Designing Events with Attendee Appeal

April 10, 2018

One of the keys to event success is understanding your attendees. Who are they, why are they registering for your event, and what do they hope to take away when the event is over? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you design an event that will exceed your attendees’ expectations.

For corporate events, it’s common to design content around your attendee personas or audience segment, but have you thought about your attendee profiles when designing the event experience?

The American Express Meetings and Events 2018 Global Meetings and Events Forecast includes a section titled “Understanding Your Attendees: The Key to Event Success” that explains how to do just that.

“This paper takes a concept that we have long used in the marketing world and applies it to meetings to get a more well-rounded view of a target audience,” said Stephanie Harris, director of global marketing and strategy for American Express Meetings and Events.

“We use this concept in marketing to bring the audience to life, so it made sense to apply it to meeting attendees. This goes beyond demographics to personalities and motivations: it's about focusing on the desired outcome of individuals,” she added.

The paper explores the following event attendee profiles:

  • Knowledge Seeker
  • Tech-Savvy Networker
  • Inspiration Seeker
  • Social Butterfly
  • Reluctant Attendee
  • Brand Fanatic

Knowledge seekers are driven by education. The content you provide is their primary driver for attending your event. Offering a variety of session styles (not just the one-to-many lecture-style presentation) will appeal to them and will help you deliver programming that will appeal to different types of learning style preferences as well.

For your tech-savvy networkers, social media is key: maybe you have an event app that provides the ability for attendees to connect with other like-minded individuals. Social activities such as receptions or birds-of-a-feather tables at lunches will enable them to meet people and build meaningful connections. Gamification may be a driver. If you have an exhibit hall, activities like a hall crawl or passport that requires stamps from certain booths can be great ways to also deliver value to your sponsors.

Inspiration seekers are looking for purpose. They want to find personal value in your event and are hoping for some transformational information. This audience may respond to a motivational speaker or to offerings like meditation, yoga, or charity or community-based activities – which also have high appeal to Millennial and Gen-Z audiences.

The social butterfly can easily become a brand fanatic. This group cares about socializing: networking is one piece, but they are extraverts who enjoy striking up conversations during meals, breaks, and other informal settings. These folk love games like finding a brand mascot and snapping a selfie with it. Give them unstructured opportunities to meet others, and ample reasons to promote themselves on social media and they’ll be happy.

At one point or another, we’ve probably all been the reluctant attendee (at least all of us who are introverts). Forced to attend, usually for a business reason such as education or certification, these delegates are just hoping the time will go by quickly. This is a tough group to design for, as they typically feel somewhat awkward and don’t particularly want to engage. Having at least a few minutes between sessions, and ideally a couple of longer breaks during the day allows these attendees to recharge – and has the dual purpose of providing others with the time they need to socialize.

Brand fanatics are just that: these people already love your brand and are willing evangelists for you. They want the inside scoop into whatever is new or exciting, and they want the opportunity to talk with key members of your staff and provide input. Got logo’d swag? These attendees want it! Offering a collectible wearable, like a t-shirt or sweatshirt, helps win their hearts – it’s even better if it’s exclusive or requires loyalty to obtain. Incentives such as special badge ribbon designations – 5th year attendee, 10th year attendee, etc. also appeal.

Harris recommends looking at your attendees based on their motivation and what they want to take away from a meeting. Think about how you provide your content: deliver it based on your audiences, so you're creating a mix of different kinds of ways people can take in information. 

“Use the technology that's available today, but also don't lose sight of creating those in-person moments,” she said.

You already know that your event will contain certain elements, such as at least one keynote, breakout sessions, meals, and a reception. When you’re designing the event experience, think about what each attendee type might enjoy.

“These personas apply to all of the different aspects of a meeting: content delivery; planning; the different types of networking opportunities offered; even how meals are set up: are people seated with place cards or are they free to choose a group that they want to have dinner with,” Harris explained. 

She also recommends scheduling some downtime into your meeting agenda, to give people an opportunity to stop and absorb what they learn, especially if you have a group where you might find more inspiration seekers or reluctant attendees who need a little bit of time to process information.

Not sure exactly who will be attending your event? Chances are high that your audience will include representatives from within each of these groups. When in doubt, create an event that will appeal to your ideal audience.

“Designing for the desired outcome of your meeting should always be driving your decision-making,” Harris concluded.


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