The Power of Personas to Perfect Event Guest Experiences

event personasPost authored by Cynthia Hornketh, CMM, VP, Experience Design

Design thinking is attracting more attention in event circles and for good reason. For clarity, design in this context is problem solving. In order to create the right solutions or in our case, events, we need to understand the people interacting with our “solution.” With this objective in mind, the design thinking methodology emphasizes empathy and perspective taking to create more purposeful and profound event guest experiences.

Perspective taking is no easy task and it plays out differently, depending on the size and scope of your event. After all, putting ourselves in the event guest’s shoes—in some cases, tens of thousands of shoes—can be daunting, to say the least. With that said, the raves and rewards driven by smart design are immeasurable and well worth the effort.

If you designed an event for your mom, what would it be like?
We’re designing for people, not targets.

I absolutely believe segmentation and demographic analysis are important assets which event designers should use in their strategy. In addition to these tools, we need granular insight around who our guests are as individuals and what they value. That’s where personas come in.

From our many years of supporting and attending events, we’ve assembled a portfolio of 20+ event personas. Each persona is assigned a brief, high-level description which makes it easier for event designers to visualize, anticipate and align with guest attitudes, motivations and behaviors.

When we share the event persona portfolio with clients, there are lots of nods and smiles as they recognize the usual suspects. In fact, they’ll often call out actual names that fit these descriptions. And they’ll spot personas that align with the challenges and opportunities they’ve identified when we review the current state of event.

To help illustrate what we mean by event personas, I’ll share a few favorites. Keep in mind these are not market segments, demographics or targets.

Persona #1: Buzz Seeker
With a sixth sense for excitement, the Buzz Seeker has a knack for knowing exactly where the most exciting action is taking place and how to quickly get in on it. With little patience for anything dull and boring, the Buzz Seeker wants to get fully immersed in high energy (high yield) experiences. Besides riding the buzz wave from hot spot to hot spot, the Buzz Seeker won’t hesitate to get the party started, if there’s a feeling that no one else is willing to kick it up a notch.

Persona #2: Expectaholic
Don’t rock the boat! The Expectaholic makes the trip each and every time the event is held and over the years has become most fond of the routine. Having grown so accustomed to the usual program proceedings, the Expectaholic never really considers what it would be like to have it any different. Knowing exactly what to expect, and more importantly, how to “work the event,” the Expectaholic isn’t really looking for anything new, so don’t dare change a thing.

Persona #3: Spongester
The Spongester has an insatiable thirst to soak up every word, idea, and experience that unfolds during the course of an event – and a keen ability to long retain what transpired. No two Spongesters will necessarily navigate the event’s happenings in the same way, but each possesses an uncanny ability to long afterwards recall the highlights that matter most to themselves and to others. The Spongester usually cannot wait to share with others back in the office what they encountered at the event.

Designing for 20 personas would at best end up being described as a Frankenstein task, so during our Design Labs, we encourage client teams to winnow down their lists to five personas that encompass their largest collection of guests. From there, we use another design tool, Empathy Maps, to gather greater insight on the personas’ behaviors and feelings while engaged in the event. For an even greater perspective, in addition to the work done in the Design Lab, we can help clients observe and interview their guests as they are engaged in the experience, as well as conduct attitudinal research surveys.

Crafting High Impact Moments Across All Eight Event Phases
Equipped with guest personas and empathy maps, event designers can now conduct more purposeful and productive brainstorming to identify tactics and touch points to generate richer experiences for each persona across the entire event continuum.

To assist in this process, we created the 8 Phases of a Successful Event. Event designers use the blueprint to identify tactics for each of the eight event phases from the initial invitation stage (attraction) though post-event, year-long connection (extending). The resulting event blueprint drives consistency and innovation plus helps avoid negative cues or attributes that would detract from the personas’ experience.

Individual journey maps are developed for each persona, making it easier for designers to identify gaps as well as moments of truth specific to each persona. A ‘moment of truth’ is a high impact, memorable point in their experience, often at the end of their journey.

Applying this to the Buzz Seeker persona, pre-event journey touch points might include:

  • Promotion of relevant social media channels
  • Videos that showcase high-energy experiences from past events
  • Email messages forecasting hot topics and popular speakers, especially late-breaking additions

During the Entering/Welcome phase (when they arrive onsite), tactics might include

  • Mobile app alerts calling out what’s happening now, what’s coming next, and must-see exhibits and activities.
  • For sessions that fill up quickly (a huge trigger for Buzz Seekers), alerts might direct them to an exhibit floor lounge where they can meet the speaker after the session.
  • Knowing that Buzz Seekers tend to indulge in late night parties, in the morning, you might clue them in on best spots to get coffee.

To personalize post-event messaging, event organizers can scan activity tracking data collected during the show. Experient has a technology solution for this strategy. “You visited/participated/attended this… here’s an opportunity to build on that experience.” Once the Buzz Seeker returns to the office, it’s smart to provide a quick list of exhibitors they visited, sessions they attended, new networking connections, etc. Buzz Seekers appreciate it when you make it easy for them to share highlights with their boss and colleagues.

Sketching out blueprints for each persona makes it easier to compare and identify commonalities and differences among your top personas. This is crucial, as you’ll likely be managing quite a few production conflicts and financial constraints as you advance to the execution stage of the design process. This makes experience design more scalable, as there are often tactics that will delight multiple personas.

More importantly, this approach visually demonstrates the frequency and diversity of experiences for each guest persona. This enables experience load balancing, to fill gaps and ensure that the experiences you deliver are noticed and appreciated. Ultimately, that’s what drives attendance growth, loyalty and event profitability.

Are you leveraging personas to improve event guest experiences? If you’re looking to introduce or expand on this concept, please feel free to contact me at

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