If your annual meeting or event keeps growing, first of all, that’s AMAZING news! You put so much time and energy into planning that event, and the fact that people not only want to attend but are attending is huge.
That said, the bigger your event gets, the harder it can sometimes be to engage attendees. It’s harder to chat with them face-to-face, to encourage small group discussions, to get them to attend big happy hours/networking events, etc.
So what’s trick? How do you make your big event still feel somewhat small? We’ve got a few tips:
1. When possible, personalize
When you have hundreds upon hundreds (or thousands upon thousands) of attendees, it’s easy for those attendees to feel like “just another face in the crowd.” To eliminate those feelings, try to personalize your event communications - before, during, and after the event. Include the attendee’s name in emails. Acknowledge whether or not this is their first annual meeting. If it is, send them content with tips for first-timers. The key is to make the individual feel unique, even if they’ll be amongst a pretty large group.
Now one very important note here: You DON’T have to do all of this manually. If you’re using an association management system, as long as you have the right information (attendees’ names, their event history, etc.), the AMS can personalize everything for you. It can pull names, dates, prices, etc. for emails, and even switch up who gets what email. You may want to send your first-timers one message and your seasoned veterans another. With an AMS, that’s extremely easy to do - and it makes your members feel special, regardless of the event’s size.
Another way to personalize content (and the attendee’s overall experience): through a mobile app. Now you may not have one, and if you don’t, that’s perfectly ok. But if you do, consider taking advantage of push notifications. Let’s say you have a mobile app and attendees put together their schedule through the mobile app. Well, consider sending them push notifications with info/content related to the sessions they registered for. This could include things like the actual presentation and worksheets/templates regarding the specific topic. You could even let them know about other sessions similar in topic, if there are any.
The point here, though, is to personalize the experience. You may not be able to relay this type of information face-to-face, but you can through technology, and that’s a HUGE help when it comes to engagement.
2. Use social media to your advantage
We talk about how social media is important for all events - and it is - but it’s particularly important for large events. See, when you have a small event, you can greet people in the hallways - ask them how things are going and whether or not they’ve seen/enjoyed XYZ. But with larger events, that’s much more difficult to do. You can greet everyone at registration, but after that, you can only say hi to so many people in the hallways and at happy hours/receptions.
The work-around? Social media! It allows you to interact one-on-one with attendees, even if you can’t catch them face-to-face. To make social media work though, you NEED to have an event hashtag. Even if it’s just the name of your conference and the year. (For example, the official hashtag for ASAE’s Great Ideas Conference was #ideas17.) Include that hashtag in all of your event marketing and then check it constantly during the actual event. Then from there, be responsive! If you notice attendees using the hashtag, like/retweet their tweets. Respond to them! If someone says they’re having a great time, tweet them back and say you’re happy to have them there. The more responsive you are, the more likely they are to continue tweeting (and that’s a good indication they’re enjoying the event).
3. Encourage small group and one-on-one discussions
Just because your event is large doesn’t mean small group discussions can’t occur. Encourage your speakers to embrace interactive learning formats in their educational sessions. Table discussions can often make a big room feel small.
Another tip: Help your members with small group and one-on-one discussions. It can be incredibly intimidating to approach people at a large meeting or event. But if you “kind of know” people before the conference, approaching them can be much simpler. To facilitate that, consider creating an online social community prior to your meeting or event. Encourage your members to “virtually mingle” with other members who are going. That way, when they’re at the actual event, they’ll recognize a few faces and feel much more at ease. (And it’s those one-one-one conversations that really make attendees feel comfortable.)
Regardless of how big - or small - your event is, the point is to engage your attendees and provide them with value. For tips on how to plan a successful meeting or event, check out our Complete Guide to Association Event Planning below! (Bonus: It’s free!)