Have you ever attended an event, only to get bored and start thinking more about what you’re having for dinner or where you’re going tomorrow than what you should be watching or listening to?
Bored attendees check out mentally long before they leave physically, and this leaves a bad impression. They forget, ignore, or leave without seeing the content you want to present. They leave your event with a bad impression and the chances that you are able to put together another one next year drop even lower.
You need to make sure your corporate event isn’t boring, and there are a lot of ways to do that. Let’s talk about them.
1: Know Your Audience
The first thing you need to do before you can implement any other strategy on this list, is to know your audience. You need to know several versions of your audience, in fact.
Know the audience you want to attend. Your corporate event is meant to appeal to a specific kind of person. If you’re a sales team for a toy brand, you want to attract retailers, specifically the people who decide what to buy for their stores. If you’re a speaker hosting a conference on marketing, you want to attract marketing managers. The kinds of people you want to attract will help you determine what kinds of techniques and design for your event will appeal, and what will turn attendees away.
Know the audience that actually attends. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, the people who attend our events are not the people we wanted to attract. It’s like if a toy fair aimed at company-level purchasers instead attracts a ton of families with children. Rather than making connections in the industry and selling thousands of units to retailers, you’re making connections with parents and selling individual units to children. It’s not the same results, and while it can be effective, it means something went wrong somewhere in your event planning process.
A lot of this is just marketing. It’s similar to developing buyer personas for a business and monitoring demographics to see who actually visits. The difference is just that it’s about an event rather than a website or physical storefront.
Knowing your audience is important so that you know what kinds of techniques you can use to attract and keep their attention. You might not want to encourage physicality with dancing and audience participation if your primary attendees are disabled, for example. Don’t plan to rely heavily on music when you’re marketing to the deaf.
Now let’s get into some ideas for strategies you can use to keep your attendees interested, or at least satisfied enough to listen.
2. Be Original, Unique, or Bizarre
The idea here is to be memorable in some way or to be bizarre in a way that gets your attendees thinking. You don’t need to hire a clown to be a greeter for your corporate event like some kind of bizarro-Walmart, but it can be worthwhile to put your guests on an off-beat experience from the moment they enter. Think about how events like a World’s Fair inundate the people who attend with thought-provoking concepts of the future. Think about how marketers striving to make themselves remarkable in a relevant way.
What differentiates your event from the thousands of other corporate events that happen every year? What makes you different than TED or CES or GDC or any of the small events your attendees have visited throughout their careers? What makes you stand out in a way that they’ll remember, even when they attend other events? Finding this unique selling point is crucial.
3. Incorporate Multimedia
A decade or two ago, using PowerPoint to deliver a presentation might have been hot new technology compared to chalkboards and slide projectors, but these days a series of speakers with a series of interminable slide presentations are so trivial that random friend groups are using it as a small party idea.
These days, the cutting edge of technology involves augmented readily with phone app integration, wearable tech, and more. Now, you might not be able to pull this off – phone apps can be a huge pain to rely on if nothing else – but you can incorporate some level of interesting multimedia use. Videos, audio, music, narration, QR codes the attendees can scan for added value; these forms of multimedia can boost audience engagement and make your entire event that much more memorable.
4. Encourage Audience Participation
The best and most memorable corporate events we’ve ever been to have involved audience participation in a casual way. You don’t need to single out audience members and have them participate like a vaudeville show, but you can do things like audience polls via sitting and standing or encouraging audience members to sing along to a tune or participate in an interactive experience.
In 2009, Bobby McFerrin gave a presentation where he played the audience like an instrument. This kind of simple audience participation is amusing, entertaining, and above all else, it’s memorable. It’s 11 years later and this video still makes the rounds, with over 3.4 million views on TED’s website, over nine million on YouTube, and way more elsewhere with rehosts and copies added up.
Even simple audience participation, in a way that is productive, collaborative, and kind, can be an unforgettable experience. You just need to remember that you’re aiming your interactivity to the audience you’re reaching; Bobby’s presentation there wouldn’t have worked if the audience was largely deaf, mute, or blind, for example.
5. Work In Break Times
One of the biggest drawbacks of some of the largest events in the world is that there’s so much going on at all times that it’s impossible to attend everything you might want to attend. When the simple act of taking a bathroom break means missing out on key elements of a presentation, or might mean the difference between seeing a presentation or missing it, it becomes a negative experience for your attendees.
