Archive for October, 2011

Improving the Attendee Experience—more than a numbers game

October 17, 2011

“What have you done for me lately”?  We must continue to delight our customers, year after year, and often we review attendance data reports and if our show is growing, we sigh with relief, and leave it at that.  Digging deeper into these numbers may show you external key reasons your attendance is growing currently, and after all, you want to control the outcome of ever increasing attendance…focusing on what you can control to enhance the attendee experience.

After all, once the external environment shifts—and it will—your attendance might dip.  What can you do—within your control– to exceed your attendees’ expectations?

Steps to sustain your attendance today and build for increases tomorrow:

1.  Create a warm welcoming environment – the first impression is all you’ve got.

USGBC’s Greenbuild show deployed ProShow greeters in co-branded “Ask Me” shirts.  These uniformed staff welcomed attendees in registration and the show floor.  The American Dental Association’s Annual meeting kicked off with a person on a raised booth at the entrance to registration, repeating scripted info about the reg location, the time the show floor opened, etc.  Since the annual meeting was in Las Vegas,  this pleasant announcer, was supported by Elvis and Marilyn Monroe characters circulating in the crowd.  Pick the fitting light hearted and joyful idea for your meeting audience and create that warm welcome, that positive first impression that will carry the attendee into the full meeting experience.

2.   Lead your attendees to the areas you want them to see, hear and feel.

Use your “front door” space in imaginative ways: the visual impact is obvious, but consider what your attendees hear as they enter the lobby of the convention center or hotel space.  Maybe a harp is being played; maybe a mariachi band is circulating.  Combining the sights and sounds to fit your audience will create a feeling of your meeting’s theme that will set the stage for sessions, keynotes, etc. to come.

With budgets being crunched in the last few years, we have shied away from “unnecessary costs”, but isn’t your attendee’s first impression critically important?  We want them to enjoy a particular meeting, AND, we want them to keep coming back.

 3.  Create an opening event that allows for networking before education.

Much like an “ice breaker” session in a training setting, we can use a short event that encourages like-minded attendees to chat just prior to an education session.  Back to back education sessions which force the attendee to rush from session to session simply tires them and ultimately loses them as the attendee will create their own networking or down time rather than jump from room to room—often cutting into key education components.  Why not control that with programming?  At PCMA’s Education Conference last June, attendees enjoyed pre events which opened their minds to wonder what’s next, and encouraged engagement with other attendees.

4.  Keep it simple and meaningful.

It doesn’t have to cost a lot to be impactful.  Structuring a straightforward event that allows attendees an opportunity to discuss a speaker they just heard or meet up before a programmatic element can be scheduled so the attendee can opt in or out.  The refreshments can be minimized, and the information exchange emphasized in such a setting.   Creating focus groups on topics selected through “crowdsourcing” can be an effective way to engender conversation.  Holding a “meetup” in the hotel bar (where many attendees will congregate anyway, can offer an informal yet meaningful idea exchange and buzz.

 5.  And, leave your attendees with a lasting impression of accomplishment.

We are often so focused on the first impression, we put little effort into the lasting impression.  Do you set up recycling bins around the area for badge holders, books, etc.

In 2012, being “green” is mainstream, and greening of meetings is assumed so make sure you offer such opportunities.   Is the primary departure area absolutely as clean and neat as it was for the opening, and is your staff upbeat and just as friendly as they were at the beginning of the show?  People working behind the counters need to sustain their smiles and deal pleasantly with attendees on Day 6—just as they did Day 1.

High customer service standards must be sustained throughout your meeting, and attendees must be told to travel safely, and to please come back next year!  A word of appreciation is “gold” in these parting moments.

These are just a few ideas of how to enhance your attendees’ experience, and hence, keep them engaged.  Please share your successes with us: post on our facebook page and let’s see what great ideas are already out there!