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Think like a strategist: a fresh perspective for show organisers

Cori Prasifka

Senior Strategist


How to audit your own event and elevate it to the next level

Organising a show can make you feel like you’re spinning a dozen plates at once. You’re carefully balancing every piece, worried that shifting one plate will bring the whole thing crashing down, and there’s no way to stop, step back, and see how the process looks.

Show organisers understand all too well how this feels. In fact, "Event Coordinator" was ranked the 5th most stressful job in 2016 by CareerCast — topped only by jobs where people’s lives are literally at risk. Fortunately, that’s usually not the case in event marketing. But limited resources, too many to-dos, pressure to constantly improve and innovate, and the overwhelming goal to achieve nothing less than perfection means most event organisers operate in constant survival mode, unable to take a breath and analyse what’s working well… and what’s not.

To keep your event fresh, however, it’s vital to periodically assess your big picture, understand the patterns, and evaluate the data. In other words, you need to think like a strategist.

Stepping into this role may seem time consuming and daunting at first, but you’ll actually find it helps make the best use of your time and resources. Plus, you can avoid that awful feeling of constantly running in place!

How to act like a strategist

Being strategic, whether it’s in your title or not, means asking a lot of questions.

1. Assess learning opportunities for attendees:

  • Can attendees be active participants in the learning channels and education vehicles your show provides? To keep your audience engaged, offer attendees more than a passive experience – provide ways to get them involved!
  • Are you monitoring how the sessions are actually playing out? Meaning, is someone from your staff observing the sessions to gauge interaction? Speaker and attendee perspectives can differ, so put yourself in the attendees’ shoes and observe while it’s happening – that way you’ll see how it’s playing out from both sides.
  • How is the room set up? Are you thinking outside the standard podium-to-rows-of-chairs box? Alternate room sets can go a long way toward setting the environment up for successful engagement. To wit: If your sessions are all traditional classroom style, odds are so is the session.
  • Can we add something about checking in on how the sessions are actually playing out? You might think a session is engaging – the speaker talked big about interaction – but is that REALLY what’s happening in your sessions? Room sets go a long way toward setting the environment up for successful engagement. If your rooms are traditional classroom style, odds are so is the session.
  • Do you offer multiple learning formats to cater to varied learning preferences? Some people are visual learners. Others have to touch and manipulate things. Does your event only fit one learning style?
  • Are speakers engaging or tethered to their slides? The most fascinating topics can easily be rendered dull by speakers who lack spark. Once again, dear show organisers, you need to do some “secret shopping”at your event. Take the time to check out your sessions while they’re happening. Inquiring minds want to know, so inquiring minds need to sneak a peek! It’s the only way to know for sure. The key is show organisers need to take the time while the sessions are going on to peek in on them while they’re happening. It’s the only way to know for sure.
  • Is the content easily obtained online or is it unique, and not seen or heard anywhere else? It should give the perception that your event is THE place to learn and experience the latest, most innovative, and forward-thinking information. Look at the value you’re offering through your content to make sure you’re not all style, no substance. Give participants content they won’t find anywhere else – giving them the perception that your event is THE place for the latest, most innovative information.

2. Assess the effectiveness of your marketing:

  • Is your message impactful? Quick test: Remove the event/association logos and images from your marketing. If your messaging could apply to any other event, you need to reevaluate what you’re saying.
  • Do you know what IS working? Track everything you send out — even print ads — to assess channel effectiveness. Reallocate resources to channels where they’ll generate the biggest impact.
  • Are you telling the right story to the right audience groups? Different attendees will have different objectives. Know your audiences and make sure you’re communicating with maximum impact to everyone. And when we say “know your audiences,” we mean truly learn and understand who they are beyond demographics. Dig in and learn what makes them tick, how they behave at events, what are their needs and wants. Outline detailed personas by audience segment and then craft messaging and experiences tailored to them and their preferences. Key here is to know your audience beyond demographic information. What makes them tick, how do they behave on site, what are their needs and wants, etc. and craft messaging and an experience that will speak to them.
  • Are you using the right channels to reach each group? What works for a Millennial or Gen Xer might fall flat with Baby Boomers.
  • Does the photography support the message you want your audience to receive? Closeup images of people connecting and visibly enjoying the event work well for attendee marketing. Think how Disney World markets to potential visitors – the Mouse House avoids photos of crowds or lineups in favor of smiling families enjoying the Happiest Place on Earth minus throngs of tourists. Images of busy crowds, on the other hand, offer greater appeal for exhibitors who long for throngs of attendees in their booths.
  • Are you creating a single post and then cutting and pasting it across Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, et al? Tisk tisk! Each channel should have a different tone and/or message that fits with that particular channel. Odds are, your audiences have preferred channels and some will check multiple feeds. Don’t bore these social media butterflies! Find out who is where and then speak to them in unique ways.

3. See the patterns in your traffic:

  • What are your attendees drawn to? Do they enjoy certain types of exhibitors, comfortable spaces for working or networking, plenty of food and beverage options, innovative features, or interactive educational opportunities? Are they all crowding into the one space with accessible phone-charging outlets? Take visual stock of the areas attendees are drawn to and design more of those spaces for future years, to create a deeper impact that gives attendees a true brand experience that’s meaningful and memorable.
  • How can you minimise unnecessary lines and wait times, or at least make the lines less frustrating? Employ consumer-related traffic busters, such as enabling food vendors to quickly scan attendee badges in lieu of time-consuming payment processing. Lines can also be made more tolerable with interactive trivia games via tools that can be accessed on their phones and are show specific. Encourage social sharing by getting people in line to connect with others who are waiting, too.
  • How can you address overflow issues? Attendee tracking tools can quickly alert show management when a space has reached capacity and needs attention. Or have a dedicated room monitor to be able to quickly react with new seating or rooms as space issues arise.

As an event organiser, you have a lot to do. By putting down those spinning plates every so often and taking stock, you can make sure you’re spending time and energy on what really matters. Sometimes the simplest opportunities (and the many questions that uncover them) can make a big difference, helping you meet your goal to deliver a more impactful event that will keep attendees, exhibitors, and sponsors coming back year after year.

Interested in learning more about event audits and how sound strategy can elevate your event? Our seasoned strategists can build a strategic roadmap to help meet your objectives and wow attendees.

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