Consider a multiple day event that occupies hundreds of thousands of feet of space offering numerous educational tracks with hundreds of speakers. In addition, there are frequently scheduled keynote presentations on the main stage all day long and there’s the on-going buzz of hundreds, if not thousands of exhibitors on the expo floor. Navigating such an event is a daunting task even for the most seasoned of conference attendees. Further add to the mix the unique styles and personalities of each individual attendee and you are faced with the complex task of ensuring that every single member of your audience will find value in all of the various touch points at your event.
To illustrate the complexities of shaping tailored experiences, consider below how the unique mindsets of four different generations dramatically affect their learning styles, and by extension, their propensity for making connections with their peers. For example:
- Traditionalists (1930-1945) are generally trusting of authority figures and have a strong work ethic. They like to share their experiences and enjoy participation. When learning about technology, they require hands-on instruction.
- Baby Boomers (1946-1964) prefer more traditional, instructor-led training, and are generally willing to engage in learning activities. They are the most highly-educated of all the groups and very interested in advancing their careers.
- Generation X (1965-1976) is more likely to embrace independent e-learning and technology-based training, but still feels most comfortable with the involvement of an instructor to some degree. They can be cynical, and are usually very self-reliant.
- Generation Y and the Millennials (1977-1999) are accustomed to instant gratification and prefer fluid learning and self-guided discovery. They are confident using desktop technology, and participate in social media to collaborate and share information.
You can improve your chances of engaging all of your attendees at a level that makes a lasting impact on them by pursuing the following and remaining vigilant to the outcomes:
- Create Personas: Building caricatures of each audience group will enable you to understand how factors such as attendee mindsets, motivations, core values, capabilities and constraints affect how they consume your event. Attendees have different approaches to learning and engaging, and broadening your understanding of their preferences will bring more value and excitement to the overall event experience.
- Acknowledge Time Constraints: If you are truly giving your attendees value for money, then you are creating an event that keeps attendees occupied from morning till night. However, it’s unrealistic to think that attendees will be able to consume it all, so it’s important to avoid creating a schedule that leaves them feeling frustrated. Therefore, be creative with the timetable. It probably doesn’t make sense to have every day looking the same. Can you deliver content that gives people an opportunity to make the most of the practical education you’re offering, be inspired by the keynotes, and be guided by the up-to-the-minute solutions your exhibitors are showcasing on the expo floor? Mix it up and be sure to monitor the impact on levels of engagement.
- Deliver Content in Non-Traditional Ways: Your event must accommodate all learning styles, otherwise you run the risk of alienating large swaths of your audience. Avoid the exclusive use of the talking head format. In fact, you should attempt to attract and develop speakers with diverse delivery styles—ask them to submit a quick video that illustrates their teaching style and philosophy as part of the selection process, for example. Furthermore, would panel discussions be more appropriate for some sessions or personas? What about small peer-lead breakout sessions? How about roundtable discussions lead by a topic expert who moves throughout the room as a facilitator, as opposed to commanding the entire room? What would a more fluid, unscripted generation of topics and discussion look like? Can you think about alternative structures and formats that would allow your attendees to consume content in meaningful (and playful) ways?
- Design Space with Different Behaviors in Mind: It’s important that you design a physical space that allows attendees to gravitate to a mode of interaction that is most comfortable for them. Some attendees want to be anonymous, while others want to be in the thick of things. Whether it’s the bustling expo hall, the often times lavish and imposing keynote theater, the practical classrooms, as well as the quiet networking spaces and public lounge areas, your challenge is to create spaces within spaces that cater to your attendees’ preferred sense of engagement. Have you considered creating designated spaces within the keynote room that allow attendees to hang out in the shadows and observe, maybe even continue to work given access to a wireless network? How about quieter meeting rooms or briefing centers away from the helter-skelter pace of the expo floor that are more conducive to getting business done? Even simple seating arrangements can enhance an experience. For example, within a public lounge can you facilitate more intimate conversation by providing obvious seating for just two or three people? And finally, have you ever considered leaving space empty save some basic functional furniture for the impromptu creation of a meeting place as the needs of your attendees arose?