. SMU International Spotlight: Creative Meeting and Attendee Engagement Methods | Northstar Meetings Group

SMU International Spotlight: Creative Meeting and Attendee Engagement Methods

Understanding your event attendees is the key to success. SMU speaker Linda McNairy explores different meeting personas and how to cater to each.


From March 24-26, Northstar Meeting Group's SMU International will be taking place in New York City. This unique affair serves as the premier global destination event where planners and suppliers will join together for meetings, networking and expert education. Industry peers will have the chance to engage in a relaxed business environment to discover new international venues and enjoy targeted industry education.

Leading up to the event, Northstar highlighting the expertise of our SMU presenters. The following meeting attendee engagement article is contributed by Linda McNairy, global vice president at American Express Meetings and Events, and featured speaker at SMU International. 


Understanding Your Attendees 

The key to engagement and event success. 

The success of any event hinges on the attendee experience. You want attendees to be enthusiastic about coming, engaged while they’re there and to leave feeling their experience was worthwhile. Meeting attendees come in a variety of personas, each with varying expectations and motivations that affect how they experience an event. How do you make sure the events you create have a positive impact on the people who come to them?

Success begins with getting to know your audience members: What motivates them? What makes them engage or disengage? Tailoring your event design to create meaningful, personal connections with attendees will ultimately help you drive behavior change and create value for your business.

Following, we explore some common event attendee profiles and offer corresponding design recommendations as starting points that you can adapt to your meetings and events.

Attendee Persona and Engagement 

The Knowledge Seeker


Knowledge Seekers are always looking for opportunities to learn something that can help them better their career, build a business case or gain a more complete understanding of an industry or product.

Therefore, the educational agenda of your event might drive the Knowledge Seeker’s decision to attend, while the quality of the presenters and the content of the sessions will determine how they rate their experience.

Why does the Knowledge Seeker attend your meeting or event? To take advantage of engaging learning experiences and to participate in educational lectures and breakout sessions. 

How to Design Events for the Knowledge Seeker
  • Conduct pre-event surveys to tailor your content to their needs;
  • Invest in the main speaker to pique interest and keep their attention;
  • Offer a choice of education tracks to ensure they find something that interests them
  • Provide post-event information to extend their learning experience;
  • Include app features to allow them to find speaker bios easily, take notes and gather session materials;
  • Add interest with out-of-the-box learning environments and creative meetings space set-ups; and
  • Consider including sessions that allow for two-way interaction between speakers and attendees.
The Tech-Savvy Networker


Tech-Savvy Networkers are active, plugged-in attendees. They value personal relationships and seek ways to make meaningful connections that help them achieve their goals. Events are made for the Tech-Savvy Networker, providing them with targeted opportunities to meet the right people and have productive conversations.

They are always on, taking any chance they get to make new connections and engage with new people. And engagement goes beyond face-to-face conversations. These attendees are multitaskers who will engage with others through a variety of platforms, including apps, and will continue the conversation even after the event ends. 

How to Design Events for the Tech-Savvy Networker
  • Include features in your app to help them find and connect with the right contacts, as well as to store their virtual business cards;
  • Enable gamification in your app to feed their need to connect in multiple ways;
  • Offer speed-networking sessions;
  • Provide them with ample opportunities to meet up with people;
  • Supply them with the attendee list prior to the event; and
  • Engage them in the app to keep the conversation going even post-event.
The Inspiration Seeker


Inspiration Seekers are always looking for purpose in their personal and business endeavors. They value emotional connections and prefer having experiences to sitting in conference rooms or lecture halls.

The Inspiration Seeker is creative and vibrant and will be absorbed in each moment of the event. They also have high expectations and want to leave an event with a changed outlook. Ideally they will leave the event with a specific action, process or idea they can share with their coworkers and incorporate into their day-to-day.

How to Design Events for the Inspiration Seeker
  • Deliver highly motivational content though a variety of methods, such as powerful keynote speakers, one-on-one coaching sessions and content tailored to attendees’ business and personal objectives;
  • Offer immersive experiences that connect the Inspiration Seeker to local culture;
  • Give opportunities to participate in brainstorming or co-creation sessions;
  • Provide alternative venues that will take them outside of the traditional meeting space;
  • Consider community outreach experiences or corporate social responsibility endeavors; and
  • Involve them in the event. Don’t just speak to them, speak with them, engage them.
The Social Butterfly


Social Butterflies can be your greatest allies. Because they love meeting new people, connecting with others who share common interests, as well as socializing with friends and colleagues, they bring energy and enthusiasm to the mix.

