The best events are those that allow attendees to find their tribe and create meaningful connections with the people around them. However, this can prove challenging for bigger events where thousands of attendees are spread out across a large venue and multiple hotels. To learn more about how to maintain that intimate feeling even at large events, Jeff Duncan (CEO, Meetingmax) spoke to Katherine McCartney, who has worked with Meetingmax for seven years and who also happens to be Director of Operations for TED Conferences – the people behind the world-famous TED Talks.
Here are Katherine’s top recommendations for planning an event that helps attendees connect:
Foster Interaction and Conversation
The purpose of events is to bring people together, but once you have everyone in the same room, they sometimes need a little extra nudge to break the ice and strike up a conversation with the person next to them.
As an event planner, you can purposely design aspects of your event to facilitate interaction. For example, booking guests with similar or complementary interests in the same hotel or even on the same floor can increase the likelihood that they will bump into one another and strike up a conversation. Accommodation management software – such as Meetingmax – that allows you to arrange guests into sub-blocks can help with this.
Another great idea is to include a “Talk to me about ____” field on attendees’ name badges that serves as a great icebreaker. For multi-day events, organizing smaller pre-event cocktail parties in each hotel before the big kick-off party is also a fun way to allow attendees staying at the same hotel to get to know one another in a smaller, more intimate setting.
Use Technology Creatively
New technologies have the potential to enrich the event experience for attendees and provide event planners with useful insight.
Event apps are commonplace nowadays, but they have the power to be so much more than just a digital version of the event agenda. By releasing the attendee list on the app a month before the event and enabling in-app messaging, you can allow attendees connect with one another and schedule meetings in advance so that they can make the most of their time at the event.
Beacon technology also opens up new possibilities with attendees now able to opt to have the event app track their location within the venue and share it with other attendees. This makes it easy to find colleagues in a crowded convention hall and also provides event organizers with useful behavioral data that they can use to see how attendees move throughout the venue and which exhibits are the most popular.
Focus on Quality, not Quantity
Bigger is not always better when it comes to events. While it is natural to want to grow your event as much as possible, having too many attendees will make the event feel crowded and make it difficult for them to meet everyone. A better approach is to limit the number of attendees and focus instead on attracting the right type of attendees – that is, like-minded and complementary people who will benefit from connecting with one another and whose presence will enrich the event experience for everyone else.
How many attendees are too many? The answer will change depending on the characteristics of each event. However, you will want to find the sweet spot between having so many attendees that the event feels crowded and having so few attendees that it affects the bottom line.