Unfortunately, the answer for most shows is ‘no’, which is not unlike the chicken or beef entrées served at the last ten wedding receptions you’ve attended. They’re entirely forgettable as soon as you leave the reception/event.
Here is how it is from an event attendee’s perspective:
You’ve certainly spent enough money to attend the event. Is it part of the circuit where one show is as good as another? Or maybe it’s a top industry show? Or perhaps it’s a new show with potential – a shiny new object – that is prone to disappoint. Too often the events fall short of expectations and you wish you’d never left the office given it’s going to take two weeks to catch up on the work that you missed. And that’s not to mention that terrible hotel mattress or the delayed flight or the lost bag, etc.
For too many events, a bad night’s sleep leads to the 8:30AM keynote, followed by a walk to a session at which you learn nothing. Then there’s a trek down the hallway and up the stairs to another session at which you again are told nothing new. So, you get up, stand in line, grab a bun, and get coffee. And then the day continues – rinse and repeat.
When the exhibit floor is open, you walk the show floor with hundreds of others. Untrained vendor staff try to cajole you into their booth or take the opposite posture, one of disdain that makes clear their disinterest. It’s not clear who has the products and services you want. And despite the lanyard with your name and company, no-one seems to know anything about you.
The late afternoon/evening reception is full of cliques, where people who are from the same company or who have history from past events seem content to speak to each other. If you are not part of a clique you grab a beer and end up speaking with someone who’s trying quite hard to sell you something. The beer is free, but your time?
Then you leave, with expectations that the same sequence of events will be repeated the next day.
Why is it like this? Because organizer profits are good and an event can’t possibly cater to every attendee and their unique needs. Your job as an event organizer is to create the same comprehensive experience for everyone – since you know better than they do. But still, unremarkable.
So, what makes an event remarkable?
I experienced one a few weeks ago. Was it the best content? No. Were the exhibitors offering products or services that I needed? Not really. But was the event remarkable? Indeed, it was.
The reason had little to do with the content, the food, or the venue(although the fact that it was only a two hour flight for me was appreciated). It was attributable to the intentional structure of the event, a dynamic that I would distill to two key elements:
1) Its structure compelled people to engage with each other;
2) Attendees were encouraged to craft their own experience rather than adhere to a rigid conference schedule that offered little time to breathe.
Some examples of how this was done:
1) Speed networking-sessions where everyone sat on one of two sides of an enormous table and had five minutes to speak to the person opposite them. Upon conclusion of the five minutes, each side of the table moved in opposite direction – and the networking started again. You concluded having met 12 new people, none of whom you likely would have otherwise met.
2) Roundtable sessions at which tent cards were set up at approximately 12 tables, covering a range of different topics. When the sessions started, the moderator polled the table for questions, all of which were addressed during the roundtable. For many participants, this alone made the conference valuable. These were followed up with theme-oriented receptions and longer break times (and shorter session times) so that people could spend time with new friends and continue to craft their own custom experiences.
These were just some of the tactics used, and I am sure I unknowingly missed others.
The event was valuable, memorable, and thus remarkable.
The organizer crafted the event with this intention, one which had the attendee as their own experience creator, together with the structure to make it possible.
Have you crafted your event with your attendee’s experience in mind or have you defaulted to what is the easiest to plan? I challenge you to make your event remarkable. Your attendees will thank you by returning year after year.