Last month, I attended BizBash LA. As an event planner, I rarely get to enjoy events from an attendee’s point of view, so this was a great experience for me. Even though I was an attendee, I couldn’t help but revert back to my planner tendencies of directing traffic and ushering people into seats. Based on the smiles I got from others, I think they could easily relate. After attending 10+ sessions in one day, I learned that no matter what type of event you’re planning, from corporate conferences to music festivals, there are basic struggles and rewards that are universal across the board.
Here are some takeaways from what I learned:
Measure Anything, Measure Everything
If there’s one main point that almost all speakers mentioned at this event, it’s the importance of goal-setting and goal-measuring. The key is to establish tangible goals at the beginning of the planning process to have a foundation for measurement at the end. Each team has their own goals, and it’s important to formally identify these objectives and keep them in mind the entire time. Your internal team may want to increase the number of new attendees by 15%. The sponsors may want to get 100 people to test out their new products and gauge their interest. Attendees may want to check out new features of your product before they’re made public so they can get ahead of the game. Be mindful of what you’re working towards, and let the goals be your motivation throughout the planning process.
Happy Sponsors = Happy Planners
Sponsorships are all about symbiotic relationships. In the end, both parties (event planner + sponsor) must feel like they have mutually benefited from the experience. Everyone wants to feel valued, and that applies to attendees, as well as sponsors. It’s important to listen to your sponsors and understand their objectives. Make the effort to understand their marketing needs up front so you can measure the success of their participation afterwards. Are they trying to build their brand awareness, or are they looking to generate leads? Do they want to feature a recent product launch? This is how you’ll keep them happy and get them to return year after year. Engagement is more valuable than eyeballs, so get creative with facilitating interaction between attendees and sponsors that communicate beyond signage. They’ll thank you for it!
Never underestimate the power of face-to-face meetings
In this day and age, it’s easy to feel like we ‘know’ someone well by looking at their Facebook and following their Twitter. In-person events allow us to create personalized human connections, something that can’t really be replaced by technology and the internet. To convince our attendees to take time out of their busy work days and get to an event, we as event planners need to know our audiences and define clear objectives and benefits of attending. Rather than just being spoken to, attendees want to feel like they’re contributing to the agenda and collaborating with one another. Create time and activities for people to actually connect at events, rather than just sitting together in a ballroom. Planners are the programmers of human interaction at events. Attendees need to realize the benefits of coming together in-person, something they wouldn’t receive from live-streaming your event or watching the session recordings afterwards. Facilitate labs, whiteboard sessions, impromptu meetups, and let the magic happen organically.
Mind Over Millennials
Millennials are the largest generation in history, and companies need to delight the Millennial mind in order to be successful. We need to gain loyalty and trust from Millennials, and the best way to do so is by speaking their language. Millennials connect through education, inspiration, and storytelling. Don’t just put on a show, but actually engage with your audience and make your event an interactive experience. For a Millennial to really feel connected to a company and/or event, they require meaningful content that lives on, even after the event is over. That means we need to create dialogue that continues the excitement from the in-person event, whether it’s through follow-up emails, physical mail, or social media. Know the right channels for the right time, and establish connections before (Facebook), during (Twitter), and after (Facebook) the event. Millennials want to feel like they’re part of a community, even when the event is over.
Millennials are quite socially responsible, and they expect the companies they’re involved with to be as well. Events offer a look at a company’s culture, a window into the corporation’s heart. Events are expensive, there’s no doubt about that. But that doesn’t mean that they have to be wasteful. As planners, we should be intentional with green efforts, and there are many ways to do so. Having easily-recognizable recycle bins around the venue is an easy first step. Going digital rather than printing every program and agenda goes a long way. Some venues (hotels) can set up donation programs for soap and other amenities after guests have checked out. You can look into food donation programs for leftover F&B. Get over the mentality of “this is how we’ve always done it,” and really challenge yourself to get creative.
And in the End
Let’s delight our guests with small surprises because in the end, little details make a big difference. Attendees may not remember everything they hear and learn at the event, but they’ll definitely remember how they felt.
Overall, it was a great learning and networking experience for me to hear from industry experts and connect with other marketing and event professionals. If you want to see how I apply what I’ve learned, come check out the Liferay Symposium North America on Nov. 16-17 in Chicago, IL. You can see all upcoming and past Liferay events on www.liferay.com/events.