Conference Experiential Design: Why Emotion Trumps Efficiency

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This post, Delivering Experience, by Anthony Iannarino stuck in my mind as it sparked new ideas about conference experience design.

Iannarino recounts a dining experience with his wife at a “funky, cool, eclectic” restaurant. Within moments of arriving, drink orders were swiftly taken and delivered. Entrees arrived moments later. Then the check, lickety-split.

The Speed Drill

Speed is usually appreciated by dining patrons. It also makes for faster table flips.

Yet Iannario and his wife felt rushed. This was their weekly catch-up chat and they wanted to linger before advancing to the next dining checkpoint.

Even savor the “funky, cool, eclectic” vibe over dessert and coffee, which was never offered.

As they scanned other tables, they noticed a similar speed drills going on.

Iannarino’s lesson? Level 1 products are about efficiency, which is perfect for transactional dining models, like McDonald’s. But they are not for “funky, cool, eclectic” dining establishments. This setting calls for Level 2 value that’s far more about the richness and relevance of the customer experience. Ultimately, Level 2 is more about how you make people feel.

Applying This Lesson to Professional Conferences

No question, efficiency is appreciated at many conference touch points of the attendee journey. Air travel. Transportation to/from the airport. Hotel check in. Registration. Banquet food lines. The list goes on.

Yet to truly differentiate your conference, more attention must be paid to nailing the Level 2 bucket, delivering extraordinary experiences your audience values highly.

Considering that each attendee is investing a couple grand or more to be there, experiences and emotions trump efficiencies every time.

Here are a few ripe opportunities to seize and step up Level 2 value delivery:

1. Warm Up the Welcome

  • As attendees are traveling, tap digital channels to share tips to improve their travel experience.
  • When they check-in at the hotel, have a welcome message delivered, with more tips to enrich their experiences.
  • At registration, have staff and volunteers greeting attendees, asking questions like “What are the top things you’re looking to do while you’re here? Who would you most like to meet? How can I help make your experience as good as it can be?”

2. User-Friendly Navigation Tools with Smart Personal Touches

  • The mobile app has tremendous potential to improve the attendee experience. Make sure it’s wired for attendee utility first and foremost. Example: Rather than display the full agenda, add two more options: What’s On Now? What’s Coming Next?
  • Have concierge-like support for attendees to tap as needed. Sounds like another great role for volunteers and staff to take on.

3. Capitalize on the Crescendo Moments

  • General Sessions, meals, and receptions tend to generate the biggest buzz. Have Experience Stewards on hand to help attendees get the most from these conference crescendo moments.
  • Watch as attendees navigate these activities. Pay attention to non-verbals, as they often speak louder than words and reveal valuable insight on specific elements they appreciate most.

4. End with a Bang and Stretch the Experience Runway

  • According to the Peak End Rule, people rarely remember the entirety of an event experience. The two things they remember most: The most intense experience (which can happen anytime and could be good or bad) and how it ends. Conference endings tend to get the short shrift. Find ways to wrap up with more gusto, plus next steps that matter.
  • Rather than the typical, “See you next year” close, extend the experience with messages that help your audience apply what they learned. Drip out job aids and schedule post-conference webinars that blend conference highlights with new insight.

As we strive to improve our experience design plans, what other tips can you share? Which experience at your conference generates the most raves from attendees?

Adapted from Donna’s Meeting Innovation post on the Cvent Event Planning blog. ©2015.

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