I sometimes look around an event and think: Why are you all here?
A slightly surprising (and somewhat tongue in cheek) statement from one of the panelists during last week’s panel debate at the Exhibition News Race Day, but judging by the muffled chuckles from the audience gathered at Sandown Park, one that many event professionals can understand.
I can certainly relate to the feeling of being stood in a crowded exhibition, surrounded by thousands of delegates who have chosen to take time out of their busy and worthy professions to spend time in an exhibition hall and feeling I didn’t quite know what motivated them to be there.
No doubt the marketing campaign was compelling, the content schedule-packed and there were more ‘opportunities to network’ (ie drinks receptions) than any one human could want – but which of these were the reason that pushed our eager delegates to make the pilgrimage? Or was it an entirely different reason that I just wasn’t aware of?
One of the wonderful things about working in events is that allows you to become immersed in wildly diverse industries in almost any part of the world.
Thinking of my friends and colleagues, you could work with the agriculture industry, then food processing, then sports and leisure, then medical practitioners and manual therapists in exhibitions from Birmingham to Bangkok. Events professionals are flung headlong into the intricacies of industries or hobbies they may never have known existed.
It presents a huge challenge in trying to quickly understand the nuances of your market and to keep abreast of the changes in thinking, the pain points, economic bell-weathers and political imperatives that will affect your event each year.
This was a point the race day panel also raised; really knowing your event community, both online and offline is a crucial factor for success. Strategies were discussed as to how event professionals can tap into the knowledge of their community by engaging influencers or using social listening tools including GleanIn and Crimson Hexagon.
Another gem from the panel was to dismiss the idea of advisory panels – that given the opportunity, every member of your community can become an advisor to your event: have an advisory panel of hundreds, not a panel of ten.
And that really resonated with the work our team does, helping organisers to understand what drives the behaviours of their attendees. As with social listening, it gives every attendee the opportunity to be an advisor to your event. But importantly, the feedback work we do, actively invites the community to give feedback in a structured and private way. Some views are more complex that 140 characters can convey!
Gathering feedback from your community can sometimes turn up surprises for organisers, where their main drivers for attendance are very different to what had been assumed; perhaps the team behind the event had always thought education was the main priority for their audience, when actually they really wanted to source new suppliers.
And this tactic of actively asking for feedback works equally well early in the show cycle when it comes to developing content. Tap into the knowledge of your community and ask them to tell you, publicly or privately, what would make your next event unmissable for them. What are their most important objectives in attending and how well did your event fulfil them?
Guest post from Mark Brewster, CEO of event and exhibition research provider, Explori.
You can see previous guest posts from Explori here.