Planning a conference is one thing. But then, there’s the execution. And while a lot of little details are somewhat in your hands - what food you serve, what music you play, what topics are covered during educational sessions, etc. - there are some things that just...aren’t.
Prime example: Whether or not your attendees ACTUALLY engage with you and the activities you have planned.
Now there’s no way to force attendee engagement (sorry!), but there are a few tactics to help boost it. Here are four, in particular:
1. Utilize social media
Social media is one of the easiest (and most effective) ways to engage your conference attendees. But to make it work, you HAVE to have the fundamentals in place, and that means having an event hashtag.
Why the need for a unique event hashtag? Well not only does it allow you to see what other people are saying about your conference (and association), but it allows other attendees to see those messages as well, enabling more online peer-to-peer engagement.
Now don’t panic. You don’t have to come up with some super clever hashtag. It can be as simple as your event name - or acronym - and the year. For example, the hashtag for the American Society of Association Executives’ 2017 Great Ideas Conference was #Ideas17. Super simple - and easy to change year-after-year.
Once you’ve identified a hashtag - and promoted that hashtag - you’ll then want to post…a lot! To really engage your conference attendees, consider asking questions and conducting online polls. (Twitter now has a built-in polling feature, so this is extremely easy to do.) Ask your attendees what they’re looking forward to the most, what topics they’re most interested in learning about, what their favorite session has been so far, etc. Sometimes, the more direct you can be, the better.
Another social media engagement tactic to consider: live streaming! (Facebook Live, Twitter Live, Instagram Live, etc.) This is a great way to engage not only your on-site attendees, but all those who couldn’t attend as well. (And if they see how great the conference is going - how valuable the takeaways are, how much fun people are having, etc. - they might be more inclined to register next year.)
2. Incorporate games/contests
If your conference has a vendor presence, and you’re worried about your attendees not engaging with those folks, consider playing around (no pun intended) with games and/or contests.
You could organize a scavenger hunt or a build-your-own-kit game where attendees have to go to different booths to retrieve different items.
Another idea: Incorporate exhibitor-sponsored prizes. Here, you could have your attendees do something and then the winner would receive a prize from one of your exhibitors. For example, you could have your attendees upload pictures to your association’s event app, and whoever uploads the most pictures would get a free trip from one of your CVBs. (Enticing, right?)
If you’re looking for something a little more unorthodox, try playing around with jumbo games - giant Jenga, giant Connect Four, etc. You could place these on your trade show floor so that attendees would be playing amongst your vendor members. This would give your vendors and attendees something to talk about...without that initial approach having to be so “salesy.”
3. Coordinate off-site events
It’s easy for engagement to plummet in the evenings - people are tired, they want to go explore (to see the host city), they want to go back to their room and catch up on work, etc. But give them alternatives - alternatives they won’t want to turn down.
If possible, try coordinating happy hours, sightseeing tours, local food tastings, etc. These fun activities will keep people engaged even in the afternoons/evenings. (Note: You may have to charge for these, but that could be a good source of non-dues revenue!)
4. Create a comfortable environment
If your event spans over a couple of days, your attendees are likely to get tired. And when people get tired, they’re more inclined to leave (at least for a couple of hours).
To prevent that from happening, provide your attendees with a comfortable environment (one they won’t want to leave or need to leave). Try incorporating lounge furniture, coffee stations, charging stations, etc. You may even want to have a quiet room where attendees can check their email, rest, and regroup. (Tip: We’ve actually seen associations provide massages in their quiet rooms - for a one or two hour period - and this seems to go over REALLY well. Just something to consider!)
Now these are just a few ideas for boosting attendee engagement - but there’s plenty more where that came from! For more tips and tricks (regarding session formats, room layouts, networking opportunities, and more), check out our free guide, How to Engage Your Event Attendees!