Like most event organizers, you’re always concerned that your attendees won’t be engaged. You can plan a thoughtful, comfortable, professional event, but none of that guarantees your guests will have a memorable experience. If you want your guests to eagerly look forward to coming to your next event, it’s smart to create a bit of fun, excitement, and energy.
Actually, it’s quite easy to make your event fun. You could stock the venue with carnival games, waterslides, and rock music, but that isn’t the environment you want to foster.
The challenge is balancing fun with professionalism. Your guests attend to learn new ideas, meet interesting people, and socialize with other professionals. Laughing and a bit of silliness are nice additions, but it’s important to create an air of decorum.
If your attendees are sent to your event by their company, this balance is even more critical. Employers want to send their teams to learn and grow, not party.
Stop with the “networking”
To a lot of people, networking sounds like work. They aren’t making friends, enjoying themselves, or learning something new. They’re doing work on non-work time so they can get better at work or do more work. Not so thrilling, right?
You don’t have to force networking. If you brought like-minded people to the same location, they are bound to network organically. Skip the meet-and-greets where people awkwardly introduce themselves to strangers. Schedule mini-events, panels, discussions, trainings, or workshops that add value to the attendees’ careers.
Networking also adds formality to your events, which turns some people off. Many professionals think of work-related events as vacations. They expect to learn and advance their careers and jobs, but it’s not quite work. That’s true whether the attendees know everyone (like a corporate event) or they’re all strangers.
Create some interactivity
Your events should be more than lecture after lecture. PowerPoint presentations are often boring. According to the University of British Columbia, people learn better when they’re taught using an interactive, immersive model. If you want your attendees to have fun, you have to engage their brains (and maybe their bodies).
For instance, instead of lauding the benefits of a new medical machine, can you bring the machine right to the audience? Can they spend time pushing its buttons, taking mock procedures, and, just maybe, opening up its guts?
Software developers and programmers use hacking events to spice things up. Attendees compete to break into a system or gain access to certain information. It’s all in good fun, and it stimulates conversation and excitement while remaining professional.
When we built Superevent, we recognized that event coordinators needed a way to get feedback and information from the attendees. We created Q&A and Polling features to help guests interact with and influence the event.
You can’t go wrong with food
Most events offer food of some kind or at least a way to get fed so you don’t leave early. But food is an excellent way to bring people together and create engagement.
Don’t settle for a cheap boxed lunch or something generic like pizza. Have your event professionally catered. Don’t try to squeeze out a little more margin by offering cheap food.
Consider food a part of your event just like one of your presenters. It should be quality and enticing, even if it raises the cost of the ticket (people will pay for good food).
Two words: open bar
A bar is an important addition to any event where attendees are given time to mingle and socialize. Alcohol opens people up at events the same way it does at parties. It makes conversation easier and smooths social anxiety.
A bar gives your attendees something to do when they enter a room full of strangers so they don’t feel lost. When they get to the bar, they’ll have a small group of people to talk to (which is why it’s wise to staff just as many bartenders as you need to keep up – a short line is good). They’ll also have something to hold and drink while they scope and walk the room.
Are some people going to abuse your bar? Yep. It will happen, and you should be prepared to respond. But the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
Experiment with interesting locations
Sometimes you can breathe fun into an event just by giving your guests something unexpected or different. After your event, you want to give them a reason to say “Well that was interesting.” Here are some quick ideas you can implement at pretty much any venue.
- A roundtable discussion on the building’s roof.
- A walking conversation (with topics and agenda prepared).
- A meetup at a nearby bar for specialists (“Ophthalmologists’ Happy Hour”).
If you’re ambitious and hosting an event that expects attendees from all over the country (or all over the world), try an exotic location. If most people have to fly to your event anyway, it may as well be somewhere interesting. This is even easier if your attendees’ tickets are typically paid by their employers because they’ll push for it.
For example, SQL Cruise is a technical training conference hosted on a cruise ship every year for database professionals. They don’t fill the entire boat, but they don’t have to. By making an arrangement with the cruise line, they can offer attendees better-than-retail rates. There’s lots of classroom training and discussion time, but there’s also free time to enjoy the setting.
You don’t have to go to that extreme, but hosting your event at a resort, national park, or anywhere that isn’t a run-of-the-mill hotel or convention center can make your attendees enjoy their experience.One of the challenges of organizing an event is balancing professionalism and fun. Click To Tweet
Create a smooth experience
Attendees want to have fun, but little inconveniences get in the way. It’s difficult to have fun when you’re racing around for an outlet to charge your phone before the next presentation. It’s challenging to enjoy yourself when you’re sitting on the floor because the lecture room filled up. It’s tough to have fun when the event ran out of food before you arrived.
If you want your attendees to have fun, make sure their experience is smooth and free of problems. Signage should be clear and instructive. Rooms should be marked clearly. Your staff or volunteers should be knowledgeable so they can dole out information. Provide plenty of literature (schedules, topics, maps, etc.). Everyone should be wearing badges (ideally with name, company name and Twitter handle), but especially your speakers/presenters.
Consider elements outside the venue walls as well. Is parking easy to understand and affordable? Do the attendees have adequate directions?
Most importantly, make attendees’ experience positive so they can have fun by delivering on your promises. If you said there would be a panel on new real estate law changes, it’s your job to provide that panel or any guests who came for that meeting will be too frustrated to have fun.
Don’t leave them hanging
If your event spans a full day or several days, make sure your guests always have something to do. A lengthy break will disconnect them from the experience.
Schedule mini-events wherever appropriate to keep people engaged and on topic. For example, you might plan a “Finance Team Pub Meetup” at a local bar after the day’s presenters have finished. A health-focused event might host a “Morning Yoga Class” before the day’s lectures.
If you expect a lot of people to attend your event, it’s also smart to schedule multiple panels, discussions or speakers at the same time. Let your guests choose what they attend. This makes sure no one is forced to endure a boring block while they wait for an interesting topic.
As we said, creating an event with a balance of fun and professionalism is challenging. If your event is too boring and unengaging, your attendees will drift off, leave early, and they won’t come back. If your event is too wild, you’ll erode its value.
Capture as much feedback as possible from your attendees during and after the event. Use surveys, comment cards, and directly ask people what they liked and didn’t, if they had fun, and what should be changed. With enough feedback and data, you’ll be able to supply just the right amount of fun.