I’ve had the pleasure of producing numerous events in the tech industry over the past six years, including single-day events, multi-day conferences, tours across the U.S., an award show, lounges and launch parties. One of the things I’ve enjoyed throughout the years is how events bring people together for an experience unable to be achieved online.
The reason companies invest time and money into hosting events range from brand recognition, to user acquisition, to building a community, to making a major announcement. Usually, the ultimate goal is to reach as many people as possible. We’ve been taught ‘bigger is better,’ which can be true in some cases, but I think there are some new trends in events.
Biggest Bang For Your Buck
I remember conversations a few years ago with a company who wanted to do an activation in conjunction with a large conference. They were willing to pay a good amount of money for a high-level sponsorship because of the number of people they would reach through their logo on signage, website and swag bag insert given to every attendee. While the sponsorship seemed valuable, it didn’t offer an opportunity to actually connect with the attendees; it was mostly brand recognition. I suggested a more intimate experience with handpicked attendees, who the client could connect with in order to build a relationship, for about half the price. The new proposed opportunity was smaller in size than the overall conference attendance numbers and would take a bit longer to cultivate the relationships in the long run. Which opportunity do you think they picked? They went with the bigger sponsorship and had very little ROI on it.
Last year, Alfresco came to us to produce an event around their Dreamforce involvement. After asking a few questions and using our knowledge around mega-events like Dreamforce, we decided to host a 40-person, invite-only three-course dinner and drinks. It was held in a suite at Hotel Vitale overlooking the San Francisco Ferry Building. It was just outside the area where Dreamforce was being held, which allowed attendees to escape the busy blocks surrounding Moscone Center. It was risky having the private dinner compete with numerous parties that evening, but we heard from multiple guests that they really enjoyed being able to get away, sit down, have an amazing dinner where they can actually have a conversation with others. How nice not to have to yell across a loud bar or major music act just to chat.
Now let me take a step back before I get too far. I’m not saying all successful events have to be small and intimate. Some of our most successful events have been large conferences. So how does the ‘small is the new big’ trend fit into large events? The answer: very strategically! When we start designing an event experience, we consider things from the attendees’ perspective. Why will attendees come to your event? Usually, people at your event want to meet other people for a variety of reasons. It’s very easy to add elements into your event that allows for this interaction.
Helping People Connect
One of my favorite icebreakers at an event is to give people an opportunity to add icon stickers to their nametags indicating who they are, what they’re looking for or what they’re interested in. For instance, when handed a sheet of stickers, which one from each group would you put on your nametag: iPhone/Android/Blackberry, Developer/Designer/Marketing, beer/wine/water, or depending on the event, boxers/briefs/panties? It’s an instant way to make a big event smaller by allowing people to see what they have in common at first glance.
Other ways to make big events smaller is to arrange for table topics during meals allowing people to group together for conversations, offer breakout sessions specific to different groups represented by your attendees, or assist in organizing evening meetups by region or other special interest. Any way you can help people meet others is always appreciated! By connecting people, you’re making your large event, no matter what the number is, smaller and more beneficial to those attending.
I’ve found huge value in offering a way for attendees to ‘meet’ each other before the actual conference event takes place. Our preference is to utilize a private social network option where attendees are invited once they register. We did this for the Mashable Connect conference at Walt Disney World the first year, and with very little assistance from our team, people started to self organize for drinks the night before the conference kicked off and groups coming in early or staying late were meeting up to hit the park together. It was amazing to see the connections evolve in the private network. People also had the option to message each other to schedule meetings and could easily connect AFTER the event if someone lost an attendee’s contact information.
It doesn’t matter how big or how small your event is, people will attend your event to connect with other people. That will never change. An effective event producer will be able to enhance the experience, no matter what the size, to allow for those connections to happen. It’s overwhelming to walk into an event of hundreds of people and have no clue where to start. What will you do at your events to help people connect in small and big ways? Share your ideas in the comments or email us.
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