As an event organizer, interactions between attendees, exhibitors, and speakers are one of the goals behind hosting events. It’s the whole point behind matchmaking—fostering genuine relationships between the like-minded people who join your events. And the more interactions you facilitate, the more you’re able to establish your image as a reliable event planner.
But while you’d generally want all your attendees to leave your event having had a wonderful experience after meeting wonderful people, as you probably know, expectations do not meet reality all the time. The key then, is to create as many opportunities for your attendees, exhibitors, and other participants to connect with one another. Fortunately, there are techniques you can use to improve guest engagement, 5 of which have been outlined below.
1. Build Hype Before the Event
Marketing your event needs to happen weeks before the actual event. Building anticipation—especially online—not only raises awareness of your event in advance, it also allows you to conduct market research and identify what your target audience expects from events like yours. More importantly, building buzz early on can be critical for identifying potential matches between interested parties, which you can help mature into full interactions at your event. This brings us to our next point.
2. Host a Pre- or Post-event Gathering
For example, you can have a kickoff event a week or two ahead of the big day, which can also serve as a registration point for the main event. This smaller and more casual gathering allows your attendees and exhibitors to warm up to one another, helping set the tone for your actual event.
Conversely, there may be instances when guests fail to fully establish connections with other attendees or exhibitors they’re interested in. Post-event gatherings help give them one more chance to do so.
3. Establish a Social Media Community
From once being a left of center strategy, the use of social media has quickly become the norm among event marketing teams that are looking for innovative ways to reach out to an audience and build interest for an event.
In an interview with Exhibitor Magazine, Traci Browne, owner of Red Cedar Publicity and Marketing and author of "The Social Trade Show," notes that social media now makes it easier to identify champions for events.
“Simply saying you want 100 new Twitter followers isn't good enough. A better goal is to get 100 Twitter followers who are senior-level human-resource managers at Fortune 500 companies. Now you have a goal that is measurable, and you've defined your audience,” she said.
4. Create Small Groups of Potential Matches within Larger Groups
You can speed up the matchmaking process by breaking down your audience into smaller groups. Large groups of people are not only intimidating to many people, it also makes it harder for guests to be efficient with time and interact with people relevant to their needs.
By creating smaller discussion groups composed of guests with the same interests, background, or niche, you can help attendees and exhibitors overcome their initial anxiety that comes from being in a large social event.
Groups can be broken down by:
• Product/service type
• And age among others
5. Set Aside Spaces Specifically for Networking
Another way of facilitating matches is to designate areas of the event floor for networking purposes. While jam-packed events are always exciting, crowds can make it challenging for meaningful conversations to take place.
Keep this problem in mind when you think of where interactions should happen. For exhibitions, it can be as simple as having ample space for each exhibit with chairs or tables. For conferences, you can have a break room where attendees can mingle with speakers during downtime over coffee and snacks. The choice ultimately depends on the kind of event you’re hosting and how many people are involved.
In their desire to get people interacting at their events, many event planners forget one of the most basic reasons people join these activities: to simply have fun.
Events need to be enjoyable. If your guests are having fun, or identify your event as a potentially fun experience, they become more open to the idea of mixing and mingling with other people.
Creating opportunities for interaction is directly linked to the success of your matchmaking efforts, so be sure to apply strategies that help spark conversations and remove any of the initial awkwardness so common in formal events. Good luck!
Written by Tabitha Naylor
Is your event reaching the desired attendance numbers? Your event isn’t going to market itself; it’s up to you to take advantage of the available resources to promote and hype your event. By available resources, this means social media, email newsletters, and even offline methods. Check this event marketing guide to learn about spreading the word using current trends and tools recommended by industry veterans.