Live events are a staple in many marketers’ arsenals, with 68% of B2B and 59% of B2C marketers including them in their content marketing mix. And any marketer who has been involved in planning an event — as I have been dozens and dozens of times — knows how many details go into providing an unforgettable experience for attendees.
Below are a few of my favorite tips and lessons learned from my years of managing events, including Content Marketing World.
Have an editorial plan
If the goal of your event is to grow your audience or to make it more engaged with your brand, then offering stellar content is your primary focus — be it inspiring, educational, or entertaining.
Some of the best events that I have been involved with focus on setting a future-looking agenda rather than simply reflecting current realities and problems.
How do you do that? A lot of the events have the benefit of an editorial team — something I strongly recommend. These individuals understand your industry’s critical challenges and are experts at identifying exciting new ideas.
I’ve been lucky to work with people who played this role: Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose from the Content Marketing Institute and John Brandt, former editor-in-chief of Penton Media’s IndustryWeek, among others. They are great listeners and analyzers. They identify trends before others do and even borrow ideas from other industries to describe what the future may look like.
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You may be focused on content and logistics, but these days the mark of a masterful event is also how well you engage your attendees before, during, and after the event. Simply hosting an event isn’t enough to expand your brand anymore.
The mark of a masterful #event is how well you engage attendees before, during, & after. @MeetingDemands
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You need to think about getting people to engage with you and with each other — things that go beyond ordinary networking.
Engagement can come in the form of Twitter shout-outs to registrants, apps for gamification, or even platforms that help attendees interact with speakers during sessions.
For instance, in Amy Higgins’ recent article, she suggested using a speaker quote visual to promote the event and the speaker’s session. She also suggested tagging your speakers and their companies when the image is shared.
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Match technology to attendee profile
Having planned events for pharmaceutical companies, economic-development agencies, and media companies, to name a few industries, I know that you need to get technology right. You need a deep understanding of your audience.
You need a deep understanding of your audience to plan events says @MeetingDemands.
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For example, some people and industry sectors still have a death grip on paper. For these less tech-savvy attendees, a basic app with an agenda, maps, and attendee list will suffice. If it’s a digital marketing audience, then your app should include more dynamic features, such as personal agenda management, interactive sponsor showcases, and features for attendee interaction.
The Content Marketing World event app has more advanced features including personalized agenda, a hub for conference documents, session surveys, interactive sponsor showcases, and features for attendee interaction.
It’s also important to help your audience bridge the gap. Don’t throw your less tech-savvy audience members into the deep end of the pool. Phase in technology to replace hard copy in stages.
Consider alternative formats
Content Marketing World follows a more classic event format: general session, break-out meetings, and an expo hall for sponsors. That format is effective and successful for many events, but don’t rule out non-traditional formats. For example, if you work for a venture-capital firm, you might host an event heavy on one-to-one access — “speed dating for business.”
Or for complex topics, you may consider a deconstructed conference session, where attendees receive homework ahead of time and come prepared to encounter more of a workshop-style curriculum. To pull that off, you need the right speakers who can adapt quickly to their audience’s interests and sophistication.
Take evaluations seriously
Most events hand out surveys for attendees to rate speakers and venue-related experiences. The mark of great event planning is the extent to which these results guide future decision-making. Unfortunately, I find organizers may read surveys initially but don’t revisit them as they plan for the following year.
For Content Marketing World, we poll attendees about individual speakers, sessions, and overall experience. We also survey event staff and company attendees to get behind-the-scenes feedback.
The Content Marketing World app features an easy way for attendees to complete surveys for sessions they’ve attended.
With all this input, we come together for a debrief. We discuss and document our goals for the following year, and what we need to do differently next year. Then we continually revisit those goals as we put together the coming year’s agenda and experience.
Also important is maintaining a high bar for speaker evaluations. At CMWorld, we offer a five-point scale for evaluations, and we will not invite a speaker back unless they score a four or higher.
Don’t forget small details
The atmosphere you create adds to the energy of your event. By tending to seemingly smaller details, you can incrementally improve attendees’ experience not just of the event, but also of your brand.
For Content Marketing World, those small details range from how the venue and culinary team make use of the signature orange color, to the sunny disposition of all event staff who return year after year and become part of the experience for repeat visitors.
Content Marketing World snacks all carry its signature orange color.
I also cannot emphasize enough the absolute drop-dead importance of running on time. It’s a sign of respect to attendees that we take very seriously.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute
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