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Re-Imagining the Audience Experience Online and In Person

As we progress towards the end of this year, we are looking at a very different world than when the year started, both personally and professionally. Our industry is still greatly impacted by situations that are seemingly out of our control, and as we all rush to find our “let’s fix-it” solutions (it’s what we event creators do every day after all), we may miss the opportunities a disruption of this magnitude can provide. As challenging as this has been and will continue to be – there are ways to emerge stronger than before with a more discerning lens as we gather in person once again to craft live experiences.  

Where do we start?

What if we, for this blog, skipped the “usual suspects” of an event we are all familiar with – general session, keynote(s), breakout sessions, expo hall, sponsors, exhibitors, registration, food and beverage, networking, etc., and instead focused only on the attendee behavior? What if we start at the beginning and identify the purpose of why we gather and seek out other like-minded people?  What helps us satisfy the basic human desire to connect with one another, and experience the joy of a collective moment? Let’s build from there and imagine what could be.
“Staging great experiences is around intentional design.” 
 - Joe Pine “Godfather of the Experience Economy” Interview on XM, 2019
Great brands are constantly evolving and always looking for new ways to find that special moment of connection with their target audience. Now more than ever, brands are adapting their strategies to fit audience desires versus audiences adapting to what the brand desires. If content is king, then emotional alignment is the queen – since we are all so much more digitally empowered today than ever before, we have more choices and are in constant search of an experience (brand or otherwise) that aligns with our own personal values. 
As we marketers design event strategies and experiences, we need to begin with the attendee and audience in mind versus what we know “works.” If change is the only constant in everyone’s lives, then marketers and planners who are successful at reaching their audiences are the ones most responsive to change

When we consider re-imagining what an event could be, here are a few things to keep in mind as we move into the next “new normal”:

  • Your online audience and in-person audience are both important and each deserve to be a major component of your attendee experience planning.
  • Look for opportunities where the online attendee can literally affect or interact in a meaningful way with the audience that is in-person. 
    • › Start conversations ahead of time via social media and let them be part of the program building process.
    • › Follow-up post event informed by what audiences interacted with digitally, and were most interested in.
  • Build in moments of delight for your audience that are unexpected and ephemeral – just like in real life, some moments do not last forever but can make great stories to share with your buddies at the bar later.
    • › Develop communication channels to break up the usual flow like combining live-streaming pre-recorded content, entertainment, networking, polls, etc.
    • › Strive to break the "fourth wall" between the audience and presenter.
    • › Strive to break the “fifth wall” between the in person and online attendees. 
  • The choice is no longer exclusively virtual or live, find ways to weave the most engaging elements of both into one seamless experience.
  • Think of your event like a broadcast platform. For example, the Olympics or “Dick Clarks’ New Year Eve” (I’m dating myself) with content to keep them engaged and curious about what’s next. 
  • Keep things familiar and keep it simple – everyone interacts with content and technology in their own way, so create parts of your program where the attendee can customize their own experience. 
  • Right-size the experience to deliver goals most effectively.
    • › Create bite-sized content with succinct and to-the-point messaging to keep the viewers interest. Attention spans are shorter, and attendees are used to short-form videos, align content accordingly so they don't prematurely leave the session or overall event. 
    • › Smaller, more localized events with tailored audiences in a specific region or demographic vs. giant global events.
    • › Virtualizing event elements, like registration and sponsorship opportunities, in a new, exciting way with shareable content.
As with any great design, this is where our conversation only begins. I am excited to see where this brave new world takes us and challenge you to share your thoughts and ideas of how you believe our event experiences can improve.  
For more insights, see how GES Events is REfocusing, REinventing and REconnecting with future live events click here.

About the Author

As the engagement of brand experiences continue to evolve, John Woo is constantly challenging convention by creatively leveraging behavioral psychology, environment, and technology to design more meaningful connections to further our clients’ vision. As the SVP Creative and Strategy for GES Events, John develops creative solutions to deepen brand relationships, leveraging over 20 years of design experience to create communities of brand believers through human and transformative experiences, online and in person.

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