How to Personalize Even the Smallest of Events

When HIMSS19 opens in Orlando next February. It will be with a new twist…one that event innovators are constantly telling you to add to your own shows. 

The massive event focused on the healthcare information world will have nine distinct communities, each with its own programming, pre-event marketing, networking activities and even exhibit areas.

The initiative speaks to the trend toward personalization, the realization that the one-size-fits-all annual industry convention-slash-tradeshow is quickly losing its relevance. 

Fine, you say. HIMSS is a massive trade association serving a red-hot industry with an annual event that attracts 18,000 attendees with more than 300 various workshops, conference sessions, panels and plenary speakers. Its exhibit hall sprawls out over nearly 600,000 square feet, providing it a budget in the tens of millions of dollars to work with.

How could those of you who manage your own modest niche event and struggle to attract a few hundred attendees at most do anything close to this?

By remembering the keyword here is personalization. By reminding yourself the goal is to make sure every attendee walks away having accomplished the one or two specific goals they came to your event with.

HIMMS’ “communities” are defined roughly by job titles (not exactly a groundbreaking concept): IT executives, security executives, physicians, investors….whatever.

How many ways can you slice and dice the job titles you have in your database? Even if it’s just two or three, that’s a start.

And, when it comes to personalizing your event, you should start small because delivering on the promise you make your first year out is the most important thing you will accomplish.

Once you’ve decided how to segment your potential audience, what are the two or three changes you can successfully make in the first year to focus on them?

Start with segmented pre-event marketing. Maybe add a few pre-conference webinars targeting the different opportunities available at the event for each group.

Think of a small handful of distinct conference tracks, networking events or roundtable discussion opportunities. 

No matter what, remember the whole point is, first, to make it easy for people with similar interests to meet each other and, second, to allow every single attendee to accomplish their own personal goals for the event.

Michael Hart is an event consultant and conference content professional. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com, @michaelgenehart or 323-441-9654.

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Creating Compelling Conference Content: How Hard Could It Be?

It doesn’t have to be, of course. The problem is that event organizers don’t always put the programming they will offer attendees at the top of their earliest to-do lists.

The challenge of successful attendance marketing seems to grow more serious all the time. If you’re one of the many event organizers who are concerned, you’ve been diving into all the blog posts and articles popping up about applying data analysis to attendee marketing and starting to feel your way around the concept of using machine learning.

Of course, none of these new ideas will work if you don’t have something compelling to market. 

Here’s the conundrum: Two forces in conference content creation are colliding with one another; most of us already know this, even if we don’t act on it; and it’s possible only the swiftest and smartest among us will survive.

First, we know that the traditional slate of conference sessions, each with its own set of panelists and a clicker to manage their slides, does not get it. There are new ways to engage attendees, new formats, new ways to deliver information – and many of us are responding to that.

Second, we know people do not need to go to an event to get topical information any more. There are plenty of channels to get much of the content the slowest-changing organizers among us are still trying to peddle to their potential attendees. 

And if you don’t believe me, just Google a handful of the speakers at your next conference and see if you can’t find most of what they’re going to tell your attendees already available from them somewhere online.

That is not to say your attendees don’t want content and to hear from live human speakers. But what they want – and what they’ll pay for – is cutting-edge insight that they can’t get anywhere else but your event.

Where do you find that scintillating only-available-at-your-conference content?

I’ll be back.

Michael Hart is an event consultant and conference content professional. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com, @michaelgenehart or 323-441-9654.

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How Big Do You Want Your Show to Be?

How big is big enough? How much larger do you want your showfloor to be? How many attendees would be optimum?

If your answer is, “Nothing is ever enough,” you might still be living in a previous Golden Age of the Tradeshow Industry.

Does size matter in the events industry anymore? Is it really important to have more square feet of exhibit space or more attendees than any other tradeshow in your industry sector?

I think about these questions every time I read a slightly reworded, albeit breathless, press release in the tradeshow press about yet ANOTHER show that broke a record for attendance and showfloor size.

The question of whether size matters has bugged me ever since I first became editor-in-chief of Tradeshow Week more than 15 years ago and was suddenly responsible for the TSW 200 and the TSW Fastest 50, lists of shows that measured success by the number of square feet and registered attendees they had.

