As a keynote speaker at 50 to 60 global events per year, I see over and over the culmination of plans laid over several years. Sadly, what I see is too much planning time spent on logistics (although important), without enough thought to the real meat of the meeting: its content (critical).
People fundamentally gather for two reasons: content (what can I learn that I wouldn’t get exposed to otherwise) and community (who can I meet that I wouldn’t get a chance to otherwise). And yet, meeting planners and event organizers are treating the most impactful reason attendees seek, as an after-thought. What if we turn that scenario around? What if you led with exceptional content—and curated that content effectively? In the most relevant manner possible, thus making it dramatically more relevant?
You probably haven’t thought of your presenters and their subject matter as content in need of curation, so let me explain. Audience segmentation is the key. Who is attending the event? Small companies have different needs than large companies. Big company execs or employees seldom walk into a market opportunity and hear, “Microsoft who?” or “Coke who?” Small businesses have to be that much more agile and scrappy to identify, attract, and close business. Big companies have supply chain challenges and opportunities, organizational design issues, global expansion and M&A bandwidth constraints. The challenges are different at each scale, and each stage in the business life cycle. But you can’t stop your segmentation simply by the company size, as many event planners do!
Segment your attendees based on their needs. Don’t draw your data from stale surveys, but on behavior-based insights that allow you to understand and truly serve each audience segment. Even within each of those tracks, small-, medium-, and large-organizations have a spectrum of needs. Only by investing time, effort and resources to understand, capture, prioritize and identify compelling solutions to those needs, will you create market gravity / conversations before, during, and after your next event.
With a clear picture of the segments your event will attract, develop great content that is contextually relevant to each audience. Sales and marketing for small business owners, leadership and organizational development for big businesses—you get the idea.
Too many of the events I attend are over-stuffed with offerings. I just attended one where there were 175 different events over three days. There were so many competing options at each time slot that people were complaining. Some would walk into one and then leave halfway through because they wanted to catch another one. Sure, you can buy audio recordings of sessions you missed, but that’s nothing like being in the room, in the discussion. I realize it’s tempting to equate the value of the conference with the weight of its agenda. But less is more. Offer fewer sessions and make sure they have top quality content, and they’re more relevant to the target audience.
Finally, get speakers who will knock the cover off the ball. Put people in front of those sessions who have walked their talk; those who really understand and have lived, not simply read about the challenges and the opportunities of their attendees. My favorite example is a former PR guy who has suddenly become a digital expert. The guy hasn’t run a team or a department much less a business and is out there dispensing strategic advice, like its candy. Please!
Presenters have to be able to do more than regurgitate content. They have to be able to defend it and expand on it. Create time for real Q&A of what they just presented for the audience to gauge whether any of it actually passes the smell test! It’s that real-time interaction between a targeted group of attendees and a knowledgeable presenter that really ups the value of an event, because the people in that room can internalize exactly what they need, from the presenter and from each other. Nothing dilutes the value of a session or event than putting the wrong presenters on stage.
Your event—its content and its speakers—are ambassadors for your brand. Are you building brand equity or diluting perceived value? If your attendance this year is lower than last year, you know why. Attendees didn’t find value in their experience last year, or they didn’t see value in the agenda you published this year.
To design successful events, segment the audience; bring them content that are contextually relevant; and recruit best-of-breed presenters. Focuses on those three essentials will springboard success for your next event.
By the way, don’t undervalue the second fundamental reason people gather: community. Hundreds if not thousands of attendees will go to your next event. How good are the community connections? How important is their ability to engage and influence one another?
Are you designing your events to facilitate the community component? How are you giving them a chance to get to know or schedule definitive opportunities to meet while on-site? That’s where online communities are incredibly impactful. Random connections are a bonus at the event, yet we believe that connections should be smart and purposeful. As such, the same segmentation strategy of designing content, based on their needs applies as much if not more so to the community aspect. What are each attendees’ strengths, what are they seeking, what can they offer, what’s a conversation starter for them? You can think of it as business matchmaking. We prefer to strategize around the idea of intentional, strategic and thus quantifiable relationship-development campaigns: before-, during-, and after-the event.
Several years ago, we partnered with IntroNetworks and implemented our own, private, intelligent community – RENetworks. The goal was to practice the relationship components of what we shared with the audience. Here are just a handful of the outcomes:
- Engagement strategies that help attendees connect well in advance of the event
- Branded user experience designed to the look and feel of your event
- Customized profiles that capture the interests and experience of attendees
- Targeted messaging based on the matching engine and people’s profiles
- Special Interest Groups to stimulate conversations and interaction
- Strong participation because of the private, secure nature of the network
- Increased attendee satisfaction because they make smarter connections
Another quick tip for you: the best conversations, the best exchanges of ideas, the best development of strategic relationships happen in the hallways. Schedule your sessions to create “hallway time.” Stop forcing people into rooms every 10 to 15 minutes.
Industry events—trade shows, conferences, and seminars—are the original social networks. They bring together like-minded individuals with similar challenges and experience. You could design a successful event that included not one presenter, just opportunities for attendees to convene for town hall meetings, roundtable discussions, with professional facilitation. Let the content be the questions the attendees bring to the table. You can guarantee it will be contextually relevant.
As you plan for your next event, design it around content and community. Your attendees will find good value when you focus on what really matters.
- Make content your primary focus—logistics shouldn’t lead the planning cycle.
- Segment the audience and develop content tracks for niches within the attendee market—but not too much content.
- Bring in platinum-standard presenters and design your schedule to allow plenty of time for relationships to develop.