The perfect content recipe for your event: buffet vs. tapas

Think back on all the business events you’ve attended throughout your career; to all the events you’ve planned. They tend to fall into two buckets:

  • large conferences with many topics and streams- perhaps “THE event” you attend once a year
  • smaller events with targeted themes

Being that we are a bunch of foodies here at Showcare, Andrea Driessen’s analogy reference (originally created by Jeff Hurt, CEO of Empowered Epiphanies) really resonated with us. In her book The Non-Obvious Guide to Event Planning (For Kick-Ass Gatherings That Inspire People), she refers to the concept of an all-you-can-eat buffet or a tapas bar, regarding how to design for optimal learning. Let’s apply this to event planning.

When designing your events, should they be more like a buffet or a tapas bar?

We all know what an all-you-can-eat buffet style event looks like: perhaps it’s held once a year built around an agenda chock full of sessions on ALL different subject matters. Your schedule looks like an elaborate game of Tetris while you try not to get FOMO when you can’t attend all the events you’ve “starred.” At the same time, there’s an energy, an exhilaration as your mind explodes into so many areas of learning. Often, you get a high-level taste of many different themes, are energized as your mind races around all of these newfound corners to explore and you are able to meet all different types of people. During Showcare’s Great Virtual Debate hosted on LinkedIn, Shawn Cheng, Project Manager with MCI Group, said being given the chance to meet people with different interests is why he prefers the buffet style.

The “tapas bar” event has more of that deep dive feel. Perhaps it’s designed around a certain subject which you can REALLY get to explore, resulting in focused takeaways, action items, and meeting with connections who are also interested in that specific area. You can hit the ground running and focus your attention on a topic that speaks to you and explore it from various angles and perspectives. Melissa Mercadante, VP of Marketing at Showcare, believes: “The tapas bar approach can feel like a more personalized experience for attendees. You are expanding on a topic they are already passionate about so they will be more invested and feel more connected to your sessions and speakers.”

So, which is the better option?

When designing an event, the fundamental question to answer is: Why are we gathering? This is built upon the ongoing understanding and learning about what keeps your attendees engaged. Design a format that creates the impact you want to make. Create a program with a sense of flow where the moments and hours fly by. Find out who your attendees are and what will best serve who they are and what they need. Decide what impact you want to make with your event and what behavior/emotion you want to tap into.

To maximize education, connection, community, and event lifecycle, start with a larger scale, multi-topic event and follow it up with targeted events to keep people engaged throughout the year. By designing larger initial events covering all different themes, attendees can fulfill their cravings and choose what’s most appetizing to them. Then, by offering subsequent events focused on specific subjects, attendees will be able to refine their palates in whatever way they choose. When planning events with these considerations in mind, attendees will feel more engaged and spend more time participating.

The attendee is always right

Take note of where attendee interests lie. Post event, be sure to study this invaluable data and insight so you may continuously improve your event offerings. Think of it as your local, seasonal menu! Then take it one step further- personalize it. Imagine this: your favorite restaurant, not only remembers your name, but always provides you with the most delicious meal suggestions based on your previous preferences. That’s how we should be personalizing and designing both buffet and tapas style events.

As Bilal Jaffery, Marketing & AI Practice Leader at Deloitte, writes in the introduction to a report entitled Connecting with meaning: Hyper-personalizing the customer experience using data, analytics, and AI:

“Customers expect to be treated as individuals, as human beings who are facing one of the most challenging periods of their lives. They want to deal with companies who understand who they are and what they’re going through—and who appreciate that their reality and needs are changing every single day. Adopting a hyper-personalized marketing strategy powered by data, analytics, and AI will give you the insights and capabilities to adapt to your customers’ changing realities in real-time, which is what today’s customers expect.”

This is not a “nice-to-have” but imperative now. Attendees will be presented with what’s most relevant to them in relation to their interests, learning objectives, and personal/professional goals.

All aspects of an event are appetizing, but we must think of the attendee experience and your organizational goals. Create that buffet, see preferences, personalize, refine, and deep dive into the tapas bar. By thinking in this way, you will extend your event lifecycle, stay top of mind for attendees, boost engagement, and your participants will be coming back for seconds!

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