Ask the Expert: Reimagining the Attendee Experience

By Mo Husseini

We didn’t choose this awful pandemic, but we are choosing to use its fallout as an opportunity to create a more powerful and valuable experience for our attendees.

Our industry has talked about change for quite some time, but it’s always hard to change things when you are also under the gun to deliver. In many ways, the pandemic has afforded us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to completely reimagine our work – and bring to life our vision of the incredibly meaningful and valuable experience that events can offer. By challenging outdated ways of doing business and introducing new innovations we can accelerate our path to a new and elevated attendee experience.

Q: What factors should I consider as I prepare for future events?

We know that events aren’t going to come back all at once, and as they open up gradually in each market, we expect them to be smaller and more regional. This offers the chance to increase personalization and apply design thinking to create a truly impactful attendee experience. Instead of worrying about how many attendees you can get to attend, shift your focus to getting the right people there – the influencers, the brand loyalists, and the decision-makers who matter – and on providing them with an outstanding experience that will dynamically resonate with their needs and extend your story well beyond the dates of the event.

We also know that attendee expectations will be higher as events return. This starts with fulfilling the needs at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid – designing an environment that protects attendees from health risks, in accordance with the latest safety guidelines. Forty-three percent of respondents to Freeman’s recent attendee sentiment survey shared that having physical distancing and safety practices in place for travel and their event would impact their decision to attend in person. Establishing the right protocols will help attendees feel more comfortable and confident, allowing them to focus on the experience without worrying about their surroundings.

And it remains critically important to explore and design the attendee journey as a coherent and resonant whole. Consider creating specific learning paths by segmenting attendees by interest, role or networks. Using graphics and wayfinding, you can direct attendees to the most relevant parts of the event for them, where they can find meaningful education and networking opportunities. And, of course, we can’t underestimate the role technology plays in enhancing the live experience. By tapping into the potential of mobile devices, you can empower the attendees to navigate and explore on their own terms – allowing them to watch a session in a break area or their hotel room if it makes them feel more comfortable.

Q: How can I engage both live and virtual attendees?

The pandemic has taught us that virtual events have the ability to engage global audiences. When done well, they are true digital experiences, where attendees can really participate, engage and explore. It has also affirmed that people want to connect in person – there’s still nothing like meeting live. As humans, we crave sensory connection and the ability to be truly immersed in a new environment.

Given all of that, we see hybrid events as the future. By engaging remote and live audiences together, we can allow the right people to connect in person, while including those who can’t attend on site. Real-time comments and questions, audience chat platforms, and competitions are just a few ways to keep virtual attendees connected. It’s important to consider these factors from the beginning, designing an experience with both audiences in mind instead of simply streaming a live event online. And, of course, you need the right talent in place to orchestrate the event seamlessly and ensure a great experience for everyone involved.

Mo Husseini is SVP of Design at Freeman (www.freeman.com), the world’s leading live event and brand experience company. Reach him at mo.husseini@freeman.com.

Photo credit: iStock.com/SDI Productions

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