Live events are back, and the event experience has never been more important.
Companies got used to the cost savings of no travel or conference registrations for two years, so today’s events have the added hurdle of convincing executives that the incremental budget is well spent. And yet cost reduction isn’t necessarily the best answer; reducing ticket prices for events has downstream implications on budgets for speakers, entertainment, lighting, food and beverage, giveaways, and other key elements of the experience.
So how can event professionals take the in-person experience to the next level and provide extra value to attendees so they don’t have to drop ticket prices? Here are 10 ways:
- Hire a professional emcee. I remember attending a conference a few years ago that had recently been sold to a new owner. In a cost-cutting move, the new owners decided to have their own vice president be the emcee of the event. The high-energy music welcomed her to the stage, and then pffffffffffft. All of the energy was completely sucked out of the room as soon as she began her monotone introduction. After just two or three minutes, people were already checking their phones. That’s definitely not the way to start a conference! The emcee is a critical component of a memorable event, like the glue that holds the whole agenda together.
- Hire professional speakers. I know what you’re thinking: Dan, you’re a professional speaker and proud card-carrying member of the National Speakers Association so of course you would say this. But hear me out, because I’m also a professional customer experience expert, and in this case, the “customers” are audience members. Like with most things in life, you get what you pay for. So if you go cheap (or free) with the most important content of your event, be prepared for that content to fall flat with many audience members. Public speaking is a developed skill which requires the person on stage to maintain the audience’s attention, educate them and hopefully entertain them at the same time. You wouldn’t want an untrained airplane pilot flying you across the country or an untrained plumber fixing your kitchen sink; why would you want an untrained speaker in front of your paying customers?
- Make sure everyone can plug in everywhere. Your audience will be busy taking notes, networking, and hopefully enjoying themselves. They don’t want to worry about their phone’s battery life, so make sure they don’t have to. This is especially true at events that ask attendees to share learnings on social media, as those apps (plus the use of the camera to share photos and video) tend to be battery hogs. Place charging stations all around the event space, including in networking areas, and if possible include power strips in breakout rooms.
- Hire a photographer to take headshots. It’s always a good idea to have a current headshot for LinkedIn at the very least. Hiring a photographer to provide this service for free to attendees is a great value-add for them and they’ll always remember where they got it.
- Leave a thank-you note in attendees’ rooms or at the check-in desk. Including a personalized note for attendees leaves a great first (and lasting) impression. You might also consider including a couple bottles of water or a healthy snack. Remember too that attendees may not want to haul around a swag-filled tote bag, so any items that can be conveniently delivered to their room or the front desk will be appreciated.
- Offer an omelet station at breakfast. It’s hard to please everyone at a meal, but allowing attendees to build their own breakfast is a great start. Being able to personalize a meal gives attendees a feeling of control over an important part of their day that will provide both sustenance and fun.
- Build in some personal work time. Networking breaks are great, but attendees will also be concerned about falling behind on email. Build in an hour that they know they’ll have to catch up; it will keep them more engaged during the content and networking portions of the event, and also relieve their bosses to know they won’t be completely out-of-pocket.
- Celebrate with a champagne toast. Having a moment where everyone can come together and feel part of something will create a lasting memory. Plus, the “fun” portions of events tend to appeal more to extraverts than introverts, whereas a simple toast should be easy enough for everyone to participate. Be sure to include a non-alcoholic bubbly option.
- Ask for, analyze, and take action on audience feedback. Many events have a post-event survey, but it’s better to solicit feedback at various intervals throughout the event and across various channels. Ask about all aspects of the event and leave room for open-ended feedback with a question like, “What’s one thing we should start/stop/continue doing for next year’s event?” Analyze the feedback quantitatively and qualitatively to identify key insights, and then be sure to make actual changes based on those insights. (Too often insights are just delivered in a report but there is no action taken.) Pro tip: Close the “feedback loop” by showing attendees that you’ve listened to their feedback and incorporated specific initiatives into next year’s planning.
- Keep people engaged between events. Too often, events are “one and done” experiences. Attendees go back to work and promptly forget most of what they learned. Help them maintain momentum by being in their inbox the next day with something that continues the experience. Maybe it’s a follow-up webinar, or a live Q&A with some of the most popular speakers. Maybe it’s a private Facebook Group invitation to help foster continued networking. Yes, it’s a good time to mention early bird pricing for next year, but it’s also an opportunity to continue delivering unexpected value.
- BONUS TIP! Leverage LinkedIn. LinkedIn can be a great resource for finding professionals to help with your event. You can use the LinkedIn search bar to find people who work in specific industries or who have specific skills. Once you’ve found someone who might be a good fit for your event, you can use an email finder tool like ContactOut to get their email address. Then, you can reach out to them directly about the opportunity.