12 Tips for More Engaging, Memorable Events
By Doug Binder
Empathy and community are more vital than ever in marketing and communications. Like everyone else, for the past few years I stared into the faces of colleagues and strangers on computer screens during video calls, all of them dealing with their own struggles and day-to-day realities. I was constantly reminded that our audiences are emotional, complicated and evolving. They are not mere data points, homogenous or predictable.
During the pandemic, many of us came to appreciate that technology alone cannot replace gathering with other people in-person. As we return to in-person and hybrid (partially digital) events, PR professionals have an opportunity to make every kind of occasion more authentic, meaningful and provocative like never before. And that requires engineering experiences that move attendees in refreshing ways.
Here are 12 tips to help you design and produce engaging, memorable events, whether they’re in-person or hybrid:
1. Prioritize people over apps.
Whenever possible, give event attendees opportunities to interact with real people: employees, partners, customers, peers and even leaders and VIPs. Apps are practical; people are powerful.
2. Give guests a voice.
In the otherwise regimented structure of corporate or industry events, we can give guests a better experience by letting them contribute their own voices to the conversation. Encourage event attendees to express their ideas about your brand. Incorporate their insights into your messages, in real time.
3. Immerse audiences in your brand early and often.
Between registering online and entering your event, guests might interact with your business 12 to 15 times. Each step is an opportunity to immerse the audience in your brand. Make every point of contact count.
4. Wow them ‘til the end.
It’s customary for an audience to applaud as a show of respect at the beginning of a presentation, and they’ll typically applaud at the end to signal their gratitude. Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer Company, would save “one more thing” for the end of his presentations — and these grand finales always brought audiences to their feet. What can you save until the end that will bring your audience to its feet?
5. Pace your event.
When mapping out an event agenda, especially across multiple days, give your audience opportunities to slow down between the highlights. That way, they can reflect, rest and enjoy your brand experience from different, more personal angles.
6. Hire veteran event moderators.
Too often at industry events, panel discussions remind me of police lineups: Five characters of similar professional pedigree are arranged in the spotlight and each asked a few questions. To mix things up, consider hiring a seasoned moderator for your panel, such as a journalist, media personality or analyst. A dynamic moderator can play audience advocate, delve deeper into the topics at hand and keep discussions on-time and on-message.
7. Include philanthropy.
We all want to believe we’re doing our part for the world. To help audiences feel they’re doing their part through your brand, consider making philanthropy the sole purpose of your next corporate event. Show C-suite decision-makers the positive PR impact such an event can make for your organization, especially when part of a larger philanthropic effort.
8. Personalize your brand.
To help event audiences relate to your brand, imagine it as a human being. What are its traits? Is it assertive or relaxed? Speedy or methodical? Formal or casual? Envision how your personified brand will best interact with the people attending your event.
9. Pay extra attention to arrivals and departures.
For people attending events, whether in-person, virtually or a mix of both, when they arrive and when they leave can be the most anticipated, emotional and memorable parts of the experience for them. Such moments define business gatherings.
10. Manage mishaps.
When things go wrong at your event or for your audience, how you handle those slip-ups can engender empathy from your attendees and help you connect with them on an even deeper level. Some of my favorite event memories were born of misfortune, panic and corrections.
11. Tell stories.
To engage audiences at your events, tell them stories that resonate. In your stories, allow (or force) yourself to be vulnerable. Share your missteps and imperfections and tell the audience how you’ve overcome those obstacles. Show the human impact of your story on yourself and on others.
12. Take care of yourself.
Event professionals might spend 250 days or more on the road every year. As an event planner, be kind to yourself. Give yourself periods of solace and peace. The healthier you are, the better your events will be.