How one organization created buzz and the drive to attend by matching the destination and networking events to their attendees’ unique personalities.
Event planners are tasked with more than securing meeting rooms and hotel blocks. Increasingly, the most important aspect of the work is to create memorable experiences that lead to attendee satisfaction and repeat attendance. People frequently decide whether or not to go to a meeting based on the destination and the opportunity for meaningful networking, according to a recent report from The Experience Institute. Linking both can set the tone for the rest of the meeting. Event planners can take advantage of the destination’s identity to make attendees feel right at home and get them ready to absorb the meeting’s educational content.
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is an example of an organization that purposefully selects its annual conference destination to match its attendees’ sense of identity to create memorable experiences. The ultimate goal is to encourage attendees to meet, network and establish connections they can return to throughout the year, explains Angela Christophe, producer for the National Charter Schools Conference, which normally has about 4,500 attendees.
“Our attendees are educators and leaders in charter schools. They work so hard, but because they’re not part of a district, they often work in isolation. We want to create an engaging, memorable experience that energizes them and gets them excited to be brought together.”
For its 2018 annual conference, the organization selected Austin, Texas and hosted a block party for 1,800 attendees on the city’s historic Rainey Street. The event began with a party at the Austin Convention Center, featuring a live band, local food vendors and an ice breaking activity where attendees decorated their own cowboy hats. “It’s so much easier to network when you’re doing a relaxed, maybe even silly, activity,” Christophe says. “It sets the tone for outside-the-box thinking throughout the conference.”
Attendees then made their way to Rainey Street, just three blocks over, for a bar crawl where they had live music, DJs, line dancing and BBQ. The opening reception lasted about two hours, but attendees were encouraged to stay on Rainey Street to continue enjoying themselves and connecting with the city.
The conference’s opening reception is a critical networking opportunity and a large part of how the organization measures the success of its overall conference—if attendees had a memorable experience, they provide positive feedback and register for the next year’s meeting.
“Fun and engagement are the top priorities,” Christophe says. “We want to create FOMO—fear of missing out. We want the attendees to wonder and be excited about what they’ll see next year.”
Research on attendee engagement concurs. More than 60 percent of people who attend meetings say networking is “very important” and the availability of opportunities to do that may impact their decision to attend, according to The Experience Institute report. If attendees like their experience, nearly 90 percent report they are likely to return and to recommend the meeting to colleagues.
Event planners seeking those results should think very carefully of their meeting, the brand and the needs and wants of attendees. “We always look for authentic locations,” Christophe says. “You don’t want to feel like you’re in just any city.”