“Attendee Engagement.” It’s a term much bandied about in the event industry. Very often, it’s the catch-all benefit that event tech vendors will dangle in front of you. But what does “attendee engagement” really mean? How do you measure it? And how do you get more of it?
1. Know what attendee engagement means at your event
In very simple terms, engagement means interacting with all sorts of aspects around your event. Attendees are engaged to a degree just by showing up, but as we all know, there is a big difference between those that get sucked into all the lovingly-developed content and features at your event, and those that stay at arm’s length.
Just what kind of engagement you should be encouraging (and using technology to support) can be identified by asking a simple question… Why are you having the event?
Let’s say it’s a user conference, and you are running it to inform your customers about new developments, create a loyal community and learn about their future interests — then your engagement plan and the technology you deploy should be focused above all on these aspects.
2. The big 4 types of attendee engagement
Engaging with content: This means giving attendees the right sessions, exhibits and other activities to maximize their learning and the value of their attendance.
Engaging with each other: For many, networking is the primary reason for attending an event. By creating networking opportunities — whether face-to-face or virtual, one-on-one or in groups — planners can encourage and facilitate networking and create a more valuable experience for attendees.
Engaging with sponsors: If you’ve sold sponsorship at your event, then those paying customers will be looking for real connections with the right kind of attendee — rather than just signage.
Engaging with you: Communication is a 2-way street, and as the event organizer you’ve got to effectively communicate with your attendees — whether for promotional, consultative or logistical purposes.
Any or all of these contribute to your ability to profile your audience at large — by knowing what they are interested in and where they get most value from your event.
3. If I build it, will they come?
Sounds easy right? And — from a tech perspective — agenda planners, interactive maps, audience response, networking tools, mobile apps and social media are all easy things to add to your event to hit the spot.
But how many times have you been at an event where a shiny piece of technology lay unused and unloved? At best, this is a waste of money. At worst, it can be detrimental to your brand.
In order to make any of this stuff work, you need to take a walk in your attendees’ shoes. When it comes to event tech — in our experience — the difference between stellar and mediocre isn’t fancy features. More often it’s about the care and effort dedicated to getting your tech in place.
So, if you want your attendees to make more informed decisions about what to attend at your event, make sure they have rich and engaging information upon which to make the decision. If you’ve invested in creating a networking platform to foster a community, make sure that it’s not just a handful of names. Ensure your registration process captures the information you need. If you’ve invested in a live polling system to enhance your sessions, take the time to train the speakers so they can adjust their sessions accordingly.
Far too often, perfectly good event technology released in secret. And it’s not good enough just to tell people it’s there. Attendees need to know what the technology will do for them personally, where they can find it, and how it works.
As the organizer, it’s crucial that you back it yourself. Ensure your keynote speaks enthusiastically about what you’re looking to achieve. If attendees get the feeling that you are ambivalent towards the technology, then so will they.
5. What does success look like?
A common measure of event tech success is the number of people who use it (or in the case of mobile event apps, download it). This measure is 100 percent based on the effectiveness of your telling people about it. A more important measure is how often they used it after the first time — which is 100 percent based on how good their experience is using it.
If someone answers polling questions in every session they attend, or consults an exhibitor list on their smartphone 10 times a day, then you know it’s improved their day.
If they look at the electronic agenda twice on the first morning and never again, then you know it didn’t deliver, and they reverted to paper or signs.
While each area of attendee engagement is important in its own way, it’s not feasible to drive engagement in all areas, all at once. Rather, it’s sensible to identify 1 or 2 key areas to concentrate on, based on the event goals, and do a great job of that. When you know you’ve been successful, add another area the following year.