Engagement is one of those nebulous terms like Passion. Everyone wants it but can’t agree on what it really is. Just like passion, you can feel engagement if it’s there and you know when it’s not.
Engagement is a relationship about a specific thing for a specific time. It’s involvement, commitment and personalization.
The secret to building engagement is that you can’t assume anything. Event participants are people and they change. The key is to determine what they need, expect, and value. Then, do everything you can to create event experiences that align with those expectations. It really doesn’t matter if it’s their first conference or their 20th - the strategy is the same. People are engaged “about” something or “in” something that interests them at a particular point in time.
How to Engage People
You probably receive mail at your house addressed to Occupant? You can’t get excited about a message sent to just anyone and everyone. You like to see your name on the letter – something that recognizes you. So, make sure the event has a big, bold purpose that’s relevant to every attendee. They must be able to see themselves in the event. Make it specific and highlight the value. “Same as last year” isn’t very engaging.
To build engagement you need to:
- Encourage it
- Empower it
- Motivate it
Take a look at the agenda and the sessions. If your event is crammed with wall-to-wall sessions, speakers, data, details and PowerPoint slides – then there’s not much time for engagement. If you want people to get engaged then give them valid reasons to talk, interact and participate that are relevant to them.
The truth is, no planner, organizer, sponsor, or producer can create one second of engagement. Engagement comes from your participants. You empower it by asking them how they want to be engaged. What is the most effective way to communicate with them? Then structure the event that way.
Great content motivates engagement. Give every attendee personal experiences and relevant content that they can use immediately. Here’s how you motivate them.
- Clearly define the audience groups and make sure attendees understand how they fit in.
- Involve people in activities, discussions or some type of interaction so they can relate to the subject on a personal level.
- Give them a sense of purpose, control and value.
- Put them in the middle of the relationship as a participant and not a spectator.
- Make the event emotional and personal.
Ready to Engage
Your goal is for your attendees to want to know, understand and discover more – together.
You can plan for engagement just as you plan any other aspect of your events. Look for ways to get your audiences involved with the content and with people who share common interests. Then, you can develop conferences, conventions and events that people will enjoy and want to attend. Hey, they might even get passionate about them!
Richard Anderson is the Vice President of Marketing & Strategy at Shepard Exposition Services.