Attendees: You Got Them There - Now Keep Them Engaged

July 27, 2016

By Elizabeth Johnson

Meeting and trade show organizers work tirelessly to get attendees to their events, so once they are there, engaging them is extremely important. Keeping exhibitors and sponsors happy with strong traffic on the floor is one reason; but potentially even more important is so that attendees leave with positive feelings about their experience, want to return in the future and become evangelists for the event’s brand.

Event experts weighed in and shared their ideas for keeping attendees focused on the event:

“Events have so many scheduled events, it's often nice to offer a few 30-minute breaks wherein people can simply do work or organically socialize without a formal agenda.  As food is provided (this is key, since people generally will go in search of food if it's not provided), people will use that time productively.  In my experience, the best networking often comes about from a relaxed atmosphere, as opposed to structured ice breakers or networking sessions.” – Anne Hong Gottschall, CEO of event planning start up, Revelr.

“Timing is critical - many attendees come to meetings sleep deprived. Too often they lose sleep before a meeting just to get prepared or pack and then they often travel, which really sets the stage for sleep loss at the beginning of an event. So it's very important to avoid 7 a.m. breakfast meetings or activities off the bat. When attendees are exhausted, they will be less engaged, irritable, not learn as much and just not enjoy it as much. I urge all event planners to be especially careful with the scheduling of events. If early morning sessions are unavoidable make them the optional, not mandatory; and have time after lunch for people to grab a quick power nap (put some napping pods on site if hotel accommodations are not nearby). There are many ways to make the event "sleep friendly"! Sleep is foundational. It's essential for attendees that are happy, engaged and energized!” - Terry Cralle, sleep clinician, Better Sleep Council.   

“Keeping tradeshow/conference attendees engaged throughout the event is a huge part of their overall experience and perception of value. The fear of losing your attentive audience in-between sessions is a big one and we all can only eat so much food! I believe that the best way to keep attendees involved is to make sure your attendees have ‘FUN’ with simple and creative interactions. Create a scavenger hunt around the convention center or hotel (facilities are happy to supply you with ideas) and increase your attendance to educational sessions or exhibitor by making it a stop on the hunt. Institute a competition with Social Media photo contest or tweet with the highest re-tweets. Lastly allow your attendees to truly be kids again by offering a gaming area that includes a coloring station, photo booth, Jenga, Legos, paint and anything that can help them have ‘FUN’.” - Shannon Licygiewicz, CEM, director of sales for the Albany Capital Center.

“Keeping people engaged between sessions is partly about time management—giving people enough time to use the restroom and also grab a bite. Not to mention, carving out time for people to actually talk to prospects in important. Typically, 20 minutes is a good chunk allowing people enough time to find sessions, find a snack, take a break and return. Giving your attendees "hives" to buzz around during breaks will also keep people from wandering off. Worthwhile food, drinks or giveaways are a good way to pique and keep people close.” - Virginia Case, CMO, Strategic Tactical Marketing.

“At our events we create an atmosphere of fun and provide opportunities for our attendees to hang out and get to know one another.  At our recent TMS Family Travel Summit in South Walton, Florida, we had a bonfire on the beach so everyone could hang out and relax after a long day of engaging with travel research experts.” - Joanne Vero, president, J. Vero & Associates, Inc.

From relaxed break times and napping pods and gamificationand memorable experiences; intangibles can enhance attendees’ event experience and leave them with the positive feeling that ensure their loyalty to the event’s brand.

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