At their core, all event programs share something in common: they need engaged attendees in order to be successful. Often times organizers and planners strive for a goal of driving more registrants and attendees than the year prior.
What does that growth mean for your events? Growth may be the difference between the event budget you have today and the event budget you could have tomorrow. At your events, if people aren't physically in seats, or aren't mentally present you may have a hard time justifying your event spend next year. Proving consistent growth in registrants and attendees for your event could, however, help you to prove the brand value of your corporate events and expand your event marketing budget.
We asked 5 event experts to share their best practices for boosting registration and keeping an audience engaged. Check out what they had to say!
We asked: "What's your secret sauce to driving registrants and attendees at corporate events?"
Nick Borelli President & Strategist of Borelli Strategies
Nick Borelli, of Borelli Strategies, notes that social listening can play a huge part in your targeting and persona development, helping you to reach the right types of prospective attendees in your campaigns. He states:
"My methodology starts with listening (social media and polling) in order to create attendee personas based on psychographic values. Once I know the community our event will be serving better, I create segmented engagement strategies around their different needs. Lastly, I engage influencers aligned with each segment in order to humanize our message and reach a larger audience that has already been activated by the influencer."
Anne Thornley-Brown CEO and President of Executive Oasis International
Ann Thornley-Brown of Executive Oasis International takes a different more traditional marketing approach, putting personal interactions and tried-and-true channels front and center in her strategies. She explains:
"I took my first stab at marketing public workshops in 1996. Despite much hype about social media, the personal touch remains the magic ingredient for attracting attendees. Tweet it and they will come will never fill seats. Traditional marketing methods like direct mail with follow-up telephone calls remain the most effective strategy for enticing participants to attend. Whether it's postcard campaigns, promotional pieces in association mailings, or e-mails distributed through known and trusted sources, outbound marketing has stood the test of time."
Shawna Suckow Founder of SPIN (Senior Planners Industry Network) & Professional Speaker
For meeting planners, understanding the changing nature and intent behind attending meetings is essential says SPIN founder, Shawna Suckow. She emphasizes the importance of enabling connections and networking opportunities:
"Education isn't the top reason people want to come to meetings these days. It's networking. If we create collaborative education opportunities where people can learn and connect with one another, that's attractive. In a typical corporate event, half of the audience struggles with networking. These are your first-time attendees, your introverts, and your industry newcomers. If you promote your event to include strategic networking opportunities and collaborative sessions, you're far more likely to boost attendance. Gone are the days when people come to conferences to sit and learn passively. Today's meeting participants want conversations and experiences. How are you going to provide those, not just leave them to chance?"
Stefanie Grieser Head of Global Markets, Partnerships & Events at Unbounce
Stefanie Grieser of Unbounce provides a practical approach to maximizing registration volume. She dives into the differences in tactics needed dependent on event type (free or paid) and shed light on the importance of great content all around:
"It depends if your event is free, paid and if it is a paid event where it falls on the spectrum." Stefanie states and continues:
"Is it a high priced conference ticket where your attendee will have to travel and convince your boss to pay for not only the ticket, but the cost of accommodation and flights? If your event does fall into this category then you'll have to make it easier for attendees with a "convince your boss" PDF or email template where you break down the benefits to the business or your role if you attend. Make sure in all the website copy you talk about the benefits and the value of attending. Showcase photography in your design so they can picture themselves there (a video is even better) and be sure to include testimonials and social proof. Also, a big-ticket conference usually isn't a "one and done" purchase, meaning you don't just land on the website and buy a ticket. It usually takes a bit longer. Make sure you have a way of staying in touch - whether it's collecting their email so you can send them a message about important conference updates (for example, the early bird pricing ending) or direct people to follow your brand on Instagram for the latest news (speaker announcements, etc).
If it's a free event, it's a different ball game. Usually, with free events, the turn-out rate is 30%-50%. Meaning roughly you'll want to invite 100 people, knowing 50 will show up. In this case - make sure you set targets around this. And send plenty of email reminders. With free events, you want to make sure the *right* people are in the room. So even if it's a small intimate event you know you are hitting your larger company objectives of driving new business or retaining business - whatever the higher level goal for the event is."
Stefanie concludes that content remains king for events, and growing registrants, you've got to offer prospective attendees value:
"At the end of the day growing registrations and attendees is only as good as the value your attendees get by coming. Make sure it's excellent content that hits the mark- whether it's in the form of speakers, a panel or simply networking. That will drive word of mouth attendees in future years. For Call To Action Conference, we specifically measure Word Of Mouth and NPS, giving us a sense of the quality and the value of our conference."
If your event is internal, training oriented or attendees are required to attend then the question begins to evolve. If driving registration isn't the problem, then what is? Employee or attendee engagement with training sessions might be a potential roadblock, so we asked a different question.
What is your "secret sauce" to attendee or employee engagement at events?
For internal, or required training you may not need to spark registrants but you absolutely need to think about how to keep attendees engaged and participating.
Anne Thornley-Brown CEO & President of Executive Oasis International
Anne also provided some additional insight on engaging attendees and employees at internal events and why avoiding "passive mode" is so essential. She says:
"To engage participants, it is extremely important to ensure that the instructional methods that you use don't put participants into a passive mode. Many event and conference planners misinterpret the information about short attention spans. Instead of keeping presentation segments to 20 minutes and then engaging participants in an exercise, game, simulation, or group interaction, they change speakers every 20 minutes. Participants remain in the passive mode while a sea of talking heads is paraded in front of them. This is not interactivity."
Meaning, instead of swapping speakers so often--think of ways to engage your attendees and keep them active in sessions. Quizzing, live polling, Q&A, gamification. You name it, and technology has made it possible so consider all the options for attendee engagement.
Tim Grable President of The Grable Group
Tim Grable of The Grable Group provides a quick tip and tactical exercise to boost engagement at a training. He explains how to execute an 'ask or stump the expert' game:
"No one likes to attend a required meeting. "Mandatory" usually means "boring" and things I already know. One way to address such an issue to Host an Ask-The-Expert session or Stump-The-Expert session with the winner being offered a voucher for a discount on a future training. Your attendees get creative in their thinking, and you get a future registrant. A Win-Win"
The bottom line...
There are hundreds upon hundreds of tactics to drive registration, attendance, and engagement at your events. Start by analyzing your target audience and determining what might resonate best with them. Use these tips and tricks from the seasoned pros but recognize that your event marketing program is entirely unique, as it should be!