As an event planner you thrive on seeing your guests connect with other attendees and engage in the content or experience being presented. You would love for every attendee to leave your event saying “That was an amazing experience! I am so happy I attended and I met so many wonderful new people.”... but as we all know, that isn’t always the case.
So what can you do as a planner to ensure your guests leave feeling connected? How can you improve their level of engagement and provide a more enjoyable experience?
1. Build Anticipation
Increasing engagement with your guests begins long before the first person arrives. Finding new and innovative ways to interact early on with your attendees (and potential attendees) can be the key to getting them hooked and encouraging registration sales.
If you are planning a large national event, jump start your registration sales by hosting state meet-ups or select city events. These smaller, more informal, gatherings provide an opportunity for guests to become excited about attending your event, increase attendance and build a significant level of anticipation for what attendees can expect at the national level.
Kickoff events also provide an opportunity for attendees to mix and mingle, so when they arrive at the larger event they will already have connections! This will exponentially increase the engagement level and provide additional value, even before your guests arrive.
2. Interact on Social Media
As we all know social media is a great way to connect during events. You can use hashtags, handles, and even event specific apps to build an online community around your event.
This also provides a chance to participate from anywhere in the world, which is particularly nice for guests who can’t physically attend.
During your event you can provide your speaker’s Twitter handles, create event specific hashtags, and promote the sponsors, vendors or charities through social media. The opportunities to engage online are endless!
Social Media can also be a fabulous way to interact prior to everyone arriving. If you are trying to build anticipation (see #1) you could host a hangout online or create a Twitter chat using a unique hashtag.
These online “events” could be hosted, before, during or after the event to increase and prolong the engagement of your attendees. Gathering feedback in this fashion is another fabulous way to connect.
3. Create Small Groups
Large groups can be overwhelming and intimidating for your attendees. Everyone dreads the feeling that comes over you when you are new to a group and you don’t know anyone. Creating small group interactions will assist your guests in overcoming the initial awkwardness that can happen at large scale events.
Perhaps encourage involvement based on the table your guests are assigned to or maybe groups can be broken down by region, age, etc. Large gatherings can be segmented in many different ways and finding these small groups can help break the ice between any group of strangers.
4. Host a Happy Hour
Who doesn’t enjoy happy hour after a long day at an event? If you are hosting a daytime gathering, consider guiding the crowd out afterwards to a smaller happy-hour-style event.
Many large conferences provide these opportunities and it allows for a more intimate group setting where you can discuss ideas and build relationships. Having the chance to interact in a more relaxed environment puts everyone at ease and often times generates the best conversations and connections.
Keep in mind, it doesn’t necessarily have to involve alcohol. Any type of after hours activity will do the trick. You could host your group at a local sporting event, city tour or attraction. Providing these unique opportunities will make your event a true experience for your guests.
5. Provide Networking Friendly Areas
Often times at crowded events, guests struggle to find the proper space to have a quality conversation. Nothing is worse than trying to carry a conversation while trying to balance a drink, plate and briefcase.
Try to keep this in mind when looking at your venue and do your best to create a networking area with tables, chairs, and ample space. Ask your presenters to be present in these locations when they have downtime between sessions. This will make those high-profile speakers more approachable, and it will encourage your guests to reach out to connect with them or ask questions that they perhaps didn’t want to ask in a larger setting.
6. Create Question and Answer Opportunities
Providing sessions or panels that are solely dedicated to participation are fantastic ways to encourage your attendees to get involved in the conversation. Allowing for Q&A opportunities can provide guests with real-life scenarios and many times, these sessions provide more value than having presenters speak for hours on end. Because these types of breakout sessions involve the audience, they are more engaging and encourage your audience to be more attentive.
Events are all about providing an enjoyable experience for everyone involved! Finding unique ways to set your event apart by creating opportunities to participate and interact will leave your guests wanting more and excited for future events with your company or group. Think outside the box and try these techniques to further engage your attendees at your next event!