Improving the Attendee Experience with the 5 Hows

To understand the true purpose of your event, continue to ask “why.” To create clear thinking space for your attendees, continue to ask “how.”

Many of us are familiar with the 5 Whys, a Six Sigma construct for getting to the root of a problem. The idea is that, in order to solve a problem or analyze a situation, you continue to ask “why” to go deeper and deeper until the true issue is revealed. This is also a great tool for understanding the true purpose of your event.

All events should have a purpose that is greater than just the “annual gathering of the so-and-so community.” In other words, why does your event exist? There should be a clear purpose that both furthers the goals of the organization and also advances the industry of the constituents.

One of the best ways for this message to resonate is to create clear thinking space for your attendees. How to do this? Human-centered design.

Human-centered design is when every action that someone needs to take is made clear and easy to understand, to the point where it becomes almost subconscious.

When someone doesn’t have to waste brain space thinking about where they will get lunch or how they get to the next meeting, it allows their mind to be more open and receptive to learning and insight.

An easy trick for great human-centered event design? Try the 5 Hows.

Anyone who’s spent time with a toddler will be familiar with the 5 Hows. You can’t just say, “let’s clean up after lunch.” You have to tell young children every step to do. Pick up your plate. Hold it flat. Do not give food to the dog. Bring your plate to the kitchen. No, the kitchen. Step on your stool. Put it in the sink. After doing this process once, though, you know how to better prepare directions and expectations in the future.

This same approach is helpful when you are trying to improve events by identifying gaps in your attendee experience. Just keep asking “How?” until you have reached the end of the process.

For example, review your registration process:

  • Attendees will register onsite. How?
  • They will pick up their badge at the registration desk. How?
  • They will come to the convention center on Saturday. How?
  • Well, the buses don’t start running until Sunday, so I guess they walk or take a Lyft. How will they know to do this?
  • Well, they will need directions and information. How will they get those?
  • We can send it in an email ahead of time and also have them get a letter at check-in.

By asking the 5 Hows, you have now identified a way to create a more human-centered experience. If your budget allows, you might even have a bus on Saturday or a satellite registration at the hotel. But if not, just setting expectations will help.

Taking the time to ask the 5 Hows also allows you to identify places where you can add elements to surprise and delight the audience.

Example: Breakout Sessions

  • People will choose a breakout session. How?
  • They will look in the app, pick one and go to it. How?
  • They will head there once the General Session ends. How?
  • They will walk there. How?
  • They will exit the General Session, and walk across the bridge to the other side of the convention center. How?

We’ve now identified that there is a long walk from the General Session to the breakouts. We probably knew this from the site, but now we’ve been reminded. We’ve identified a gap where some experience could be added.

We could let people just wander, or we could be intentional. We could create a playlist and have everyone listen on headphones. We could arrange for walk-and-talks, mini roving discussions. We could have a marching band come in and create an impromptu parade. There are a variety of ways to improve the experience.

You have the opportunity to design human-centered events for your attendees, and to better understand the true purpose of your events. So add the 5 Hows to your toolkit for experience design and see where it takes you!

Interested in more? Subscribe to“Otter Talk,”a bi-monthly newsletter that highlights trends, ideas, and actionable takeaways for your association events, written by an experienced member of the planning community who has lived the “planning life.”

Beth Surmont, the Director of Experience Design for 360 Live Media, has nearly 20 years of professional planning experience. A Certified Meeting Planner (CMP) since 2008 and Certified Association Executive (CAE) since 2016, Beth has worked in both the corporate and nonprofit sectors and has a wide range of knowledge, with experience in almost every aspect of meeting planning, from registration, to logistics, to program management and production.

(Handout photo)