How to engage all generations at your conferences
Meeting planners used to employ a one-size-fits-all approach when communicating and engaging attendees. As audiences have evolved, planners must now use a variety of communication and marketing techniques to successfully engage all generations of attendees at their conferences and events. We spoke with meeting professionals around the country to learn what techniques and tools they implement to communicate with, and engage their conference participants.
Keenya Kelly, Founder of If You Brand It, hosts conferences each year for women with curly hair, teaching entrepreneurs how to strategically build only brands, and works with planners to run social media during live events.
Keenya deals with a wide variety of audiences at her events, and her number one tip is to use multiple communication methods to deliver content. Millennials are used to soundbites, music and entertainment. Using social media during events tied to contests, live streams and tweets is appropriate for that audience. For older attendees, handouts and slide presentations are still appropriate.
Millennials are a multi-tasking generation, and social media is the number one source of information and communication. It is also the way how they have been trained to interact with each other. They are used to searching hashtags to locate photos of themselves to share with their friends, and find conference content.
“At our events, we always employ Twitter, hashtags and live stream contests, which help us reach more people at home, and is a way for millennial attendees to connect with one another during and after the event,” said Kelly.
“An older generation may require a more traditional and simpler approach, where we let them know in advance that they will receive a workbook and handouts and as soon as they arrive. While they see the social efforts and contests, they typically take notes inside of the workbooks that we distributed as they follow along the slide presentation,” Kelly observed.
Sara Ost, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Culture with Group Delphi shares the following advice:
Recently at ExhibitorLIVE, Group Delphi came to the show with an experience-without-a-booth strategy. The booth space at the trade show was a lounge, affectionately called “The Hit or Miss Lounge” designed with basketball hoops, arcade games, staff in Letterman jackets, and comfy padded stools for conversation. The booth did not require heavy production but instead relied on authentic conversation to take verbal surveys - done in partnership with Exhibitor Magazine.
The thesis: exhibiting should really be about the why and experience. The architecture, or lack thereof, came from that.
The goal: create a space for authentic conversations, sans the sales pitch, where all visitors could shoot hoops and converse, showcasing the importance of the visitor experience. Exhibitors have to know how to engage someone and why they are trying to engage them before you build something. Otherwise, you are not going to come up with a very compelling strategy. You simply won’t stand out.
Instead of some boring “thanks for stopping by the booth” follow up email, visitors were sent a pre-cocktail party email that was both funny and customized to the Delphi team member they met that day the show floor. The result? Deeper conversion with 55 percent conversion in 2017 versus a 16 percent conversion in the previous year.
It is about deeper engagement and having a conversation about pain points, as Delphi did, which proved to be far more meaningful than the standard “Come hear about what we do.” The exhibit team conducted brief surveys. The team was trained to ask the survey questions in their own language and voices, and completed the data after the visitor left the space, versus reading the survey, which would have been far less enjoyable for all concerned. This was really a conversation, and the exhibitor was explicit about that with visitors. The booth was also staffed with a 50/50 split of marketing and sales staff.
It’s really important that you don’t only have salespeople in your space. A good experience feels welcoming, low-pressure, and authentic. Delphi genuinely wanted to know what issues experiential marketers are grappling with this year, regardless of a business opportunity. Because, simply having that data gives the insights to market better, to people who would actually want to hear about how we can help them achieve their goals. People tend to think of marketing in a very linear fashion - leads and demand generation. The top priority of marketing, should always be insights. That’s how you differentiate, how to go to market, how you drive real business strategy.
The strategy allowed for a wide variety of participants to connect with the company.
According to Belinda Marie Jackson, a Visual Coach with Picture it Possible: visual strategy + facilitation, visuals are a powerful way to engage audiences of all ages, it increases retention of information, sparks conversation, and documents or summarizes the event’s big ideas.
Top tips from Ms. Jackson to implement these techniques at conferences and events are:
Graphic Recording during a session: a recorder captures key highlights, and any questions, answers and discussions. The recorder can be positioned in the front of the room to the side of the speaker or in the rear of the room.
Pre-Conference: there can be a wall where you can get participant feedback via dot-voting, speech bubble sticky notes: What do you hope to learn at the conference? Where are you coming from? You could have a display of a map and have participants put a dot with your name near the location of your hometown. This can also be used for event planners, and to boost engagement. Questions can be adjusted based on the demographics of the participants.
During the conference, post session, place charts or foam core boards displayed on easels, wall space, or self-standing in a key location with clearly labeled session titles. If there are any sign-up requests or marketing input needs, those requests, forms or input devices can be located near the displays.
Post conference: a thank you note from the event hosts can be designed incorporating images of some of the key notes and sessions that were recorded graphically. The images can also be added to promotional items like mouse pads, and calendars. See a sample of The Johns Hopkins University School of Education below.
Meeting the needs of a diverse audience.
Trivia events have been proven to successfully bring all attendees together with unparalleled success. One of the reasons this activity is so successful bringing generations together is that they can be customized by incorporating key facts about a company or organization, products and even the attendees themselves, making this type of activity ideal for diverse audiences, regardless of age, managerial level or background.
“It is important to understand your audience,” said David Jacobson, Founder of TrivWorks. “If you have a large international group, then your questions should not be about U.S. pop culture. It is key that your questions are accessible to all attendees in the audience. Again, customization is the key to success, and this helps us touch each individual in the room.”
What are your thoughts on engaging varied audiences. Add them in the comments below, and please do us a little favor and share this post with others, for there’s a good chance that it will help them as they go about planning meetings and events.
Lead in photogaph by Ashley Welling.
Graphic board pictures by Belinda Marie Jackson, Eyemagination Imaging.