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Event Planning

Balancing Act- Navigating Business and Pleasure in Event Planning

By: Andrew Pickup
February 15, 2024

The Freeman 2024 Trends Report raised the eternal question, “Why do attendees come to your event?”. Their answer of Experience, Learning, Networking, Commerce - we think misses a couple of key developments in the Events World - and ultimately misses a key framing for the question.

First development- learning is less valuable than it used to be. Unless a breakout session provides new information - then the information probably exists on YouTube or a website that is a search away. There are very notable exceptions to this - continuing education where credits are earned by attendance, or financial market related sessions where new news is priceless. But generally speaking - learning is less a reason to come than it used to be. To go even further - the value of presentations is NOT in what is presented. It’s in knowing who came.

Second development - virtual conferences work well for lots of situations. An interested participant can remotely view presentations without ever seeing O’Hare airport on a stormy April evening. Down-to-business 1x1 meetings with customers or vendors - those can be done remotely as well. Not as good as in-person - but pretty good all the same. And one day - not here yet, but coming soon - are the dreaded Corporate Travel Restrictions. For money and sustainability reasons - pick the 6 business trips you want to take this year. The rest you can do remotely.

Lastly, the framing that we think explains a lot of why people come to events onsite - as opposed to remotely - is the distinction between Business and Pleasure. Experiences designed to please - from fancy baristas to entertainment events to celebrity keynotes - are magnets for the event. Networking with old friends is a major reason to attend in person rather than remotely. A well-chosen and vibrant destination city only adds to the overall allure. But truthfully - none of this adds a penny to the Attendee’s boss’s P&L. ALL of those expenditures go to please the Attendee personally. What the boss wants is business networking. Nothing else.

So - what are the lessons of this framing?

1. Spend some time and money on experiential indulgence - and make a virtue of it. Brand the experiences with your own assets and encourage sharing the experiences on social media to spread your brand. The pleasure seeking that brings attendees onsite can become a marketing tool for you.

2. Virtualize parts of your event. It's not as hard as you think. Sessions can be webcast live, and virtual networking meetings can be scheduled for the day AFTER your onsite event wraps up. Charge for the remote experience and make extra revenue. Sponsors and Exhibitors will be delighted to get even more meetings when they get back to the office. Not all attendees are pleasure-seeking and not all will be able to travel. Work with them.

3. Have a real business meetings program onsite. When Attendees ask their bosses for approval to come - it cannot be just fun, fun, fun. Or the answer will be no,no,no. Nothing gets the bosses thumbs-up faster than a properly moderated and well-run 1x1 meeting program. Not some half-hearted effort - but a well thought-out program.

4. The bulk of your session program is not going to attract people onsite. Start to think of the agenda as a lead generating tool. Choose speakers who are interesting for sure - but prioritize those who will value knowing who attended their session. That is more valuable than the content.

In summary - spend your money where it makes a difference. Branded experiences for the fun-loving, and a serious meetings program for their bosses. This will maximize their likelihood of coming in person. Sessions are for leads - not for learning. And accept the fact that part of your constituency - and probably a growing part - either cannot or will not come. But you don’t want to lose them as a part of your event - they are trackable session watchers and meeting partners. So virtualize it.

Get in touch with us here at TWST Events . if you want to chat.

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