Want to know how your meeting looks to your attendees? Put yourself in their shoes and secret shop your own event.
Post-show surveys from attendees are a great way to collect feedback after your event, but secret shopping your own meeting can reveal the good, the bad, and the ugly. This approach can help you right the ship to improve the attendee experience.
To secret shop your event, take off your meeting planner hat and forget about all of the financial, political, and logistical elements that drove your thinking for this meeting. Put on your hat as an attendee; someone who has spent his or her money to attend your meeting. Looking through the eyes of an attendee, evaluate these key areas: exhibit hall, education, networking, navigation, and overall impression.
Observe the Exhibit Hall
- Is the exhibit hall laid out in an inviting way that encourages attendees to move easily throughout? Is the navigation and signage helpful, visible, and informative?
- Are there educational or interactive events that draw you into the exhibit hall? Are they well publicized?
- What is the booth experience like? Are you ignored or swarmed?
- Can you easily find new products? Are they relevant and truly new?
The exhibit hall speaks volumes about your event. It should convey energy. Attendees should feel welcomed and engaged. They can wander, but they should not look lost. The booth staff should not be checking their phones or avoiding eye contact. But they also shouldn’t be in the aisles pressuring attendees to stop. If you’ve planned events in the exhibit hall, stop by to measure attendance and gauge interest.
Grade the Education
- Are speakers delivering the latest and greatest? Are they presenting big news and unveiling scientific breakthroughs?
- Are they good speakers?
- Do the session topics and titles convey importance and provide valuable information for every segment/job function of your audience?
- Which sessions are packed? Which sessions seem deserted?
- Does your meeting include a daily paper that captures news about sessions attendees might miss?
Education can make or break your event. Consider your audience. Sessions should appeal to first-time and veteran attendees alike. Information should include key takeaways to apply when attendees return to work. Check body language of the audience. Are they leaning forward and engaged or staring off into space and checking their phones?
Take Note of Networking
- Are there special events/efforts to connect first-time and veteran attendees?
- Do your networking receptions look like a middle-school dance with people standing off to the sides, or are people mingling and engaging?
- Are there opportunities for fun where networking can happen organically?
Your event should offer a mix of structured networking and fun events that promote a shared experience and encourage “community.” It’s also a good idea to have small gathering areas such as lounges and charging stations located throughout your venue that encourage socializing and spontaneous introductions.
Measure Navigational Know-How
- Are things well marked and easy to find? Are there navigation tools such as exhibit guides that include maps, programs, and information to complement the mobile app?
- From the attendee’s perspective, have events and meetings been co-located in a cogent manner?
- Are attendee services intelligently placed such as registration, shuttle bus pickup, coat and luggage checks, and rooms for nursing mothers?
Don’t “lose” a single attendee at your event. Make sure there are navigational tools that appeal to the techie (mobile app) as well as the traditionalist (exhibit guides and maps). How easy is it to find your session, food, and even the closest restroom? Navigation should be effortless.
- Would I return to this event next year?
This is a critical question. The information you gather while secret shopping should ultimately answer it. Some information may come incidentally. Listen to what attendees are saying to each other. Great opportunities for this are before sessions start, in common areas, or on the shuttle bus. This unprompted information can be the best barometer for what’s working and what’s not. Also, keep a close eye on social networking. Social media highlights the best and worst of your event.
Seeing your event through the eyes of an attendee can be revealing. Take the good and the bad and use it to improve the attendee experience next year.
Ascend Integrated Media is a Gold Award recipient of the American Media & Publishing organization’s Newspapers, General Excellence Award.