Think back to the last time you hosted or attended an event. Was there a packed agenda with no hope of staying on schedule? What about a lackluster networking event where everyone grabbed a free drink and headed straight home? Did you experience cost overruns on catering and AV? 84% of leaders believe in-person events are a critical component of their company’s success. As event hosts, we could be doing more to ensure the attendee experience is intentionally designed to maximize their experience.
Organizations, including associations, have an incredible opportunity to convert attendees into advocates and ambassadors when they plan beyond logistics. Event planners are masters at reducing vendor costs, but they do little in terms of planning an outcome-driven experience. At The Clearing, we specialize in designing outcome-driven events that will leave participants feeling inspired, engaged, and committed to making progress at the conclusion. Here are four things to keep in mind next time your organization is planning an event.
START WITH THE END IN MIND
When planning an event, it’s critical to know the WHY. Starting with the end in mind is important when designing intentional outcome-driven events not only for your internal project team but also for the attendee experience.
With the WHY in mind, ask your team these guiding questions:
- What shifts in mindset and/or behavior is your organization hoping to inspire attendees to make by the end of the event?
- Where are your attendees starting FROM today? Consider internal factors and environmental factors such as demographic, sociocultural, political/legal, technological, economic, and global impacts.
- Where do we see attendees getting TO by the end of the event?
Taking the time upfront to think about the FROM-TO shifts, or keeping the WHY in mind, will make designing the rest of the attendee experience an easier process.
NOT ANOTHER PANEL DISCUSSION…
When designing the program, be creative with the use of people, time, and space. According to the American Society for Training & Development, the retention rate for experiential knowledge is 75%, significantly higher than lecture at 5% or group discussion at 30%. Consider experiential options that get attendees out of their seats or actively contributing to the content beyond the default panel discussion.
Campfire sessions are a great way to blend traditional plenary sessions with enhanced audience participation. A Campfire Session begins with 15-20 minutes of planned content from a presenter, who then shifts into a facilitator role as the rest of the session becomes an audience-driven discussion.
A Solution Room is designed to provide peer advice on attendees’ most pressing problems. Attendees are given time to think of a challenge they are facing within their organization. The group votes on which problems they would like to help address. Once the problem set is established, attendees are divided into small groups. Each attendee takes turns presenting their problem while the group helps to brainstorm possible solutions. All of this is done in time-boxed, rapid succession, with the intent of covering a lot of content in a short amount of time.
Delivering content in unique and innovative, even disruptive, ways will increase the chance attendees will remember the discussion. It will also increase the likelihood they will attend your next event.
PROVIDE GUIDANCE FOR SPEAKERS
Most events have themes and general messages. Event planners identify speakers and ask them to create content but rarely are speakers informed beyond the basics. Ensure your event remains consistent and on message by providing prep time for all speakers, especially panelists. Take a moment to provide keywords, phrases, and talking points to assure the speakers understand the key messages of the event and the experience you’re trying to create for your attendees. Set clear expectations with your speakers and panelists regarding what you expect them to cover and how you’d like the narrative to sound. A little coaching and management will go a long way to ensuring both speakers and attendees experience a worthwhile session that delivers the intended outcomes.
DON’T LEAVE NETWORKING TO CHANCE
One of the top five reasons individuals attend events is to network and meet people. Don’t leave networking and relationship building to chance. Find creative ways to facilitate conversations and ensure attendees walk away with new connections.
When designing networking opportunities it’s important to consider different personality types. Finding fun and engaging ways for attendees to make meaningful connections doesn’t have to revolve around a table. Lawn games such as cornhole can be a fun and unique way for individuals to meet in a more informal setting. If there is a welcome event prior to the start of the main attraction, consider finding a way to build in connection points.
Creating an opportunity for individuals to connect before the main event will produce friendly faces. People will have a cohort to meet up with during breaks and trade notes and remain connected to each other for the entirety of the event.
Putting on a great event is so much more than logistics, it’s about the attendee experience from start to finish. A well-executed event has the capability to re-energize your members and save you money. Don’t rely on your logistics team to design in the mindset of your audience. At The Clearing, we specialize in designing engaging meetings and events that achieve specific outcomes to build value for your attendees. Interested in learning more about what we can do for your upcoming event? Send me an email to start a conversation today.
Nicholas Srebrow is a Director at The Clearing and co-lead for the firm’s group focused on the commercial sector clients. Nicholas leads a team of consultants focused on delivering best-in-class organizational change management services.