Apply Psychology to Meet Attendee Needs

A new white paper says that meeting planners and marketers can apply Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to engage attendees on a deeper level. Step one is ensuring their basic needs are being met.

You probably would never guess that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and an attendee’s meeting experience are related. But, guess what? They are, according to a new white paper from brand experience agency Freeman XP.

In “Maximizing Attendee Engagement and Value by Design: An Experience Design Framework Based on Want and Need,” Niru Desai, Freeman XP’s vice president of strategy and planning, international, says attendees expect their experiences at meetings to be more powerful, thought-provoking, and engaging than ever before.

As a result, meeting planners and marketers are always asking this question: How can we keep attendees engaged both physically and mentally?

To help find the answer, Desai suggests turning to Maslow’s five levels to human needs.

Who’s This Maslow Guy Again?

Before we apply Maslow’s theory to events, let’s refresh on his Hierarchy of Needs.


The most well-known version includes five motivational needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid (shown above).

This five-stage model can be divided into basic needs (physiological, safety, love, and esteem) and growth needs (self-actualization). A person must satisfy lower-level basic needs before progressing on to meet higher-level growth needs. In other words, people must fulfill their most basic needs (e.g., food, water, and shelter) before they can be open to higher thinking and reach the highest level, called self-actualization.

How Does It Apply to Meetings?

In the white paper, Desai makes the case that there are several parallels to the world of brand experience and event engagement in Maslow’s theory.

“As marketers, we must ensure the basic needs of our attendees are met before we try to engage them with deeper experiences,” she wrote. “Through experience triggers that are both emotive (i.e., speak to the heart) and rational (i.e., speak to the head), we can successfully apply relevant insights to deliver solutions and experiences based on true need, not assumption.”

Taking cues from Maslow’s pyramid, Desai and Freeman XP offer up their own version based on five attendee need levels.


The first level—guidance—involves attendees knowing where to go and how to get there. “They must be guided before, during, and after an event,” she wrote. “Do so and they become more confident, assured, and opening to deepening their engagement.”

Among the list of suggestions to help achieve this: Self-navigation tools via mobile apps, onsite face-to-face support to answer questions and direct traffic, digital signage, and social media monitoring.

Once attendees feel comfortable in their surroundings, they can move to the second level—value. In this case, value means giving attendees a relevant experience. “Oftentimes, attendees find value through the level of access you provide to experts and their unique insights and knowledge,” she wrote. “But there should be more.”

The white paper suggests packaging sessions to mirror the way attendees consume content on daily basis, possibly by using bite-sized presentation formats, making them highly visual (or “Instagram-worthy”), and integrating social media platforms to encourage participation.

Third on the pyramid is connections. Maslow says that everyone needs to connect on a personal level, and that’s exactly what attendees strive for. They want share experiences with other attendees, interact and learn with them, and become a part of the community.

“With the introduction of emotive triggers that connect to their hearts, we have reached the make-or-break moment in the Hierarchy of Attendee Needs,” Desai wrote. “It’s time to make the experience stick. For good.”

To maximize these connections, networking opportunities must be abundant and go beyond the traditional big party setting or happy hour. And once your attendees know where they’re going, know they’re getting something out of attending, and know fellow attendees, they move up to the next level: achievement.

At this point, attendees begin to open their hearts to deeper experiences. “They are in the perfect mindset to interact with both your brand and each other in ways that will make important and lasting impressions,” she wrote.

To accomplish this, the white paper suggests providing them a place to contribute after the event ends. That may include asking them to help develop the content or experience for next year’s meeting.

Now we’ve come to the highest level: growth. At this point, attendees will take the knowledge they gained at your event and use it in both their professional and personal lives. To encourage this, planners and marketers should provide tools to help them use and share the meeting’s content.

“Helping your attendees will drive the long-term success of the event itself and its growth potential in years to come,” Desai wrote. “If this is executed well, expect a high percentage of return attendees as well as repeat and increased sponsor participation and press coverage.”

How does the Hierarchy of Attendee Needs match up with what you strive to achieve at your meetings? Please share in the comments.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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