If you're like us, you spend 10 months planning an event that lasts for two or three days. Those days are abuzz with frenzied activity, but before you know it, the event is over and your attendees are gone. How do you keep the buzz going? Here are a few things we do to keep our attendees engaged all year long.
Send a Thank-You Note
Once an event is over, the communication for next year’s event is already starting. How? Mostly through email, though sometimes with written notes for smaller events, we thank the delegates for attending, remind them of the dates for next year and let them know a survey will be on its way to them shortly.
We let our attendees know that we love feedback, even the negative stuff. Yes, we want to know the good, the bad and the ugly. If you don’t ask the customer, how will you know how successful the event really was? We like to send out surveys a couple weeks after an event, and we let attendees know their answers are anonymous so that they feel freer to “tell it like it is.” Our surveys ask about food/beverage, venue, speaker quality and session content. We also provide space for open-ended comments. Be warned: You may get more bad comments than good ones. We have found that unhappy attendees are usually the most vocal. For us, any comment is valuable, so we pay attention and address the issues that come up wherever we can.
Tell a Success Story
We’re big on sharing the success of an event, so we make it a point to tell our attendees that by coming to our events they are doing good things. For example, our annual Americas Lodging Investment Summit contributes a large portion of its proceeds to scholarships, research and educational programs for hospitality students. Through our Hotel Investment Forum India and Hotel Opportunities Latina America (HOLA) events, we participate in the Youth Career Initiative, a program that places disadvantaged kids in hotel training programs so that they get a chance to rise out of poverty and reach their full potential. Attendees like to hear these success stories, and they like to hear that they are making a difference by attending our events. We remind them frequently.
Share Updates on Social Media
Instead of inundating our attendees with endless emails, we post on social media regularly, looking for those follows and shares we all covet. We balance our outreach between direct email communication and the more passive avenues of social media. We send out a monthly e-newsletter that provides basic event updates and event-specific e-messages at crucial milestones, such as registration deadlines. For social media, we identify the key hashtags for our demographic group (one of our survey questions), then we include these hashtags in our messaging. There is no better way to expand your reach and engage your customers than to have them do it for you. Social media is here for the foreseeable future, so use it.
Invite Them to a Midyear Event
Each of our annual events has a planning meeting or mixer of some type for our most engaged sponsors and attendees. Whether in person or via an online chat, these gatherings are meant to inform, excite and enlist our event’s best supporters to continue to spread the word. Planning meetings generate great ideas and give us a sense of how our attendees are feeling for the next cycle. We have found that if our attendees participate in the planning process and feel some ownership in the event, they become your biggest cheerleaders.
Our social mixers are a good way to get attendees together again to re-establish connections made at the last event and start making plans to meet at the next. They’re also a good way to introduce potential sponsors to the event. A few strategic invitations could lead to a great new relationship.
A balance of regular, but not too intrusive, messaging throughout the year, along with a face-to-face gathering such as a planning meeting, goes a long way in keeping attendees engaged and the buzz humming along.
Jim Burba and Bob Hayes are co-founders of Burba Hotel Network, a worldwide leader in developing and producing conferences for the hotel and tourism investment community. With almost three decades of experience, they have produced over 120 events attended by more than 80,000 international delegates in 22 countries.