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Want Engaged Attendees? First, Do Your Homework

Three planning veterans discuss how content should drive the host organization’s meeting agenda, not the other way around.

Meeting the challenge of attracting more people to events and having them come back for more comes down to strategic content development. That was the message from three marketing-event veterans on a webinar hosted by the American Marketing Association and Notified, a cloud-based provider of event-platform and -measurement tools.

The trio—Michelle Goodall, former chief marketing officer at Guild; Sunnary Sam, advisory-board program manager at VMware; and Dan Lotzof, chief revenue officer and chief of staff at Notified—agreed that each event agenda should have a customer-centric approach where participants’ job duties, personas, pain points, and needs dictate the content and the session formats. This requires focused pre-event research.

However, “because many events have a cross-section of attendee roles, personas, and goals, there is a tendency to try to please everyone and then the content becomes too vanilla to entice anyone,” Lotzof said. To avoid this, “you need a distinct point of view as you create content.” Pre-event research can find the overlapping needs and concerns of attendees who differ in their specific roles.

The panelists also suggested that sponsors be brought into the conversation around content creation early on. To fully understand sponsors’ needs, planners should ask for each sponsor’s specific reasons for attending the event as well as how each sponsor can help deliver value to attendees rather than simply try to sell them.

In fact, Lotzof said that “attendees are okay with being sold to [by the meeting host and sponsors alike] if they are getting value from the event. But you must choose those moments in the agenda wisely.”

The Right Focuses and Formats
The panelists noted that pre-event research can not only uncover the topics that people want addressed, but also allow planners to change the focus of some sessions before the event. Asking attendees to either sign up in advance for breakout sessions or to rank their interest in each breakout session before the meeting gives the event host time to alter sessions that are ranking poorly.

If breakouts can’t be changed, an alternative is to create formats during meals and other networking opportunities that bring attendees together around specific topics that can be chosen in the days before the meeting. For instance, VMware’s Sunnary Sam suggested that planners have “birds of a feather” tables around the room during breakfast and lunch, where job titles or specific pain points are listed on a card at each table so that attendees (and even sponsors) can choose which conversation they want to be part of. Other tables can feature clients telling stories about their use of the event host’s product or service and how it helped them achieve their goals, along with a company rep to answer questions.

One other issue that’s top of mind for marketing-event planners in the post-pandemic environment is maximizing return on investment. With the rapid improvement in the quality of virtual events over the past two and half years, Lotzof said that planners and their executive stakeholders have new calculations to make. For example, “for a 500-person event, do you still bring everyone in person for, say, $3,000 each? Or do you bring in only the top 200 clients and prospects and spend $5,000 per person, then use the remaining money to build a high-quality virtual experience for the other 300 people?”

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