Think back to a time not too long ago: [Insert big event name here] was coming up! You’d look forward to it for months (perhaps as soon as you got home from the year prior’s!). You’d arrive at this event, attend ALL the sessions, connect with friends, take notes, run on adrenaline, fly home, and then continue with your day-to-day responsibilities up until the next big event. An event was a universe living within a finite number of days. But, the nature of our new reality has presented us with the opportunity to create galaxies. No longer must we cram ALL the content, ALL the networking, ALL the engagement into a short span of time. The beauty of virtual is that it knows no time or space. The event need not end at the closing remarks; in fact, that’s where the next part of the adventure, insight, and engagement should begin. We need to design our events with this in mind.
During VEI’s Virtual Summit on the ‘Future of Events,’ Julian Graves, Chairman and Director of Scaleup Advisory at Collingwood Advisory, said:
“In-person events will still be included in the marketing solutions proposition, however virtual events will enable leaders to turn their businesses into an always-on platform for audience engagement—delivering insight and connections and offering clients the ability to achieve their year-round sales and marketing objectives. The challenge for planners will be getting the mix right.”
By embracing our ever-evolving next normal, we can continue educating and connecting people at all stages of the event lifecycle. Think of your event’s lifecycle like a Slinky; yes, the stretchy, spirally toy known for its unique “walking” movement down stairs. This Event Slinky starts out closed like a finite block of time but when elongated and put into motion, it can extend the life of your event and provide a multitude of year-round opportunities to stay connected to your audience.
This article will focus on actions to take both during and after the official event, as well as how to incorporate these takeaways as part of subsequent programming and marketing.
Collect the dots now so you can connect them later
We are provided with a beautiful array of data points pre, during, and post event; it’s OUR job to use them to create the ultimate ongoing attendee experience. Take the time to find out: Why are they participating? What are they interested in? What do they want to learn? What are they already engaging in? Are they meeting those whom they want to connect with?
When looking for insights into audience behavior:
Make sure survey questions are clear and include many options with non-binary responses. The goal here is to truly get insight into the attendee experience and understand how you can personalize it for them. Bonus points: Integrate these preferences into your virtual event planning, and present participants with curated articles, on-demand sessions, discussions, or other pertinent event invitations.
Determine how many attendees are participating for their first time versus returning. Ideally, find this out before the event. You can then create a tribe of newbies; a sense of belonging and camaraderie! Be sure to track and see if at your next event, they return. Bonus points: Give participants the ability to add a first-timer badge to their profile and meet others like them. Adding badges in general is a fun way to connect and bond with people. You know you enjoyed piling them up on your physical badge! This enables attendees to add a bit more personality to their profile and better find common ground to build new relationships. To kickstart these connections, you can even create a virtual mentor program for returning attendees to welcome first-timers and become a familiar, friendly face.
Study the breakdown of sessions attended live versus on demand. Note any patterns or correlations between preferred subjects, speakers and live versus on-demand viewing.
Bonus points: Keep an eye on where engagement was most active during the live events; whether via surveys, polls, chat, reactions, and more. What format most energized and inspired attendees to get involved? Consider pre-recording your sessions so speakers can engage with participants during the live event. This adds another level of engagement and connection between presenters and attendees! Example: as part of IMEX’s PlanetIMEX, ICCA (International Congress and Convention Association) hosted a pre-recorded gameshow entitled “I Create Community Awesomeness Show.” This way, they were able to edit in all the sounds, and yes even cat images, while being able to engage with the audience during chat and in a live Q&A when the “show” finished.
Use community forums/Q&A boards as another tool to determine what is most relevant and intriguing to participants; they are providing you with meaningful market research. Bonus points: Let these forums be available post event. By permitting them to live on, attendees will be able to post and engage with what’s most pertinent, and of interest, to them. Take this information and integrate it at upcoming events or in your marketing content.
Incorporate this invaluable feedback as part of your event planning
Gather all this insight and start to build! With every passing program, your event and organization will continue to improve. Post event, you can curate and personalize the experience for your attendees, which will both maintain and build on their enthusiasm for what’s to come as well as effectively lengthen the event lifecycle. This space between the larger events is a treasure trove of possibilities, which can also include smaller, targeted events.
Leverage the excitement, brainstorming, and ideation by creating social media engagement. Pull quotes, display surveys, post questions and photos, and keep that conversation flowing.
Bonus points: Based on interesting topics, organize Twitter chats and ongoing campaigns.
Take the data you received via feedback and social media and use this for creating curated content and ongoing roundtable discussions.
Bonus points: You can also feature these discussions in a Q&A forum on your event platform to keep the conversation going and create a trusted community that can become a source of knowledge and inspiration.
Continue the gamification.Encourage people to come back to your event platform and engage.
Bonus points: Send prizes out post event! Extend the surprise and wonder that is so crucial to keep participants engaged.
Ensure that your attendees find where they fit- a community or tribe with whom they can connect and share ideas. From there, nurture the connection by designing and hosting discussions, roundtables, meetups (if safe to do so), and ongoing events.
Bonus points: Think about building communities around valuegraphics, not demographics. David Allison, who created a Valuegraphics Database by conducting 500,000 surveys, in over 152 languages with 436 metrics about what “people value, want, need and expect in life”, says “your target audience is hardwired to chase what they care about. It’s what humans do.”
In his book, We are All the Same Age Now: Valuegraphics, The End of Demographic Stereotypes, Allison discusses that he found when groups were lumped together by age/generation, they agreed on something on average, 16% of the time. When people were grouped by something they care about/their core values, there was 89% alignment. Just think of the brainstorming, ideation, and possibilities that could be created by basing community design on what is important to participants, as people, as the foundation.
By thinking strategically and ensuring that each step in the attendees’ journey is personalized to them, by them, and for them, retention and attraction will increase at future events. The Event Slinky creates infinite possibilities full of educational and networking opportunities. It also allows your organization’s voice and mission to remain top of mind, providing more frequent access to participants. The learning and growing must continue post event. Always keep an agile mindset and the conversation open between attendees, planners, and suppliers. That’s where the magic happens. An event that would only be a fleeting spark in a participant’s busy schedule in the past, can now become a bright and constant force in their lives.
Imagine the possibilities.