Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

September 01 2014

User-Experience Design and Your Meetings

By Dave Lutz, CMP

User Experience Design (UXD) is expanding beyond tech circles, as more companies embrace these principles to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty. How might this apply to face-to-face events?


Improving attendee experiences is a top priority, but many are tackling it backwards. They’re approaching it from the inside out, with the experience as an afterthought. Typically, a conference continuous improvement map looks something like this: Systems & Resources > Procedures > Touchpoints > Interactions > Experiences.

UXD experts suggest you flip this order and start with Experiences first. Then work your way backward, dealing with Systems & Resources last. One caveat: It’s not about the attendee experiences you desire. The attendee perspective and perception must be the primary focus.

Effective UXD is built on customer empathy. In the conference journey, attendees move through a series of emotions. There are highs (best moments), lows (worst moments), and plenty of feelings that fall between the two extremes. Research shows that attendees remember the peak experiences (best and worst) most of all.

While most conference planners are focused on making the best moments better, what about those worst moments? Even participants at wildly successful conferences encounter a few, including travel challenges, standing in long lines, keeping devices charged, accessing reliable Wi-Fi, and hunger, exhaustion, and uncertainty as they navigate new terrain. While it’s impossible to remove every attendee worst moment, there are smart ways to smooth things over and to ease their pain.

Here are three things to keep in mind before and during the event:

1. Reduce Complexity

Attendees appreciate fast and easy, yet many conferences are rife with complexity. You need to remove the hurdles. Do you have too many required fields in the registration process? Is your schedule-at-a-glance riddled with committee-meeting listings? Are concurrent sessions organized by track so attendees can easily move from room to room? Does your mobile app allow quick access to what’s on now and what’s coming up next?

2. Make It Timely

Often, there’s a soup-to-nuts list of links and resources in the app and on the event microsite. But attendees are on the run with little patience or time to sort through the clutter. You can help them by teeing up timely assistance in small bites that align with where they are on their conference journey. On Day 1, it’s about welcoming and helping them get acclimated. On Day 2, the priority might be optimizing learning and networking experiences. On Day 3, you might provide tips on how they can apply their learning back in the workplace.

3. Respond Quickly

There will always be last-minute snags: a quick room change, a weather issue, or a long line suddenly forming at one of the buffet tables. Deploy staff and volunteers who can keep their eyes peeled for these trouble spots and can provide ideas for improving the situation.

Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.

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