They’re truly interested in meeting, greeting and learning, eager to engage at every touchpoint and prefer interactions that involve more casual social opportunities such as cocktails, meals, and entertainment over confined structured networking. And, when they’re having a good time, they’re happy to spread the word on social media.

How to Design Events for the Social Butterfly
  • Make sure there are plenty of opportunities for interaction in breakout sessions;
  • Choose informal meal settings, rather than seated events, to allow for socializing;
  • Include entertainment and leisure activities in your agenda;
  • Consider how the Social Butterfly can be a powerful influencer, helping to communicate your key messages and build excitement with other attendees — consider asking them to be speakers or event committee members; and
  • Give them opportunities to be social leaders through your event app — consider in-app games such as a points system for posting pictures, commenting, and sharing to social media, if appropriate for your event type.
The Reluctant Attendee


The reluctant attendee is likely an introvert who finds attending events about as appealing as a dentist visit. This is our most challenging target audience, because just getting them to show up can be a huge hurdle.

Reluctant Attendees might feel overwhelmed by the experience and the social demands of events. They might be awkward with small talk and feel uncomfortable socializing with people they don’t know. It’s likely they’re attending the event because they feel obliged to do so for personal or professional reasons.

Why does the Reluctant Attendee participate in your meeting or event? They attend to meet an obligation that they feel they have.

How to Design Events for the Reluctant Attendee
  • Create opportunities for attendees to get to know each other early in the agenda to help them feel more comfortable throughout the event and want to participate more;
  • Use your event app to make recommendations to nudge the attendee to try other things based on what they liked;
  • Consider providing meeting and breakout session choices where possible so the attendee feels in control of their experience;
  • Point out content that is forward-thinking or based on new research as it may hold more appeal to this attendee type;
  • Allow free time and space for disengagement as this type of attendee often needs downtime to recharge;
  • Consider incorporating on-demand and/or virtual sessions to allow them to attend the event in their own comfort zone – from their office or home; and
  • For nonmandatory meetings, be certain the invitation clearly states the benefits of attending.
The Brand Fanatic


The Brand Fanatic is a dedicated follower who identifies with a brand’s culture and feels connected to its other devotees. They might feel that the brand lends them a certain status that they find enjoyable. The Brand Fanatic is always looking for the next big thing, “the inside scoop.” The Brand Fanatic craves the wow factor, wants consistency in experience and enjoys attending high-level events.

In addition to owning the brand’s products or services, the Brand Fanatic may also follow your organization on social media, own gear or accessories that identify them as a fan of the brand and possibly even invest in the company.

How to Design Events for the Brand Fanatic
  • Include plenty of gear and opportunities for them to showcase their brand loyalty;
  • Provide access to key brand representatives, unique brand-centric experiences and product information;
  • Offer them chances to win exclusive brand merchandise and experiences;
  • Provide exciting product demonstrations along with early access to new products/services;
  • Keep brand top of mind from end-to-end, from the initial invitation through mobile app experiences to exclusive event experiences; and
  • Hold “user group panels” to give a forum for brand fanatics to share insight and ideas.

Last Thoughts

Regardless of the kind of event you plan, you are likely to have a mix of different attendee types. And that’s great, because events are about the people who go to them – and the energy, knowledge and enthusiasm they bring through the door.

With large meetings or conferences, you might be able appeal to all attendee types by including multiple elements that will let them build their own itineraries and create their own experiences. With smaller events, take a look across attendee types and try to appeal to the likely majority.

Linda McNairy, global vice president at American Express Meetings and Events & SMU International speaker

Linda J. McNairy, global vice president at American Express Meetings and Events, is an experienced business professional with a passion for the meetings world who leads the global technology and transformation team for American Express Meetings and Events.

Prior to assuming this newly created role in 2016, Linda led Amex’s North American sales and business-development team. She is dedicated to elevating the industry, creating solutions for her customers and helping to encourage and develop the people around her.

Her more than 20 years in the business includes direct corporate planning as well as a variety of supplier roles. Linda also has served in significant volunteer positions, including leading the GBTA Meetings Committee and serving on a variety of committees and task forces for GBTA, MPI and PCMA.

SMU International takes place later this month. Linda McNairy will participate in agenda items such as an expert panel discussion regarding perspectives on the global meetings industry. For more information on this can't-miss event, click here.