As marketers and event planners, living up to the expectations of our clients and prospects can be a daunting task. Take our organization and the standards we have for our conferences as an example.
Each year we host two conferences where we ask hundreds of our attendees to rate their experience with our events on a scale of 1-5. What used to be a simple goal of attendee satisfaction has now become a limitless (and fairly impossible) journey to achieve the perfect 5.
If our overall experience is rated a 4.6, the team is disappointed! How does that happen? It happens because expectations from attendees have risen exponentially in the last several years. What used to get you a perfect score is now only meeting their expectations. Every year, every show, every moment has to be better than the last.
For the most part, the rise of mobile adoption, as well the rate of innovation in technology and software, has played a key role in elevating these expectations. And, because of it, people plan to be “wowed” in every way.
If one bite of their food during breakfast, lunch, or dinner isn’t Instagram-worthy, they become instantly critical. If a conference room is too cold (or too hot) we hear about it on Twitter. If the content isn’t bringing them a new perspective they write about it on LinkedIn.
So, how do we, as the wizards behind the curtain, continually impress and improve the event experience for our attendees to make them crave the next event?
The short answer is simple: appeal to their need for engagement.
Yes, technology and software has raised the bar for innovation, but it also gives us, as the orchestrators, an advantage. It can serve as the conduit for an interactive, immersive experience that blends the online and offline experience. How? Through a device we don’t let out of our reach 24 hours a day, 7 days a week: our smartphones and tablets.
By leveraging technology (that might as well be fused to our physical bodies), we can create a personalized experience that touches our attendees in a new way.
At Peak Advisor Alliance, those attendees happen to be middle-aged, conservative, type-A businessmen. I know what you’re thinking. If they can keep 65% of their audience (with that profile) engaged year-over-year, so can we.
Here are three ways we use technology to improve attendee engagement, increase attendance, and inspire non-believers to take a leap into the interactive experience.
1. Digitize Your Paper Everything
We’re coming up on our 31st Excell conference for financial advisors over the past 15 years and, up until last year, we’ve always used paper surveys. Finally, this year we decided to make the leap.
No more paper on chairs, no more printed welcome packets, no more one-sheet slicks from sponsors. Everything was accessible and added to our app. Yeah, it was scary. Especially for an audience who didn’t know where to find our app to download it in the first place! But, we made it out alive and we’re excited by the results.
How Did We Do It?
We promoted the app heavily in pre-conference communication (emails, phone calls, webinars, etc.), explained it thoroughly onstage, and even had a dedicated person we called an app champion who would help attendees download the app while grabbing their badges at registration.
Adoption was slow at first, but referencing the app often forced our attendees to check it out and familiarize themselves with the content available. To push engagement further, we gamified the app activity, showcased our “Top 20” users on the Leaderboard, and encouraged feedback through bite-sized surveys for each session.
Instead of handing our attendees a two-page paper survey at the end of our 3-day conference, we sprinkled a few questions in real-time to them after each session to eliminate the overwhelming ask. We cut down on our open field questions and made it easy to rate a session with the tap of their finger. The end result: we doubled the amount of in-app survey feedback, we increased app usage by 10%, and drove more overall engagement in the other features we had available.
2. Involve Attendees in the Event Content
After a great uptick in usage in 2015, we knew we had to raise the bar for 2016. So, we decided to make a few of our breakout sessions and even general session keynotes more interactive with live polling.
Our CEO and Founder, Ron Carson, has always been seen as a rock star to our attendees, so we took our attendees’ insatiable appetite for his sessions and prompted the audience of 700 to use our app as a way to guide Ron’s comments.
This enabled him to focus on the topic areas the crowd was most interested in and ultimately gave attendees the opportunity to be a part of the experience. Instead of it being your average 60-minute keynote presentation, it became an immersive experience. An experience the audience enjoyed more thoroughly and rated at record highs (Ron’s sessions scored 4.8/5 on average).
3. Turn Insights Into Action
We host two national conferences a year. Quite an undertaking for a team of seven (who also have 100 other job responsibilities). And because we run lean and mean for our events, we’re always looking for the most time efficient way of improving and planning our events.
Thanks to the deep analytics we uncovered through attendee engagement, we’re able to look quickly at attendee behavior, session ratings, and traffic to see what we need to keep incorporating into our conferences and what we need to kick.
I believe strongly that we’ve become one of the most well-respected conferences for financial advisors in the country because we listen – and then do something with that information. We’re obsessed with feedback and hungry for improvement. Without this constant evolution, our events team couldn’t keep our conferences at the top of the game.
Your event app is not just a tool for your attendees. It’s also a window for you. One that allows you to see things you can’t possibly see as a single person in the mix of the event. Listen closely to what your attendees are telling you, without actually soliciting direct feedback. The more you can anticipate their sticking points and frustrations using data and behavioral trends, the more effortless their experience becomes.
Weaving these three elements into our conference strategy has catapulted us from where we were just a few years ago. And, putting mobile technology at the center of it all has made it possible.
Our collective attendance combining both conferences each year has risen 46 percent from where it was three years ago. Our content, speakers, and sponsoring exhibitors are more effective. And, our obsessive goal of having a perfect 5-star rating may just be possible (we just scored a 4.8). Oh, we can dream, right?
In the end, event organizers need to realize a shift is happening. The key to executing an amazing event comes down to how you immerse your attendees in the experience of being a part of something special.
So make it special. Make it memorable. Make it interactive. Anything less just doesn’t cut it anymore. If you’re attendees wanted to sit in a chair and listen good ideas, they can do it anytime in the comfort of their office over a webinar or podcast.
Give them a reason to see you in a way they haven’t before. You won’t regret it.
This post was contributed by our friend Joe Steuter, Director of Marketing, Peak Advisor Alliance