Event Success Starts With Giving Attendees a Certain Comfort Level

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"As marketers, we must ensure the basic needs of our attendees are met before we try to engage them with deeper experiences."

That quote comes from a new white paper, "Maximizing Attendee Engagement and Value by Design: An Experience Design Framework Based on Want and Need," by brand experience agency FreemanXP. The idea is that before we get into content and community, an event—or even a website or publication—must make the attendee/reader feel at ease.

Thus the question becomes: Where does one start with launching or reinvigorating events? To answer this, Niru Desai, FreemanXP's VP of strategy and planning, international, has drawn her version of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as it applies to events. And her first need is guidance—followed by value, connections, achievement and growth.

Guidance focuses on attendees knowing where to go and how to get there. "They must be guided before, during, and after an event," she wrote. "Do so and they become more confident, assured, and opening to deepening their engagement." To achieve this, suggestions include: self-navigation tools via mobile apps, onsite face-to-face support to answer questions and direct traffic, digital signage, and social media monitoring."

Speaking of events, SIPA and Connectiv are launching a new and exciting series of best practices conferences with New Secrets of Successful Events and Webinars, Thursday, April 7 in Boston. Sponsored by the Specialized Information Publishers Foundation, it will be a full day of learning at a very affordable price.

Once attendees get comfortable, they can move to value, or creating a relevant experience. "Oftentimes, attendees find value through the level of access you provide to experts and their unique insights and knowledge. But there should be more."

Package sessions to mirror the way attendees consume content on a daily basis. Use bite-sized presentation formats (15 minutes or less), keep them "highly visual [Instagram-worthy] and allow the pictures to speak your thousand words." Integrate social media platforms to encourage participation. "Empower even the most introverted attendees to voice their opinions."

Next comes connections—give them a community experience. According to Maslow, everyone needs to connect on a personal level. It's the same with attendees. We're not just talking evening reception. There can be "social media meet-ups, birds-of-a-feather sessions, audience-generated discussion areas." At our conferences, we offer speed networking, fun runs and breakfast roundtables. Some events offer exhibit hall tours, charity/social giving time such as packing care boxes for children, and first-timer orientations.

"Online connections can be made in meaningful and useful ways as well... Allow experience designers to create and provide a platform for sharing relevant, useful, or entertaining content with a community that extends beyond the event itself."

Next comes achievement. It's time for deeper involvement. "They are in the perfect mindset to interact with both your brand and each other in ways that will make important and lasting impressions," Desai wrote. They need a place to contribute after the event ends. This may include asking them to help develop the content or experience for next year's event.

"Remember that gamification is more than points and leaderboards. It's a marketer's opportunity to introduce content and information that's both relevant and entertaining. Whether it's unique content or featured experts and brands on-site, the best examples are those playful concepts that further connect the event experience and allow for deeper engagement."

Finally we get to growth. Attendees will now take the knowledge they gained at your event and use it in both their professional and personal lives. To encourage this—before it all gets forgotten—planners and marketers should provide tools to help them use and share the meeting's content. Keep the conversation going. Build this community—provide further networking opportunities.

"Helping your attendees will drive the long-term success of the event itself and its growth potential in years to come," Desai wrote. "If this is executed well, expect a high percentage of return attendees as well as repeat and increased sponsor participation and press coverage."

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…