September 4, 2019

How to Meet the Needs & Expectations of Attendees Before Your Event

How to Meet the Needs & Expectations of Attendees Before Your Event

When it comes to spending money and time on professional development and networking, members and others in your audience have many choices. You have to provide an event attendee experience like no other so they keep returning and sharing their enthusiasm.

The attendee experience starts before they arrive on site. It may begin with one of your marketing emails or a visit to your website or member portal. As you develop a strategy for these digital interactions, you must answer this question: What do prospective attendees expect and need from your association before the big event? It would be nice if you could get into their heads to find the answer, but the next best thing is talking to past attendees.

Find out about their education and networking goals, and learn about their questions, pain points, needs, and expectations at each stage of their attendee journey—before, during, and after the event. The more you understand, the better you can design an attendee experience that meets their needs and exceeds their expectations.

Connect Your Event With the Attendee’s Goals

Before we discuss the attendee’s goals, let’s remember your pre-event goals: introduce the event to the prospect and convince them to register. To achieve these goals, you have a selection of proven resources and tools:

  • Prospect, attendee, and member data in your association management software (AMS)
  • Email marketing platform
  • Website or member portal
  • Word-of-mouth marketing assets, for example, photos, videos, and testimonials from past attendees

Before making the decision to invest their time and money, prospective attendees learn as much as they can about the event on your website or member portal. Your marketing copy must answer the WIIFM question—what’s in it for me (the attendee). You also have to answer any other questions and address any obstacles standing in the way of the “register” decision. Answer the questions they’re thinking about, and the questions they hadn’t thought of but are glad you answered.

You must also describe the value or impact the event will make on their work, job, career, business, and/or life. Focus on the benefits of interest to the prospect, not just the features of the event. You won’t be able to make this distinction unless you understand their goals, needs, and challenges.

Don’t email the same marketing messages to everyone. Different segments of your audience have different needs and interests. Segment your list for targeted communications. A CEO’s reasons for going to your event are likely different than a mid-level director or young professional’s reasons. Exhibitors have different goals than practicing professionals. A first-time attendee has different needs than a longtime attendee.

Keep in mind, you may have to convince two people, first, the prospective attendee, then, their boss. Provide a sample letter or talking points that a prospective attendee can use to make a case for attending your event.

Take Care of All the Details

Attendees expect the event organizer to deliver a flawless event experience. Frankly, they expect perfection—no loose ends or hiccups because everything goes as planned. They seek justification that spending their time and money with you is a wise investment of resources.

On your end, these high expectations mean you must have all event details hammered out. Plus, you have to provide all the information needed by your prospective attendees and by your other key stakeholders—exhibitors/sponsors and speakers.

Technology makes the seemingly impossible possible. Everything starts in your AMS when you create an event—or save time by duplicating a previous event. The processes you manage in your event management solution keep your team on task but also give attendees, exhibitors, sponsors, and speakers the information they need to prepare for the event, for example:

  • Event agenda with session titles, descriptions, speakers, and times.
  • Room logistics for A/V and room set (table/seating).
  • Exhibitor and sponsor management with booth types, categories, priorities, assignments, pricing, and contacts for billing, administrative needs and staffing.
  • Speaker and abstract management for session proposal submission, judging, and selection, as well as room assignments and scheduling.
  • Registration details including pricing (member/non-member, early bird, VIP, exhibitor, and sponsor), promo codes for volunteers and speakers, and deadlines.

Move Attendees Quickly Through Registration

You’ve done it! After reviewing your event information, the prospect made the decision to register. As long you meet their expectations during the registration process, success is only a few clicks away.

What does the prospect expect at this point? Speed and clarity. If you frustrate or confuse them, you may lose them. Keep the registration form as simple as possible. Only ask for data that you plan to use before or during the event.

Think about the person’s needs during registration. Are they only registering themselves? Or, do they need to register their boss or a group of colleagues? Make sure they can do either easily.

If they’re purchasing tickets to a dinner, let them easily take care of the details right there. For example, avoid last-minute chaos by allowing individuals with organizational login rights to purchase tables and assign people to those seats.

Prepare Attendees for the Event

Set your event apart from others by helping attendees get prepared and ready. They want to be in the know, not clueless and confused, especially when it’s their first event, but even when it’s their sixth.

Send out pre-event emails to educate and excite them—maybe they’ll share their enthusiasm with others. Publish this same information on your website or member portal since some people rarely open your emails. Whether it’s a month ahead of time or during their flight to the host city, attendees want to make decisions about sessions, see who else is going, and plan their agenda by setting up meetings with exhibitors and dinners with other attendees.

Segment these informational emails so they’re relevant to the target audience, for example:

  • First-time attendees
  • Attendees returning after a long absence
  • Executives
  • Young professionals
  • Certification applicants and holders
  • International travelers
  • Exhibitors

Ensure attendees feel “at home” right away by demystifying the event experience. Sure, the veterans can find their way around, but first-timers (and even some event alums) may wonder who can visit the lounges or go to the exhibitor parties they keep hearing about. Attendees also appreciate learning about your event’s code of conduct, if you have one.

Share advice on your blog, member portal, or event site about getting the most out of the event, for example:

  • Guidance for preparing themselves or their team for the conference
  • Networking tips for introverts
  • Advice from longtime conference goers
  • Conference wellness tips
  • Ideas for exploring the city before the event—extra nights help your room block too
  • Action plan for sharing ideas with co-workers and putting great ideas into action

Exhibitors could benefit from:

  • Learning how to network for relationships, not business cards
  • Tips for emailing attendees before the event, if you provide a list
  • Advice for following up with leads

Let’s Talk About Your Association’s Needs Too

You can’t provide the ultimate event experience unless you have the tools you need to do your job well—and show your boss how well you’re doing that job. An event dashboard can be helpful to track registration revenue, as well as sponsorship and exhibit revenue. You can compare this year’s numbers to past years so you can tell whether you’re on track to meet goals—and if not, have time to adjust your marketing tactics.

It’s even better when you can share responsibilities and data with teammates and colleagues across the organization. An AMS that allows different access and permission levels makes it possible for staff to handle what they need to do. For example, staff from the executive, governance, or sponsorship teams can see which of their VIPs are attending—instead of asking you every other day.

The number of details you have to manage in the months leading up to an event is hard for anyone to comprehend—unless they’ve been in your shoes as an event planner. But it’s all these details that add up to an engaging and rewarding experience for your attendees. Learn how MemberSuite’s event marketing and engagement solutions can help you meet the needs and expectations of your attendees—and make your endless to-do list more manageable.