There are two possible solutions to this. The first is to loosen up your schedule. If you’re trying to decide between giving people a little more time in between presentations or cramming in one more speaker on the schedule each day, we would urge you to up the break times. Downtime is important to allow people to do everything from consolidating notes and thoughts for the reviews they’ll write, to them handling communications with their home bases, to them getting refreshments or taking bathroom breaks. This kind of relaxed schedule gives the audience members more time to consolidate the value they get from your presentations.
The other option is to pack your event full enough that the expectation to attend everything simply doesn’t exist. By filling your event with so many speakers, seminars, and other gatherings that it’s impossible to attend them all, visitors are forced to prioritize what they really want to see and will be encouraged to come back in the future to see what they missed. This also allows you to stagger out your schedule to put less strain on bathrooms, refreshments, and public spaces, which can be a benefit to larger events.
6. Provide Snacks and Refreshments
If your event is an all-day or all-week thing, you need to provide refreshment options to your attendees. The larger the event, the more you need to provide. Small events might be able to get away with a communal table of pastries, beverages, and snacks, but larger events will want full catering, if not on-sight restaurants, food trucks, and other options for guests.
Another way that knowing your audience comes into play here is in the selection you offer. If you’re primarily attracting corporate guests from Texas, you might not want to focus heavily on Lebanese cuisine. If you’re attracting CEOs and the ultra-rich, you want something better than local food trucks. Provide a range of options that suit various tastes, fit dietary restrictions like vegans and gluten allergies, and whatever else you think might be relevant.
Our top tip? Provide free water, and not just from the event hall’s drinking fountains. One of the things that turn us off from events the most is when it’s difficult to get a drink, and the only water for a mile around is $3 for a bottle of the cheapest commercial water you can find. Sure, you might undercut soda sales, but people will appreciate it. Whether you eat the cost of bottled water or you hire a company with a more robust solution like this one is up to you.
7. Provide Entertainment
One of the biggest stereotypes of corporate events is that those events are basically business meetings writ large. Middle managers giving statistic-filled presentations, PowerPoint slideshows with interminable clip art and bar graphs, dry delivery with no soul; it’s the worst kind of presentation you can give.
Even if some of your speakers are talking more on statistics than on entertainment, you can still provide some level of entertainment for your audience. It might be within the presentations, but it might be in the surrounding trappings of the event as well.
A few options include:
- Providing magicians to handle some simple and distracting entertainment between speakers or events.
- Offering carnival games that can distract, encourage some level of physicality out of an audience that has been spending time sitting in auditoriums, and add an element of the bizarre to the proceedings.
- Setting up inflatables, not necessarily for the attendees, but for family members or children that may be in attendance out of necessity.
This is, again, part of knowing your audience. If the average attendee for your corporate event is a 60-year-old manager for a corporate chain, setting up an inflatable slide might not be a good idea. If most of your attendees are younger, more active, or part of the agile startup culture that puts slides in their offices and provides arcade games and pinball to their employees, the more physical games can be a hit.
8. Give Attendees Tangible Memories
There’s a persistent joke about the “swag bag” events give out, and what kinds of stuff you give to the people who show up to your events. This is another major area where knowing your audience is important. Give people items that they’re more likely than not to actually use, and brand them with your event to make sure those memories stay attached. If you can figure out a way to customize them to your event, all the better.
One of our favorite recommendations here is to utilize the Fear of Missing Out, or FOMO, to encourage attendance. Include something in your “you get this for showing up” event bag that can be customized at each speaker, seminar, or event that the attendees visit. It’s a way to gamify and encourage attendance to every aspect of the event, to fill out something like a bingo card for a raffle prize, or customize an item to show off event completion.
9. Encourage Networking and Connections
One of the biggest reasons people attend corporate events isn’t even your speakers or the information you’re presenting, it’s the opportunity to meet and network with other people who attend.
Encourage ways for your attendees to do this.
- At the start of a presentation, encourage audience members to exchange cards and introductions with the people sitting next to them.
- Run event-based hashtag attendees can use to converse among themselves on Twitter.
- Create sign-up stations where attendees can subscribe to a mailing list you later use to help them network with one another.
The more benefit you can give attendees, the better off they’ll be, the more value they’ll get out of the event, and the more memorable it will be for them.
10. Reward Participation and Attention
In grade school, teachers could reward their class for their attention with a Jolly Rancher to those who answer questions correctly. In a corporate event, the same kind of reward can be given to attendees, whether it’s a unique piece of swag for audience participation or just a voucher for something from the café. Reward people for attending and being present. It’s the best way to incentivize their attention.
Do you have any ideas to spice up corporate events or things that you’ve implemented that made it more memorable? Please let us know in the comments below!