Post authored by Jeff Fugate, SVP Sales and Marketing
There is a core truth that we may sometimes forget: people come to your events for their own reasons, not yours.
Even if you have the latest and greatest bells and whistles, your event won’t reach its full potential if it fails to focus on the value to the individual and their “why.”
Understanding “why” they want to come can help you design an experience that will get them there and keep them coming back year after year.
Your ability to understand the “why” lies in your willingness to take off your shoes and put on the shoes of your guests.
Empathy is the foundational core of design thinking and experience design. Without it you’re throwing darts blindfolded hoping to hit the mark.
“Great experience design is rooted in empathy,” according to Tim Simpson, brand & engagement strategist at Maritz Global Events.
Event Design Comes Down to 4 Attendee Types
In my years working in this industry, I’ve concluded that there are four primary reasons people attend events: education, business, networking, and “the party.”
I’m not suggesting these reasons stand alone. There’s usually some mix of the four.
Understanding and delivering on what that mix is at the persona or even individual level will add great value to your event design.
And that allows you to achieve your overall business objectives.
Not only is it important to understand the “why,” but you also need to be innovative on the how.
Let’s go a little off the reservation and use a musical experience as an example.
My parents are big Garth Brooks fans. They get on airplanes to see his shows, and they’ve seen him in many different types of venues: big, small, and intimate.
Most recently they attended his show at the stadium where the Arizona Cardinals play in Phoenix. I think it holds 80,000-plus people, including floor seating during a concert.
They had no view of the stage whatsoever.
All they could see was a big monitor, and that was only if the people in front of them weren’t standing on their chairs.
I asked them if they would ever attend a Garth show at a venue like this again. They said no, and I was a little surprised. I didn’t think anything would keep them from Garth.
Having said that, I’m guessing that most of the other 80,000-plus people would likely answer differently.
Some of these people are there just to be with other people singing along; they like the huge crowds and don’t mind looking at a monitor.
So what? How does this apply to event design?
If you believe in the “why” of each person who attends, you also need to believe that your delivery of that experience needs to be personalized as much as possible to meet these individual needs.
Let’s look at some examples of how you can do this using the four reasons I outlined above: education, business, networking and “the party.”
Science tells us that people learn in different ways.
Your ability to provide different environments and delivery methods of content can have a significant impact on how people learn and how they perceive the value of your event.
At e4, our annual client event with Maritz Global Events and Maritz Travel, we experiment with different methods and allow our guests to pick and choose what works best for them.
We have general session-type learnings, but we’ve also done table topics of 10, conversations of four, hackathons, workshops, etc.
The more options you deliver to fit the needs of your varying personas, the better the experience.
Better experience equals greater value, which in turns leads to growing attendance and revenues while reducing churn and risk.
For business, the “why” applies for both buyers and sellers.
The sellers (sponsors and exhibitors) have their own reasons and the better you understand what those are, the more you can deliver value.
Some may be looking for quantity while others want quality. Some may be looking for a mix of both.
Same for the buyers.
Some may be looking for something very specific and have buying criteria well defined, while others may be seeking to inform themselves on what their criteria should be.
Seems like the simple answer is to just ask, right?
If you’re reading this with any experience, you know it’s not that simple.
One of our clients has said to me on more than one occasion, “I want to connect the people that want to buy blue shoes with the people that sell blue shoes.”
Again, sounds simple, but to date, most matchmaking solutions have proven to be ineffective.
That leaves us to data gathered via registration, lead retrieval, behavioral analytics, and surveys to help us understand this “why.”
Connecting with peers and building up networks of people is another “why” of event attendance.
We know from science that people are both individual and social, emotional and rational, and driven by multiple motivators.
This short video by Maritz helps put this into perspective:
At some level, all your guests want to be around groups of like-minded people.
This is where they have an incredible opportunity to strike up meaningful conversations, solve important problems and seize new opportunities.
What opportunities are you giving your guests to interact with one another before, during, and after your event?
Networking is always one of the highest value survey items from our annual client event, and we go out of our way to create different types of opportunities for networking.
From collaborative workshops and hackathons to immersion activities such as cooking classes and swamp tours, we give people the opportunity to connect in different environments.
In fact, many of those formed relationships have carried on for years.
When event design is executed well, there is a fun, festive atmosphere that really drives home the experiences your guests crave.
Regardless of how much they’ve learned or accomplished, people still just want to have a good time!
The options for fun are virtually endless, and the more exciting the activity, the more your guests are engaged and likely to experience a lasting memory associated with your event.
One of the most engaging fun things we’ve done more than once is live band karaoke. This is where anyone can join the band and play any instrument. I was blown away by some of the hidden talent we had within our own organization and client base.
These fun times are also great opportunities to focus in on key design principles such as the peak-end rule and artifacts and traditions.
Understanding the core values of your attendees can help you design an event experience that truly meets their needs.
Do you know which box(es) your attendees fit into? More importantly, do you know your guests’ “why?”
Jeff Fugate is the Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Experient, leading the charge in client acquisition, retention, and growth through proven collaborative and consultative methodologies.
With more than 25 years of sales, marketing and leadership experience, he’s passionate about helping clients overcome their most difficult challenges while seizing their greatest opportunities.