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19 Tried-and-True Tactics to Engage Attendees

Here are ideas planners are using now to get, and keep, the attention of their meeting participants before, during, and after the show.

The word “engagement” is so ubiquitous now that it’s edging into the trite zone—if only the concept wasn’t so essential to keeping today’s attendees coming back for more.

During a rapid-fire session at the 2017 American Society of Association Executives Annual Meetings and Exposition, Nicole Bowman, vice president, marketing and communications, International Association of Exhibitions and Events, and Scott Craighead, IAEE vice president, exhibitions and events, peppered the audience with ideas that have worked for them. And, in turn, engaged the audience with the opportunity to share their own best practices. Here’s what they came up with:

1. Create a personality quiz similar to those you see circulating on Facebook (What kind of dog would you be? What famous person do you most represent?), but linked to content specific to your conference, your organization, or your audience. For example, IAEE did a campaign around a “What Promo Product Are You?” quiz.

2. Provide speaker spotlights—quick messages showcasing a single speaker, with a photo, short bio, what he or she will be talking about, and a link to more information.

3. Hold chapter contests, with a free registration or some other valuable goodie as a prize for each chapter winner.

4. Interview past attendees and post their experiences on your show blog or website.

5. Offer an opportunity for matchmaking/appointment setting to help attendees connect with each other, with suppliers and vendors, and with whatever other audience segments your show serves.

6. Design a social media campaign that sends messages about all of the above to your social media accounts, and encourage attendees to share with their contacts. An audience member said her organization launched a social media campaign asking attendees how they became a part of their profession, and then brought the campaign on site with a social media wall highlighting their stories.

7. Use beacon technology. While some planners may worry that attendees won’t want to be tracked on the show floor, Bowman pointed to research from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research reporting that 50 percent of attendees are comfortable with having beacons tracking their activity, and another 31 percent are neutral about it. IAEE first used beacons at its Expo! Expo! last year, and Bowman said they learned how important it was to tell exhibitors what they’ll get out of it—leads—and also to let attendees know that they’ll score peer-to-peer networking capabilities and navigational help if they allow themselves to be tracked. And don’t forget to ensure you have the Wi-Fi infrastructure to support the beacons. 

8. Include collaborative activities. IAEE provided a large adult coloring book type of outline that attendees could color in using provided markers. At the final luncheon, the CEO revealed the final collage that resulted from their collaborative coloring. The image, of course, should reflect an aspect of your show’s theme or content area. Another example: An audience member’s organization provided a timeline with key organizational highlights, and invited participants to put their own key moments on the timeline as well.

9. Provide shareable moments. Activities such as Pong, golf on the show floor, giant Jenga games, and walls participants can color on are social media catnip for conference-goers who want to share their latest creation or a photo of themselves in action. 

10. Provide space for appointments. Make it easy for those who signed up pre-con using your matchmaking or appointment-setting apps to hold those meetings by providing a dedicated space or ensuring that exhibitors are set up to hold appointments in their booths. Also be sure to take advantage of the stats your appointment-setting apps provide to show exhibitors some ROI. IAEE’s stats, collected through a2z Inc.’s Connect networking, matchmaking, and scheduling app, showed that the show’s 262 exhibitor profiles and maps were viewed more than 20,000 times, and that attendees exchanged 4,400 messages with exhibitors. In all, Connect generated an average of seven pre-show qualified leads per exhibitor. 

11. Offer a social media wall. Have someone moderate the posts coming in on your hashtag before posting them to the wall to filter out unwanted messages and spam, but attendees love to see their photos and tweets projected on a large screen. IAEE projected its social wall during the general session walk-in. 

12. Use Facebook Live. It’s a great way to provide updates from the show floor, spotlight exhibitors and attendees, and create more buzz around your event for those at the show and those who now wish they were.

13. Arrange meet-ups on the show floor for those who have met virtually, but have not yet connected face-to-face—or for any other smaller subset of attendees who may want to get to know each other in real life.

14. Use an event mobile app. Bowman said that, according to CEIR research, 44 percent of attendees will download an exhibition’s app, and another 33 percent would if there was one available. Note: Be sure to integrate your beacons with your mobile app, and include some gamification to get participants’ competitive juices flowing—include a leaderboard with your social wall so everyone can see where they stand.

15. Include corporate social responsibility volunteer teambuilding activities, such as Build-a-Bike, where attendees collaborate to put together a bicycle, which then is given to a charity.

16. Use polling technology to periodically check in with the audience and spur them to participate in the action. 

After the Show
17. Rethink your surveys. While most organizers do some sort of post-show survey, Bowman and Craighead said to take a look at what you’ve been doing—are you asking the questions that will get you the data you need?

18. Content marketing and case studies. Chunk the content into short info bursts and case studies you can distribute post-show via your app, social media channels, website, and email campaigns to remind attendees of what they learned and whet the interest of next year’s potential participants.

19. Podcast specific sessions. Create podcasts or short videos to distribute as another means of content marketing.

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