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4 Event Planning Ideas to Kick-start the New Year

With the year winding down, this month we’re offering up ideas to help with your planning for the new year. And in this post, we’re sharing 4 ideas - from event and communications experts - to consider adopting in the new year.  We're also offering a round-up of resources to help you get your 2013 events off to a great start.

1. Remember why folks attend events

First, as you are winding down this year and planning for next year’s event season, it’s helpful to stop and think about what drives event participation. 

In a recent post, the always insightful Katya Andresen, outlined “the 5 reasons people come to an event”. Katya notes that the drivers of event participation (as defined by Jeff Shuck at Event360) are:

  1. Affinity to third-party group
  2. Affinity to activity
  3. Affinity to participants
  4. Affinity to cause
  5. Affinity to organization
And Katya also cautions, “don’t assume everyone is in feeling #5! Design an event that appeals to as many affinities as possible.” In her post, Katya quotes an Event360 Blog post that outlines how you can use their five point model to look at the opportunities and risks of an event you are planning. They suggest you look at each of the participation “drivers” and then outline “the opportunities and risks with each type of participant, and the steps [you] need to take during event production to ensure [you] appeal to the type of participant in question.”

As the Event360 post suggests, you can use this model to “better design and run events that attract and retain the right kind of participants. Recruitment takes time, but talking to potential participants about what they actually care about can greatly expedite the task. Building this important framework for each event is the first step to ensuring an effective outcome and an unforgettable experience.” 

2. Grow participant loyalty - by being an attendee advocate:

In a post a few weeks back, Dave Lutz (Velvet Chainsaw’s Midcourse Corrections) asked: Are You Attracting Your Best Attendees Or Are You Repelling Them? Lutz offers three examples of how conferences “missed out on opportunities to grow attendee loyalty.” The missed opportunities he notes include:
  1. A welcome reception that showcases a continuous loop of self-promotion content (slides highlighting the benefits of membership), instead of offering “photos and videos that showcased their attendees."  
  2. Bombarding fee-paying participants with “untargeted, impersonal” email solicitations from numerous exhibitors. Instead, consider “offering two separate registration fees... a higher price that is free of solicitation and one that saves the attendee $100 or $200, but includes marketing.”
  3. Sponsor benefit packages (e.g., 5 minutes on stage ahead of the key speaker) that are
     “in need of a makeover.”  Lutz suggests “a private reception, photo opportunity or book signing with the speaker and their best customers ...this makes customers feel like VIPs and helps grow allegiance for the sponsor’s brand.”

Building a loyal attendee base

Lutz reminds us that “[w]ithout a loyal attendee base of 50 percent or more, your conference is unhealthy. When you deliver on your conference promise, referrals through word of mouth follow and multiply.”  So how do you build attendee loyalty? You need to start looking at all of the aspects of your event from the attendees' perspective.

Becoming an Attendee Advocate

To understand what your event attendees want in order to engage them and keep them coming back, Lutz suggests you create “attendee advocates”. He notes that “[b]est-in-class conference organizers often appoint someone to look out for the attendee experience. This person evaluates everything that is happening through the lens of the attendee — the promises made in marketing, the actions of partners, and the loyalty that is earned through a quality offering.”

 

Moving away from "speaker-centric" event planning

Shifting the emphasis to focus on the attendee or participant is also the topic of an earlier post by Jeff Hurt. In the post - Is Your Conference Primarily Focused on Speakers or Attendees?  - Hurt notes that without realizing it, many conferences have begun to be “speaker-centric”, “they have elevated the speaker as the primary focus”. Instead, Hurt suggests, we “need to shift the focus on attendees as learners.” 

 

3. Promoting events with social media

You may feel you've got enough on your social media plate already, without adding events. But there are ways of using social networks that can work to your own as well as your participant’s advantage - before, during and after an event.

In a blog post a while back, we shared an infographic by Northwest Creative Imaging (found on the Event Manager Blog) that outlined ideas for social networking at trade shows. And we suggested that the advice lends itself to seminars, workshops and other membership events as well.  The infographic includes tips and ideas for pre- and post-event social media activities as well as tactics to apply during the actual event. Here are some of the ideas they suggest for using social networks at events and a few we've added too:

  • Pre-Show:
    • You can use your existing social networks - e.g., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. to promote the event to grow participation.  
    • In addition, you can offer tips to participants on using Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Pinterest and blogging during the event to capture content and share it with their colleagues. This builds excitement and offers opportunities for post-show promotion and growing attendance for the next event.
  • Showtime:
    • In the Infographic, they suggest great tips to help you “stand out in the sea of exhibitors.” using social media
    • As noted above, you can also have event leaders and participants checking in on Foursquare; posting images on Pinterest; Tweeting exciting developments and posting images and comments on Facebook during the event.
  • Post-Show:
    • As the infographic reminds us, “the show may be over... but the engagement must go on.” and offer tips on how to “turn followers into [members]” with post-event social media - such as creating a Facebook post with event recaps; release a white paper and promoting it via social media.
    • Don’t forget to repurpose all of the social media you received before and during the show once it’s over.  For example, if there were great images on Pinterest, write a blog post or newsletter article and include them (with credit). Consider posting “sneak peaks” at speeches, presentations, etc. or if you can, making these available online and promoting these on all of your social media.

4. Use bloggers to grow participation and promotion

A recent article in Hillborn’s Charity eNEWS offers an example of how you can use social networks to promote your event.  Janet Gadeski offers tips on how to identify bloggers who can promote your event to key audiences. Gadeski notes that “[s]ometimes bloggers reach more people than a reporter from traditional media," and for organizations with limited promotion budgets, bloggers can be a great opportunity to get the word out.

Gadeski offers advice from Amy Milne, a special events director at SickKids Foundation who got great results by treating bloggers like serious reporters, offering “back-door access to key people that regular media had.”  Milne also offered incentives which she notes “creat[ed] win-wins that built the bloggers' own readership as well as boosting coverage of her event.” For example, Milne offered tickets to be given away on the blogs in exchange for promotion. She encouraged them to take photos and arranged interviews with high-profile volunteers and celebrities involved in the event.

Want more? Here are some event resources:

We have a number of event resources in our Membership Knowledge Hub - here’s a couple that might help those who are new to event planning:
Here are some Wild Apricot blog posts with additional tips and resources for events:
And don’t forget to check out the “Events” section of Apricot Jam - where we bookmark insightful posts each week.

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]
Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]
Published Monday, 10 December 2012 at 8:30 AM
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