Trends

May 2016

10 quick ways to boost the attendee experience

by Maria Lenhart

  • Catchbox Microphone

    /Portals/0/images/Magazine/2016/0516/Feature_Attendee_Catch Box Microphone.jpg

    Catchbox Microphone

    Catchbox Microphone
  • PlayWorks Group

    /Portals/0/images/Magazine/2016/0516/Feature_Attendee_Playworks Group teambuilding.jpg

    PlayWorks Group

    PlayWorks Group
  • Virtual Reality Headset

    /Portals/0/images/Magazine/2016/0516/Feature_Attendee_virtual reality headset 4.jpg

    Virtual Reality Headset

    Virtual Reality Headset

6) Rethink Food Choices
Food and beverage planning is becoming increasingly more complicated, what with the plethora of dietary restrictions and preferences as well as greater expectations about food quality and presentation, according to Patti Shock, a meetings consultant and professor emeritus at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

While pleasing everyone can be difficult, especially at banquets with a fixed menu, one way to improve the odds is to offer a split entree, perhaps pairing lamb with seafood, she says.

“It’s a way you can introduce something not widely accepted or even exotic, while still offering standard,” she says. “Attendees will have at least half of an entree they want to eat and may be able to trade what they don’t want with another attendee.”

7) Music to Energize
With a background in entertainment, Thomas Pitchford, owner of Pitch Perfect Events, appreciates the power of music to set the mood for an event and energize attendees. Generic “elevator music” played in the background does not do the trick, he says.

“I like to look at the event as a theatrical presentation that tells a story,” he says. “The music should be related to the theme of the conference or event and be upbeat. During breaks, we might want offer music that energizes and keeps minds focused. Everyone loves music, so it should be more than an afterthought.”

8) Surprising Gifts
Instead of handing out swag bags to guests, all to often filled with tchotchkes that people already have or have no use for, Pitchford advises making gifts part of interchanges with the audience that have an element of fun and surprise.

“One way to do this is through a pop-up trivia contest,” he says. “Or you can ask for a volunteer from the audience. He comes up on stage and the president gives him a hundred-dollar bill. Or find a person in the audience who has an identical twin or give a gift to the last person who registered.”

With this alternative to gift bags, the budget is directed toward a few larger prizes such as gift cards to restaurants or for maid service rather than “thousands of little items nobody really wants,” Pitchford says.

9) Everybody In
When it comes to teambuilding, everyone at the event, including top management, needs to be a participant, says Meredith Martini, founder of PlayWorks Group, an event management company.

“An important thing about teambuilding is that it levels the playing field,” she says. “No one has previous experience in building a sculpture out of canned goods. There’s no fear of failure. You get to see your co-workers in a different light. It creates new relationships and dialog to build connections.”

Much of this is diminished when the executives go into another room or stand in the back of the room to watch.

“This sends a poor message to the employees—it’s teambuilding in a fishbowl,” she says. “Do not separate the executives from the others. When people are exempted because of their status on the food chain, it sends the wrong message and dumbs down the purpose.”

10) Consider the Virtual Audience
With many sessions being live streamed or recorded for future on-demand reference, special attention needs to be paid to engaging the virtual audience, says Emilie Barta, a tradeshow and hybrid meetings consultant.

“Speakers are having a hard enough time creating an interactive session for those sitting before them, let alone with those who will be participating virtually,” she says. “You need to ask them if they are willing to create a session that can be live-streamed.”

If speakers are uncomfortable with the idea or if the planner determines that they will not translate well on camera, it’s better to not to stream the sessions, according to Barta.

Even if the session will simply be recorded, many speakers will benefit from expert guidance on how to make eye contact with the camera, wear the right clothing, not walk out of the lighting, and otherwise “remember that they’re on TV,” she adds.

In particular, sessions with a virtual component require careful audiovisual consideration, Barta says.

“Before you order the audiovisual items, you really have to design the experience and make a plan,” she says. “The audiovisual has to put the speaker and the session in the best light.”


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