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Tailoring your business events to engage diverse audiences

by Tonya Almond

Tonya Almond, vice president of knowledge and experience design at the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), passes on best practices gleaned from research and experience.

Relevant, engaging and memorable. In the 20-plus years I’ve been designing business events, it’s clear that participants expect all three elements. The challenge is providing that environment in a way that seems personalised to hundreds, or thousands, of individuals.

Business event strategists must dig deep to create relevant, engaging and memorable events that also fulfil a participant’s professional and personal goals. Here are some aspects to consider for designing a diverse, appealing and truly insightful event that still feels tailored to each individual:

Visual, auditory, kinesthetic

Content tracks are a popular and proven approach to ensure educational programs deliver innovative and insightful industry trends. But that is just half of the formula for a successful program that truly creates engagement and retention. Understanding and accommodating different learning styles is equally necessary to generate value and ROI for business events participants.

There are more than 70 learner classifications, but the most common is the Dunn & Dunn VAK style of visual, auditory and kinesthetic. Visual learners respond best to demonstrations, videos and infographics. Auditory learners engage best with explanations, podcasts and keynote presentations. Kinesthetic learners embrace hands-on learning via workshops and interactive sessions.

Identifying the most prevalent learner types in your audience is an important first step and you can do so by analysing how past sessions have fared or creating fun and interactive learning style quizzes or surveys. You can also design your education sessions to align with the more popular learning styles and provide business events participants a choice of where to focus their learning efforts.

Learn from experience

Introspection is another key component to designing an event experience that resonates with the broader audience. PCMA recently partnered with Steelcase Inc.’s Event Experiences to conduct an honest, transparent self-examination of its own signature Convening Leaders annual flagship event to better understand the participant journey and experience. Hundreds of conversations and observations about content, experience, signage, venue, seating options and more yielded a set of event experience insights that PCMA and Steelcase will share during its 2019 EduCon event June 25-28 in Los Angeles.

The answer is within

PCMA also collaborated with Marriott International to produce another key research piece, Future of Meetings & Events, to identify the macro-trends affecting the business events industry in the next three to five years. Trends included Orchestrated Serendipity, creating unexpected, meaningful connections for participants, and Bigger than Oneself, creating events that also benefit communities and societies.

These concepts can provide a strong foundation for event experience design as they put the customer at the heart of events. One size no longer fits all for business events design, therefore as an industry we must endeavour to deliver more customised experiences.

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