Based on their experiences as consumers today, attendees have increased expectations for a personal experience. In order to meet and exceed those expectations, organizers must design meaningful events that are both relevant and customized. Infusing personalization before, during, and after the event not only boosts attendee satisfaction and retention, but ultimately deepens the ongoing relationship.
Last week, I hosted a Thinking Thursday panel in Washington, D.C. that brought together three innovative association leaders to discuss recommendations for creating personalized event experiences. Featured panelists included Keith Baker, Director of Programming, Direct Marketing Association; Ken Demith, Chief Experience Officer, Heart Rhythm Society; and Kirsten Olean CMP, CAE, IOM; Director of Meetings, American Society for Microbiology.
When planning an event, consider these four customization strategies to ensure attendees feel special and valued not only onsite, but throughout the year.
Cater to Your Community
In today’s competitive market, a one-size-fits-all approach no longer applies. The panelists pointed out the importance of understanding the interests and sub-communities within your audience to create smaller, more personalized event experiences. “You need to think first about the culture of your members,” said Demith. “How do you personally engage them to make them feel valuable?”
Baker mentioned how the DMA segments its audience into 5-6 subgroups for specialized networking and collaboration. One idea of how could be to use overflow lounges during the general session to encourage discussion about the presentation as it’s happening. Offering opportunities for smaller, targeted groups to commune enriches attendees’ experiences and expands their networks.
Embrace Digital Tools
We already embrace technology daily, so take that engagement to the next level at your event and meet members where they already are — on their smartphones. Utilizing social media platforms, interactive technology, and mobile apps to connect with members helps organizers personalize event offerings and provides yet another space for ongoing dialogue. You can take that customization even farther when you put control in your attendees’ hands.
“Allow them to chart their own show journey,” said Olean. During its most recent conference, ASM introduced interactive hubs so members could self-direct their experience. In addition to customizing schedules and agendas, these digital hubs encouraged interaction with like-minded colleagues leading to specialized “villages” onsite. Capturing these interactions and preferences helps organizers better understand their members, which allows for even more personalization in future programs.
Move Beyond the Convention Center
In addition to providing unique ways for audience segments to confer during the event, it’s also important to introduce activities beyond the meeting room. Ideas include organizing group yoga sessions, city tours, 5K morning fun runs, dine around evenings, and more. Providing creative and fun out-of-the-box engagement enlivens networking and can further solidify loyalty — they’ll want to join the next unexpected event your organization has up its sleeve.
Extend the Experience
The event is important, yet it’s a singular aspect of the membership experience. “HRS looks outside of the event,” said Demith. “The member experience happens throughout the year, so we maintain ongoing engagement.” The meeting will end, but the association-member conversation and relationship should continue.
Take follow-up to the next level by offering digital access to sessions guests may have missed, create customized content on meetings attended, and make targeted recommendations for ongoing learning and connection between events.
Both Baker and Demith referenced their associations’ online platforms and learning centers as important digital communities that provide year-round engagement opportunities.
“People tend to think personalizing events is hard. But it doesn’t have to be,” said Olean. “Speak to your members as individuals. Don’t be intimidated by personalization.” In fact, personalized touches make attendees feel valued and vital to your organization. Personally connecting with your association community before, during, and after the event will keep them coming back year after year.