we encourage people to do is to consider the impact of non-traditional designs on their program: multiple room sizes, innovative setups and out of breakout sessions, to name but a few.
In one of our latest eBooks, The Modern Guide to Meeting Design, we tackle how the environment you create for meetings attendees should not be limited to the location of the venue or the credibility of your programming. Those items matter less than the very simple, but oft-overlooked foundational elements of a meeting: the chairs and/or tables at which attendees spend the majority of their time.
Facilitating an exceptional learning environment is your responsibility as a meeting professional. Start helping your attendees learn and engage today by providing the most effective seating design to aid in their success. By literally positioning attendees in a seat and/or at a table that enhances their cognitive engagement, you are framing their ability to make better decisions, engage with your programming, and remember the content that they are learning.
The reasoning behind conscious seating and room diagramming is a big factor in planning your meeting. If you’d like to find the most effective seating option for whatever your programming involves, be sure to brush up on these meeting design basics.
Paul O. Radde, Ph.D. of The Thrival Institute studied the conundrum of meeting design and found that there isn’t a one size fits all set up. Depending on the event, you should consider the “comfort, awareness of others, and visual and acoustical needs will dictate the necessary spatial plan,” says Radde. Would amphitheater-style seating with a projected attendee list of one thousand people be the best setup, or would clustered seating encourage engagement among smaller groups of attendees? Whatever the case may be, think outside of the traditional classroom style and don’t be afraid to get creative with your seating setup.
Audience engagement at your next event doesn’t sound so impossible, does it? Armed with this trifecta of audience engagement, you now have the tools to launch foolproof ways to boost engagement at your next event.
What ways do you get your audience engaging at your meetings and events? Share your ideas in the comments or tweet them to us at @socialtables!
Laura Lopez is the Marketing Content Strategist at the Washington, D.C.-based event planning software company, Social Tables. In her role, she puts the “social” in Social Tables through facilitating face to face and digital interactions between their growing, global customer base of over 4,000 strong. She is passionate about bringing together like-minded communities that share a common goal to make each other successful through on and offline engagement.