‘Tis the season. Holiday work parties are a time for folks to catch their breath from the daily grind and have a few cocktails along with assorted canapés. But, considering it’s a social occasion, it’s also a good time for brands and organizations to think about more effective ways to communicate with their constituents via live events and conferences.
Despite the Web—or more likely because of it—business professionals are eager to get out to the field more often and press the flesh. Despite the digital lurch, nearly half of American adults say they prefer in-person communication, per a recent poll by Survey Monkey for “Axios on HBO.”
All things digital has become the default mode for a growing number of PR and marketing executives. But the savvy communications pro would be foolish to underestimate the opportunity live events offer to cultivate and expand relationships.
B-to-B events account for $512 billion in annual spending, according to a Bizzabo survey of 400 mid- to senior-level executives. The study added that 87 percent of C-suite executives believe in the power of live events and plan on investing in them more in the future.
The challenge for B-to-B events is not how to obtain buy-in from the tippy top—or even get people through the door—but how to make the event stand out so attendees are left with a positive feeling about your brand or organization.
To be sure, event apps designed to drive registration are de rigueur. It’s also the norm for companies to leverage their websites and social channels to market events. Ditto for digital screens planted throughout the conference so attendees can track the latest tweets about the conference.
But how are you going to make the actual content memorable? How do you bottle some of the good vibes wafting in the air and convert them into something more tangible?
The aim for communicators is to produce events that grab mind share and give attendees an excuse to build ties with the company.
With that in mind, here are a few ways to bolster your next event or conference:
Pick a stellar site. Since time immemorial, corporate events and conferences have tended to take place at the nearest and most conveniently located hotel. That’s fine, of course. But why not select a locale that’s off the beaten track? We recall a wonderful event at the U.S. Custom House in lower Manhattan. Simply walking into the ornate, seven-story Beaux Arts structure put attendees in a good mood. Indeed, the more unique the building/interior environment the more people will likely engage one another and be less inclined to check their smartphone every five seconds. The larger takeaway for communicators is to pick a notable or historical site for your event. People like to check out places they haven’t been before. It not only spikes registration but helps to build anticipation among attendees who, in turn, will be eager to share information about the event. This may require a bit more budget but it’s worth it.
Keep the work session tight. Less is more. Short is sweet. Pick your metaphor. Whatever you do, don’t schedule programs that exceed an hour or so. The 75-minute work session followed by a 15-minute Q&A, no longer applies in a post-digital age. TED Talks remain the gold standard for how to communicate big ideas and inspire people. These are generally 15-minute discussions on every topic under the sun. What tends to separate TED Talks is that speakers personalize the conversation and speak directly from the heart, without any filter, e.g. Monica Lewinsky discussing “The price of shame.” TED speakers generally don’t rely on graphics or cutesy videos to relay the overall message. That’s in keeping with what a PR veteran advised us years ago that “Friends don’t let friends PowerPoint” when giving a presentation.
Encourage engagement among attendees. It seems that more and more business events offer something in which attendees can participate—rather than everyone trudging from one work session to another for hours on end, only to be interrupted by a rubber-chicken lunch and keynote speech. Akin to Lucy van Pelt’s psychiatry booth, maybe you want to set up a “troubleshooting” area in which buyers and sellers are encouraged to meet and discuss their pain points and craft some possible solutions. In a lighter vein, one corporate event we recently attended employed a digital sketch artist from Drawn Together NYC who drew caricatures for anyone interested which, in turn, helped to spark conversation among curious onlookers. Be careful not to have these efforts come off as enforced recreation. Sell the participatory stuff as an option. But be sure to include that information in all of your marketing material. Your customers and constituents will be more inclined to attend events if they know there’s going to be ample networking opportunities rather than a bunch of talking heads who may or may not know more than they do.
What are we missing? And what are you doing to enhance your events and conferences from a PR perspective?
By Matthew Schwartz, Director of Content, Stanton
Matthew Schwartz is director of content at Stanton, a communications firm with offices in New York and California. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
A version of this post originally appeared on O’Dwyer’s