Chances are good that your event is not the only one of its kind. That means your potential attendees may have to pick your event or another, which also means someone wins and someone loses.
What goes into this decision-making process of your audience?
How does a person choose which event they will attend if they can only pick one?
I’m glad you asked those thoughtful questions. I have a story that may shed some light on that for you.
A Tale of Two Events
As a marketer, there is no shortage of event options for me to select. If wanted, I’m sure I could attend one event each week for the rest of my life and STILL not get to them all.
Several years ago, I started attending two marketing conferences (sorry, I won’t mention any names; that’d be rude. For our purposes, we’ll refer to them as Conference A and Conference B).
For two years, I was able to attend both Conferences A and B: new speakers and presenters, varying lessons, differing atmospheres and experiences. It was great!
But then… Conference B decided to change its dates. And, of course, those dates just happened to line up perfectly with Conference A.
And that meant one thing: I was forced to choose.
Hitting Close to Home
One of the biggest factors in my decision was based on travel. To attend Conference B meant flying out of town for a week, while the other was a 45-minute drive (if traffic cooperates).
With a one-year old child at home, being away is tough. For the sake of my family, it made the most sense to choose the option that allowed me to be home at night: Conference A.
No matter where your event is, the travel distance will be a turnoff for some, especially those with families or hectic schedules.
Regardless of where you host your event, one of the easiest ways to get people in the door is to focus your marketing efforts on the surrounding areas.
Many professionals in your target audience may not be able to afford a conference that’s across the country but would jump at the chance to go one that will be nearby. And, if you execute it well, you may “force” them to come with you next year, if you change your location.
No Swindling Your Attendees
Combing through the conference schedule and picking sessions is oddly satisfying, almost like piecing together a puzzle.
And like a puzzle, it’s frustrating when you see a piece you think will fit, only to find that it’s not the piece you need at all.
That’s how session picking feels sometimes: I see a catchy title and a description promising I will learn something new and amazing that will help me be more effective and I book it. However, 10 minutes into the session, an old guy with a monotone voice is reading verbatim from a slide deck and the realization dawns on me: I’ve been hoodwinked.
While I enjoy many aspects of these events, I’m there to learn. I’m there to improve myself. So, when I’m told one thing, but get something totally different—and unhelpful—I’m frustrated.
Education and learning are one of the essential pillars of an event; when it’s not constructed well, everything can fall apart.
When it came time for me to pick which event I would attend, that was important.
Every conference is going to have this situation happen in some way; it’s inevitable. However, over the two years I attended both, I had this experience an alarming number of times at Conference B.
If I’m going to take valuable time away from my job and family, it needs to be worth the sacrifice. If I’m not getting the education and skills I’m promised at one but will at another, nine times out of ten I will pick the one that’s most beneficial.
This can be difficult to police, but both before and after your event, leave no stone unturned to ensure the content that is taught in your sessions is valuable and accurate.
Before the event, set a firm deadline for when outlines and slides need to be in from session leaders. Assign someone to examine the session titles and descriptions to see how well they matches the final product. That way, if it needs tweaked, you can do so before a bulk of attendees register.
On the back end, tirelessly ask attendees to provide feedback on each session, even if that means providing an incentive. The more you make this practice commonplace, the easier it will be to spot sessions and leaders that may need changed in future years.
More Than a Big Name and a Pretty/Handsome Face
Even as a marketer, I am still a sucker for a big-name keynote speaker. The only reason I thought to go to Conference A was because it advertised a leading actor from Star Wars.
Many events will try to outdo one another with who they can get to grace the stage that might move the needle even more.
Have you ever looked at a conference advertisement with an “A-List” keynote speaker and thought, “What could John Stamos possibly tell me about microbiology?”
Having a big name is great and all, but it doesn’t work if it doesn’t fit the mold of your event.
That’s another reason why I chose Conference A: even though Conference B had a long list of huge stars appearing, they didn’t usually speak to me in a way that was meaningful.
While they have great stage presence and interesting thoughts, I rarely came away with new ideas or inspiration that I would use in my work.
At Conference A, however, the keynotes were still pop culture icons, but the content of their talks was aligned with my role and values. They were able to speak to the room intimately because each person was working through the same things; needed to hear the same advice.
Don’t fall into the trap of paying a ton of money for a celebrity who won’t add any real value to your event. Not only are you in danger of overspending your already tight budget, but unless they know how to relate to your attendees, it will fall flat and maybe turn people off.
Instead, get creative with your keynotes and celebrity guests. Find someone who will not only get people’s attention, but who fits well into your niche.
A Little Less Competition, A Little More Value Please
Most event planners who are reading this are aware of the competition. They analyze every pixel of their website, stalk their Facebook page or maybe even send someone undercover to see what the arch rival is up to each year.
While that may be helpful (and a little creepy), it’s best to focus on your own event and how YOU are creating an experience that your attendees value.
You can’t control what anyone else does or doesn’t do, but you can do whatever it takes to make your event amazing.
It all comes down to this: if your attendees are forced to choose, why should they pick you?
Mitch Cooper is the Content Marketing Manager for Experient. A former journalist, he is passionate about crafting stories that enlighten and engage audiences.
When he’s not writing and editing, he enjoys spending time with his wife and one-year-old son, playing and watching sports and making people laugh.