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Comment: The new rules of engagement

by Karen Lynch

Karen Lynch, CEO of speaker agency Expert Impact Speakers and a former marketing director, asks how marketing strategies can affect how your audience is thinking and feeling.  She says “Think outcomes, not the outputs with your next event or miss the chance to truly engage and impress.”

I can guarantee one thing this Autumn: our audiences will be more challenging to impress than ever before.

After the last couple of years that we’ve had to survive as an events industry, I bet your eyes (like ours) are firmly focused on the upcoming ‘golden quarter’ of events with huge excitement, and perhaps a lot of praying or crossed fingers and toes for a smooth run at it.

I’m also pretty sure that phrases like ‘fourth wave’, ‘lockdown, ‘new variant’ or news flashes about ‘a wave of rail strikes’, the likes of which we have not seen since the 1970s, are the ones that keep you awake at night.

With all of those things, there’s not too much we can do to control or influence them. And, I’m sure, like us, you’re insuring or plan B’ing already as much as you can and grabbing every window of opportunity (before reverting back to more crossing of fingers).

But amidst all this excitement, we need to remember how much we have learned already through our earlier (and often smaller or digital) events of 2020 and 2021. Our audiences have changed, and we are in great danger of underwhelming them if we simply go back to how we planned content before, or booked and briefed our talent as we always have done.

So what should we be thinking about as we plan our events?

Over the next four or five months, we will learn at speed the true impact of the life changing effect of the pandemic that now defines our ‘post covid audiences’ and their changing appetites when it comes to event content. Past the initial elation we’ve seen of getting back to face-to-face events, there’s one thing I’m confident we can assume now.

Just as travelling into work is no longer the expected daily norm for many, one day away from the desk or an evening away from the family to attend an event in person is a bigger emotional decision and energy investment than it was pre-pandemic. To tip our audience into making the decision to join us at events, we need to deliver even better value for their time investment.

So this Autumn and Winter we all need to make sure we’ve raised our game, and not just filled that stage with a name or gimmicks. We need to blow our audiences away by ensuring we offer ‘significant impact and outcomes’ like never before.

But what does that mean and how do we do that?

In the past event, event attendees will have either turned up because they were expected to by their employer or because they were attracted to an interesting name or title of a session. To turn around the no show rates, to get people out of their homes, and most importantly to get them attending and left wanting to come back for more, we need to redefine the ideas we develop for audiences, think through the promises we make when we promote our event and, most importantly, work harder – both on the client brief and the talent brief – than ever before.

I firmly believe other life priorities have made our audiences choose to physically attend less events and expecting better content when they do. So it’s time to really apply some strong marketing thinking to our content development and our briefings.

For us we, we’re a relatively new business. To date we’ve had our best feedback and greatest outcomes not from the biggest names we’ve placed, but as a result of nailing the brief by pushing back on the assumed big name speaker that might fit, even if their name seems (on the surface) impressive enough to fill the room.

Impressing audiences now is about considering the personal outcomes they expect, to commit to taking them on a journey (whether that’s a day or an hour), and engaging them into action.
To figure that out, a great place to start is with these four simple questions. Apply them to each panel or slot and to your event as a whole.

  1. How will this be different?
  2. How will this be better?
  3. What do we want our audience to think?
  4. What do we want them to do?

At first glance this might seem overly simple. These planning questions certainly aren’t new (I first came across them 15 years ago working with brand genius Simon Gulliford at emap and Barclays).

In the spirit of raising your game, whether planning learning sessions or entertainment for our now more demanding audiences;

  • Give them the people with the lived experience, not people talking about people with lived experiences.
  • Immerse them in the experience, don’t just tell them about a great experience.
  • Walk away from the gimmick! Instead, pull out rubies of inspiration from the post-pandemic rubble.

Please share your experiences of getting it right (and wrong!) with us. We’d love to learn with you.   Join us next time for a deeper dive into how this new world is affecting our talent and how those being most successful are learning and adapting too.

Karen Lynch is the CEO of Expert Impact Speakers. 

She has previously worked in several other business sectors, including finance, FMCG and media as a brand builder and audience driver. Karen is also vice chair of The Conduit Club in Covent Garden, a purpose driven members club with a busy daily events calendar of internal programming and client events.

Expert Impact Speakers use 100% of their profits to support charities and social enterprises. To enquire about a speaker for your event, please contact venita@expertimpact.com.


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