What to Do About Self-Absorbed Meeting Attendees (pay attention to them, among other things)

getty 56157939By Andrea Driessen, Chief Boredom Buster

You could stage the best meeting the world has ever seen. But if no one knows, or not enough of the “right” people attend, all your efforts are for naught.

We tend to view meeting engagement as something that happens once everyone convenes. And yet for a meeting to be a true success, we must see engagement as an integrated process that starts when you first reach out to potential attendees with initial, registration-boosting messages.

The most effective strategy? I like to rely on an old-school marketing technique: setting my communication dial to “What’s In It For Me,” AKA WII-FM on a radio (or iPod!) tuner.

Applying this to the meetings realm: What’s In It for prospective attendees to invest time and money in your event?  People engage with what matters to them based on their own self-interest. Nothing more—and nothing less. You could stage the best meeting the world has ever seen. But if no one knows, or not enough of the “right” people attend, all your efforts are for naught.

Sound obvious? Not so fast. Turn away from this blog for a moment—and read your latest event marketing content. Examine the approaches from the audience’s point of view. Are the promotions about your organization and the meeting, or for and about the attendees?

No one registers for an event in thinking, “I hope there will be a great deal of information and data.” “Let’s see if the educational sessions focus on what I already know.” “I wonder if the networking reception will be the same as last year.”

Instead, they want to solve their most pressing problems. Make incremental progress toward important milestones. Get tools for increased productivity. Connect with others who’ll make positive differences in their lives. Build on ideas that matter. Feel heard, Contribute to crucial initiatives. And be part of a special community.

With our dial tuned to WII-FM, let’s explore ways to drive attendance:

Take a cue from Club Med: How many ways can you position your event as a one-of-a-kind, exclusive group conclave? At registration, promote attendee-only Facebook pages or learning groups. Intimate receptions with your headlining speaker. The chance to win a one-on-one coaching session with someone they admire. For early birds, front-row seats and other velvet-roped access throughout the meeting.

Invite suspense writer John LaCarre to your event. Ok, not literally. But in your marketing messages, set the stage for mystery, prestige and exclusivity by hinting at a new product reveal, a yet-to-be-named guest or the chance to be among the first to learn a new insight, solution or idea.

Flip It: Have your main presenter(s) build the entire program upon what attendees say they want to learn. This offer alone will drive more interest and attendance as people feel included.

Maximize investments in headlining speakers in new ways: Host a VIP reception of those who generated the most “bring-a-friend” registrations or social media posts. The first 50 enrollees get an autographed book—or are entered into a drawing for the opportunity to dine with a top speaker and the executive team.

Gamify registration: Of course, most event promotions today are rooted in email marketing. So nailing your subject line to entice high clickthrough rates to event websites—and thus attendance!—is crucial. MarketingExperiments, a research firm that tracks what works in all aspects of marketing, partnered with Copyblogger to launch a compelling, relevant contest for Optimization Summit attendees.

The challenge: Write a subject line to promote the event that you think will receive the most clickthroughs. The best six of the 902 entries were chosen to test. The writer of the subject line with the most clicks received a free event ticket, and a free online course. Moreover, event organizers organically and engagingly generated better marketing results. All for a tiny investment.

Tweak Twitter: Seattle, WA-based event architect Katharine P. Asgari attended a social media conference. Attendees were told that a regionally well-known musician would be composing and singing an original song, the lyrics of which would be composed entirely of their tweets. The organizing principle? “When I was young, I ___.”

At the live event, you can imagine the audience’s engagement as every single person listened, rapt, for their tweet to be sung from stage. Asgari says the overall affect was subtle; people didn’t feel “played.” It was real and authentic. How can you tweak this tweet-centered idea to generate more attendance?

Deliver networking at an entirely new level. A literally fascinating speaker and author of the book Fascinate, Sally Hogshead offers event planners a tool for building event buzz and buy-in days and weeks before participants arrive at events. As a benefit to registration, attendees have access to her quick, accurate assessment that reveals how they’re individually fascinating. When guests arrive, their name badges are adorned with ribbons that reflect everyone’s unique abilities to fascinate. BAM: immediate networking and learning—even before Sally walks on stage.

Is your meeting attendance mandatory? You still need to gain everyone’s attention. Attendance at meeting planner Kathryn Butterfield’s Franciscan Health System events is often required. So how does she ensure pre-event messaging gets people excited, without crossing the line into campiness or silliness?

Butterfield says it’s all about knowing your audience, and not taking things too seriously. Communications should be a thoughtful mix of humor, insight, information and purpose. She adds, “Consistency and timing of event communications are also critical. Schedule communications 90, 60, and 30 days out, with one last message a week before. These blasts should rev up the audience about attending your not-to-be-missed event—even if they are obligated to attend.”

When you deeply engage attendees from the very start—strategically, based on what’s in it for them—you set the stage for more engagement and buy-in for the entire event experience. And build attendance for standing-room-only events from the first email to the last standing ovation.