Planning a truly engaging meeting is a multistep process that that takes careful consideration.
These days, a full schedule of compelling education might not be enough to get prospective participants to register (or to satisfy those already signed up), especially if your event is one that will take multiple hours or days, interrupting attendees’ regular responsibilities. Guests are mapping out the overall benefit when making their decision to attend your meeting, but that includes being able to keep up at home.
Following are some best practices for keeping attendees engaged and satisfied from beginning to end. After all, you’re not the only one who is looking for an ROI on your event.
Keeping Meeting Attendees Engaged From Start to Finish
1. Streamline the Registration Process
Right from the get-go, potential meeting attendees are looking for a simplified process for getting involved.
“Downloads, lost registration information, details missing from agenda items: Everyone has stumbled across hurdles when it comes to registering for a meeting,” says the Skype for Business team at Microsoft. “Streamline the process with convenient meeting invites that include all the necessary information attendees need. To make things simple, find a meeting platform that offers automatic authentication and supports a smooth meeting-registration experience.”
2. Let Attendees Know What to Expect
Everyone wants to know what they’re signing up for. Give your meeting attendees a taste of what they can expect to get out of the experience before it ever takes place:
3. Get Input From the Get-Go
Encourage your audience to get involved in the action before it even starts. Post surveys on social media and send attendees to a forum where they can contribute questions and comments regarding the content and what they’re looking to get out of the entire event.
“The simplest way to engage someone is by asking a question, then waiting for an answer. This works well in creating an inclusive, one-on-one dialogue,” says Elise Keith, cofounder of Lucid Meetings. “And give them some guidance. Trying to get a response is an overwhelming task if your audience lacks clarity about the purpose of the meeting. Once they’re informed, however, they’ll be more likely to participate.”
4. Provide Attendees With a Sample “Extra Day” Itinerary
Meetings and conventions often require some sort of travel for attendees, causing them to leave their homes for an extended period of time. And while their agendas might be pretty full, gaps in schedules -- or even the extra time between the end of the meeting and their journeys home -- could present downtime that they'll want to fill.
Instead of leaving participants to fend for themselves, provide them with a sample itinerary of things to do and see in the destination. From arts and cultural festivals to sporting events, giving insight and injecting a bit of local flavor into their experiences could help in their decision process.
During the Meeting
1. Less Talking, More Listening
Hours upon hours of lecture series can be pretty daunting for meeting attendees. Instead of jam-packing the agenda with spoken education, invite them to get in on the action.
“Too often, leaders will tell a group that they want to hear everyone’s feedback on a topic, then spend 90 percent of the meeting presenting the idea and leaving only minutes for the Q&A,” says Keith. She suggests that, sometimes, less means more -- it could prove beneficial to have each education session focus on fewer topics and allow more time for input and discussion.
“Making time for engagement is a forcing function, often requiring groups to plan meetings addressing fewer topics. When fewer topics are discussed during the same amount of time, you can allow for better involvement of attendees," adds Keith.
2. Designate Time for Appointments
Make it easy for those who signed up preconvention using your matchmaking or appointment-setting apps to hold those meetings by providing a dedicated space or ensuring that exhibitors are set up to hold appointments in their booths.
3. Give 'Em Some Downtime
With meeting after meeting and networking event after education seminar, it's pretty easy to understand how your attendees could get absolutely exhausted. Instead of working them to the bone with a cramped schedule, consider incorporating some meaningful downtime throughout the day. Allow your guests the chance to catch up, collect their thoughts, rest and relax. A little free time goes a long way in granting your meeting-goers some valuable moments to just unwind and recharge before the next activity gets going.
Let's reiterate: We're not talking about a five-minute break in between sessions. We're suggesting that you actually schedule at least an hour of downtime into the mix, giving attendees a real chance to rest in their rooms or get some fresh air.
4. Offer Experience on top of Experience
Everyone is used to the very redundant cocktail hour. Instead of slapping another one on the agenda, consider one of these alternative networking activities suggested by Meeting Expectations' vice president Lisa Burton, CMP, and director of marketing Allison Dixon:
5. Get Social
Throughout the event, feature a social media wall and encourage all attendees to participate. A social wall is as it sounds -- a platform that displays social media updates in real time. Your wall could feature a running list of tweets that mention your event’s hashtag or Facebook posts that are geotagged at your venue.
Attendees love to see their photos and tweets projected on a large screen, and a social wall lets them have their voices and experiences heard in an instant.
6. Hop on the Wellness Train
These days, the overall theme of wellbeing is huge in the meetings industry. Keep the health and wellness of your attendees in mind by implementing a wellness program throughout your event.
It can be difficult to fit exercise into a busy conference schedule, so make it part of the attendees’ day by hiring a local trainer, yoga instructor or fitness expert to lead morning workouts in the meeting venue or early morning fitness walks in the area.
You may also want to consider providing energy bars or fresh-pressed juice as F&B alternatives to the usual finger foods and sugary sips.
After the Event
The Engagement isn’t Over
While most organizers do some sort of post-show survey, you should consider taking a look at how you’ve been trying to engage attendees post-event — are you asking the questions that will get you the data you need? Approach your guests in a way that will have sharing their experience a part of their own benefit.
Chunk the responses you receive into short info bursts and case studies that you can distribute post-show via your app, social media channels, website and email campaigns to remind attendees of what they learned and spark the interest of next year’s potential participants.