How to Convince Your Audience to Come Back to In-Person Events

How to Convince Your Audience to Come Back to In-Person Events

Three days after getting my second shot, I booked my first in-person trip. I was hoping to gradually ease back into traveling, but in the past two weeks I have already filled up my calendar with 10 trips over the next three months. Some are personal, others are work-related. All require a suitcase. Being a planner, I am trying to get as much information in advance as possible, so I can prepare myself. I am interviewing people who have been to, or have held, in-person events, trying to get a sense of what is different. You can see one of those interviews here with Kim Vinciguerra, chief experience officer at the International Carwash Association, who traveled to World of Concrete on June 8-10 in Las Vegas. One of the interesting insights has been that we need to prepare ourselves for re-entry to events. A lot of conversation has been around returning to the office, but for event planners, half of our jobs are on the road. We must prepare both ourselves and our attendees for event re-entry as well. We have four categories of attendee types: There are the eagers, hesitants, reluctants and the no-ways.

The eagers need no convincing. These are people who need your event to make their career successful, whether it is selling, presenting or networking. They want to see their friends, they want to hug people and they are ready for all the receptions you can throw at them. They need to know that they will be getting all the things they missed, and that it will be even better than before. Provide them with information on how to justify the trip. Travel budgets are going to remain conservative, and they might need some backup on the value proposition to make their case.

The hesitants are willing, but it all is a bit overwhelming. They are unsure of the new rules, they are rusty at packing and they might be nervous about in-person networking. They need a little extra push to get there. You must really understand the "why" of their coming, and ensure you are communicating that your event is going to fulfill those needs for them. Give them information about travel in a simple and streamlined way. Infographics and checklists will be preferred over paragraphs of information — and make sure they know that they are going to have fun as well.

The reluctants are the people who will come in-person, but they really don’t want to. These are your introverts who are coming out of a year where everything was designed for their needs for a change, and they might be a bit grumpy about returning to the world designed for extroverts. They come because they have to, but they don’t have to like it. This is the toughest group to reach because they are going to go for the digital option first, if it meets their needs. When designing your digital components, be sure to put thought into your policies and the agenda. This group will appreciate simple messaging and value proposition information. They are going to need to clearly understand that only the in-person experience will meet their needs before signing up.

The no-ways are never going to come in person to your event. They weren’t going to come pre-pandemic either. Time out of office or away from family, combined with higher costs and perhaps just not liking events in general are the decision factors you are competing against. But you now have a new opportunity to engage them digitally. Perhaps you can leverage your new tools and skills on digital event production to meet them where they are. Just remember the job of a digital event organizer is vastly different from managing face-to-face meetings. This group isn’t expecting a replication of the in-person experience. Instead, they want the content in a way that is highly convenient and at a reasonable price. More than ever, we need to remember that designing and marketing our events is not a one-size-fits-all approach. We need to consider and communicate flexible options. Putting the audience at the center of your design is always going to lead to the right answer.

As the vice president of event strategy and design for 360 Live Media, Beth Surmont leads the team working with associations to transform their events — whether they are virtual, in-person or hybrid. She has more than 20 years of event planning experience and is at her best when faced with daunting problems in need of fixing. A CAE and CMP, she was recently named one of Northstar Meetings Group's Top 25 Influencers in the Meetings Industry for 2020.

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