The world of events and in-person marketing is evolving. 

Audiences today expect more than education and entertainment; they expect participation at an event. Today’s top events take advantage of technology as a platform for audience engagement. Having produced and attended a number of customer conferences and trade shows this year, I’ve noticed some very clear trends in how technology is blurring the gap between the presenters and attendees. Here are some examples.



1.  Seamless Integration of Social Media into Events
From audience polling to screens of live Twitter feeds, audience participation has never been more important at events.  Attendees want to hear what their peers are saying as well as voice their opinions in real time, and social media provides the perfect platform. The question really comes down to how much voice should the audience have and how much do you regulate what they can (or can’t) say. In a recent event we produced in Baltimore, we had live screens throughout the venue with a Twitter feed running in real time. We had a huge amount of audience participation and only had to remove one comment during the 2.5 day conference.  Generally, the audience will behave in such a public forum… but it is probably wise to have the ability to remove posts just in case someone gets a bit saucy after an evening networking event!

2.  Interaction Through B.Y.O.D.
Building on the idea of Social Media Integration is the notion of B.Y.O.D. (Bring Your Own Device). With the prevalence of smartphones, tablets and event netbooks, event planners are finding that the expensive hardware of yesterday is a thing of the past. Years ago, I can recall elaborate audience polling systems that had to be set up prior to the event and used for very limited interaction. Today, B.Y.O.D. means that everyone already owns a data entry device and, perhaps more importantly, knows how to use it.  Whether it’s a survey, A/B testing or simply crowdsourcing images for a “happy face” reel (see more about that below), your audience is wired and ready to participate with their own devices.  You just have to come up with the cross-platform content and a plan to weave it into the overall event experience.

3.  Content vs. Experience
While the notion that “content is king” may have been enough a few years ago… today’s audiences need something extra to make them rave about your event.  That extra thing can be somewhat intangible, but I’ve often heard it referred to as the event “experience”. While the word seems simple enough, the experience can be an elusive thing to get right. It means that, in addition to teaching and entertaining the audience, you must engage their senses through sight, sound and smells. The ultimate goal is to make an emotional connection with the audience, which leads to an emotional connection with your brand. Try to think of every aspect of your event as an opportunity to create this experience… from registration, to arrival at the venue, to meals, to the “off hours” of the event.  A proactive approach can turn the little moments at the event to a big success in the eyes of the attendee.

4.  Crowdsourcing Content and Promotion
With today’s hyper-wired audience, content produced by your audience is an often-untapped treasure trove that you should consider using in your program. Obviously Tweets and blogs can become part of the “community” of people you have gathered together for the event. In addition however, pictures, videos, product reviews, and innovative ideas that come straight from your attendee base can be huge assets to your program. The power behind these bits of content is their authenticity. They were not created in the “ivory tower” of your marketing department, but rather, by real customers, partners and users of your products. Their thoughts, opinions and content can serve as a powerful supplement to your existing presentations.

The world of events and in-person marketing is evolving.  These event trends offer many new opportunities to engage your audience and ultimately create a long-term relationship with your brand.