Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The 12 Days of Conference - Day Nine

As we prepare for 2013 I am hosting a series of blog posts called "The 12 Days of Conference".  Each day a different expert from the meeting, convention planning, speaking and hotel industries will add their single best idea on how to create better events or other tips for how to improve the "Conference Attendee Experience" in the new year.

Create an event that you’d actually like to attend. 
By Elizabeth Luna

I don’t know about you, but I like to attend events that take risks—events that show me what works and what does not, so I can go into planning my next event with a repository of innovative ideas created from what I experienced.

     What we as planners don’t want to have happen, obviously, is to create an uninspiring event that doesn't show attendees anything new. The same-old-same-old event ultimately translates into a drop in next year’s attendance, something no planner wants to see.

     So, what can you do to avoid the repetition—to turn up the volume at your next event and really stimulate the minds of your attendees?

     It’s simple really—focus on the attendee experience and don’t be afraid to take a few risks along the way.
Here are some simple steps you can follow to keep focused on attendee engagement and meeting design. 

• No meeting should be planned without first completing two very important steps: 1) Identify and state goals and objectives for your meeting/event, and 2) Identify your target audience.

Once you have those identified:

• Plan the meeting through the eyes of your attendees – apply principles of what is important to you when attending a conference.  How early does the day start, how much time between sessions, networking time allowed, ability to interact with speakers during sessions vs. just simply listening to a lecture, opportunities to connect with experts outside of the session room, transportation to offsite events, white space in the schedule, etc.?

• The attendee experience literally means everything the attendee will see, hear and feel pre-conference, learn onsite and see and hear post-conference. This includes the way you reach out to your attendees pre-conference regarding details (emails vs. printed pieces, website interaction), what your attendees experience onsite (signage at the airport, welcome at the hotel, how they feel coming out of general session, options and taste of meal functions, learning experiences in the room, learning experiences outside of the room, new connections), and the experience after the event (follow-up from onsite experiences, opportunities to stay connected).

• At every possible moment, get input from potential attendees and engage with them in the planning of the event.  Be it education, networking or even schedule planning, the feeling of ownership in the end product creates an urgency not only to attend, but to champion the event for others to attend and be exponentially more participatory while onsite.

     In the planning process for WEC 2012 in St. Louis, the MPI team walked through the convention center as though we were attendees, we talked through the schedule as though we’d be the ones participating and not working.  During the event, we heard comments from attendees and saw increasing satisfaction scores for logistics, which showed that our efforts had made a definite difference. 

     In 2013, we’re calling WEC in Las Vegas, a “Laboratory of Risk.” We aren't going to be afraid to take risks. Some of what we do will work, some won’t, but the experience will be memorable and meaningful. We’ll be taking conference design and participant engagement to a new level, planning a truly innovative event our industry will not want to miss. It’s going to be an event designed, in theory and in practice, partially by them but completely for them.

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Elizabeth Luna is the Manager of Live Events for Meeting Professionals International (MPI).  She has 10 years experience in the meetings and events industry including the last three and a half years at MPI. Prior to joining MPI, she was the Associate Director of Training and Events, managing a team that was responsible for planning and executing multiple annual events and monthly training programs. At MPI, she has been involved in managing both content and logistics for live events.

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