Grabbing audience attention, gaining their interest through interaction, convincing them to return to the conference next year, arousing their desires by giving them the information they crave, and leaving them with a valuable takeaway - these are the five key factors to effectively engage attendees, according to Michael Floyd, regional vice president for PSAV Presentation Services.
“Start with the actual attendee,” said Floyd, who is interviewed for “Audience Engagement,” the latest video in The Intersection Series: Where Technology Meets Inspiration, presented by PCMA and PSAV. “You want to reach out to the base that has previously attended the conference, or who have pre-registered for the conference, to understand what they want.” By dividing pre- and post-conference surveys into demographics based on age, experience, and occupation, planners can provide a more tailored experience for individual attendees, ensuring that they’ll walk away satisfied and eager to return. “You start with the end in mind,” Floyd said.
To create that sort of tailored experience, the Society of Hospital Medicine (SHM) makes a list of its top 40 ideas for each conference, then chooses five topics for each specific demographic that it believes will draw people in. The five ideas used to hook pediatric hospitalists, for example, may not be the same for another group of attendees. “While a lot of it is survey-based,” said Michelle Kann, SHM’s senior manager of meetings, “we look at topics being discussed on Twitter and HMX [Hospital Medicine Exchange], which is our online community.”
SHM’s surveys also include broad questions concerning what tablets and smartphones attendees will bring. “It’s so that we can get a feel for what type of technology will be on site,” Kann said, “so we can match that technology with what we’re trying to do.”
At its Hospital Medicine 2013 conference, held May 16-19 at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Maryland, SHM received more than 2 million impressions on Twitter - a record-breaking number. On-site staff members constantly monitored crowd energy, conversations happening on Hospital Medicine’s mobile app, and its Twitter feeds, Kann said, “to make sure we’re getting a pulse of what attendees are liking, and what they’re not liking.”
Floyd says that one of the best ways to determine whether you’ve touched on all five elements of audience engagement is by the number of people who pre-register for the next year’s conference immediately following the event. Kann agrees. “My goal as the meeting planner,” she said, “is to really make the attendees want to be there, be engaged while they’re there, and because they were so engaged, they want to register that year for the next year.”
And while statistics are important, planners can always go with their gut. “It’s kind of a feeling, too,” Kann said. “When you come back from the meeting, you can tell whether it was a successful meeting and the attendees liked it, or whether you need a major improvement. It’s a gut feeling, from being there and being in the excitement.”