September 02, 2014
Boost participant engagement at your next event

By Scott Cullather | 08/19/2010

Not long ago, live events consisted mostly of classroom and theater-style sessions by day, followed by live entertainment at night. The format wasn’t very inclusive and live music or comedy acts were expensive to produce. When the recession hit, many associations cut back on their events or eliminated them because too few people attended to justify the cost. But the problem goes deeper: registrants were skipping events because they didn’t find value in them.

It can be a vicious circle. Some event planners think they need to cut back as much as possible to increase “value.” But that can make participants even less likely to attend. This scenario is actually a great opportunity for associations to make their events more engaging, interactive and valuable for those attending and to start producing better events with higher return on investment.

The most exciting part is that associations are only scratching the surface of the possibilities for improving events while making them more valuable. Future events will be much more immersive, creative and exciting than in the past. There are many creative ways to accomplish this without blowing your budget.

3 steps to make it happen

1. The first step in amping up interactivity at events is simply to involve participants more often. Allow audience members to provide feedback – for example, by inviting them to use Twitter to take part in a Q&A session with a speaker. Another idea: design and produce segments that involve participants, such as a talent show or test-your-knowledge competition about key messaging. Both are less expensive than hiring professional entertainment – and much more engaging for the participants! Interactivity increases knowledge retention and provides for a more memorable and enjoyable participant experience.

2. Event planners must be more creative to liven up the experience. Participants get bored with the same agenda, content structure and ways of communicating key messages. The more creative and unique the event is, the more likely participants will find it valuable. Create moments of the unexpected. For instance, event organizers can plan a “flash mob” where the entire audience is led unexpectedly in a dance or other exciting activity (see "First association flash mob dance?," 6/17). Getting creative takes a little imagination but the return on investment can be considerable.

3. The content at events is more important than ever. Key messaging must be incorporated into every part of an event program – the music, the signage, the activities, the entertainment, everything. Gone are the days when musicians and performers entertained for entertainment’s sake. Example: why not create an iTunes playlist of the show music and key executive soundbytes that participants can download, creating lasting memories and an easy way to recall key messages from the meeting?

When events are planned in interactive, creative and smart ways, participants not only will get and retain the content they need, they also will look forward to the association’s next event.

Details: inVNT is a live events agency. Contact Cullather at scullather@invnt.com or 212-334-3415.

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