The question bugs me even more now since the events industry has changed so drastically. Those metrics, still taken seriously by many, were significant in an age when the value of a product was directly proportional to its size. Trade shows were where people went to buy big things – machines, equipment, giant servers, furniture, etc. – and the more space you took up, the better you were.

Things of value today…not so big. In fact, there are products of great value that have almost no physical presence at all. At best, those trying to pitch them can use their tradeshow booth to demonstrate something that nobody can see or hold in their hands.

Those old metrics also stem from a time when the tradeshow floor was – and stop me if you’ve heard this one before – “the best place for buyers and sellers to connect.”

That is no longer the case either. People with stories to tell and products to sell have many, many ways to communicate with potential audiences. The event is just one of many marketing channels available to them.

Stop me one more time if you’ve heard this one too: The opportunities for engagement and community are what makes an event valuable today, not the size of its exhibit hall or the number of people in those tired aisles.

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What Any Show Organizer Can Learn From SXSW’s Mistakes

AUSTIN, TX – MARCH 10: <> on March 10, 2018 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by FilmMagic/FilmMagic for HBO)

Huh? The organizers of SXSW make mistakes? Well, once in a while.

As the event that has become all things to all people wrapped up its 31st edition last week, Adweek asked its advisory board what it thought of one annual event that every show organizer wishes they had launched.

Interestingly, the advisory board’s consensus was that the event’s two greatest assets were inextricably linked to its two greatest faults. Their discussion might offer some wisdom for those of us whose event goals are a bit less ambitious.

First, the Adweek advisory board noted that, while SXSW offers attendees the opportunity to network across a wide cross-section of industries, the atmosphere is sometimes so chaotic it is logistically difficult to connect with specific individuals one may want to meet with.

One of the first impulses of anybody looking to grow a new show is to find new categories and interests that might not be central to the original purpose of the event. The rationale is that it gives more people and companies a reason to sign on. However, doing so too quickly can dilute the original community that gathered around the event in its earliest days and cause first-time attendees or exhibitors to say to themselves, whether it’s true or not, “I can’t find anybody I was hoping to meet here.”

Next, the group Adweek surveyed found that while SXSW remains an excellent venue for an established player to activate a new brand (like this year’s high-profile introduction of HBO’s Westworld), to some extent the event’s original desire to be the place to find next-generation innovations has dissipated. (Who remembers now that Twitter was introduced to the world at SXSW?)

If you’re running an event that, after a few years, is just starting to take its rightful place in the consciousness of the industry it serves, you’re thinking, “I want to be both the show where the biggest players introduce their new products AND the one where the newest start-ups can find their first big deal.”

But are you quite ready to pull that off yet? Maybe your confident answer is yes, but there will be trade-offs to consider.

Everybody wants their event to grow, but the key to doing it successfully is remembering why sponsors, exhibitors and attendees were so excited about what you were doing in the earliest years. Find new ways to serve more of those people successfully, and they’ll bring their peers and colleagues along with them.

Don’t ever put a long-time fan of your event in the situation where they look up from the showfloor one day and say, “I can’t see anybody that I care enough about to meet.”

Michael Hart is an event consultant and conference content professional. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com, @michaelgenehart or 323-441-9654.

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How Tribalism Can Work for Your Event

We hear “tribalism” blamed for much of the political and cultural dysfunction in the world today – and probably rightly so.

By tribalism, I mean the attitude or behavior exhibited when loyalty to a certain social group represents a higher value than other values, i.e., truth, facts, what’s right for the country.

There are many explanations for why this drive toward tribalism is sweeping, not just the United States, but the entire world. Among them are the advent of social media and, with it, the accompanying ability to only receive messages that affirm your views and ignore those that contradict what you already believe.

However, a Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising report indicates a few truths associated with tribalism that could work to the event organizers’ advantage as they compete against other forms of marketing – if they are willing to change.

After surveying 28,000 Internet users in 56 countries, the report found that consumers trust recommendations from families and friends above all other forms of advertising. And 70 percent trust consumer opinions posted online by people they don’t know.

That is in contrast to the 29 percent who trust text ads on mobile phones, the 33 percent who trust online banner ads and the 40 percent who trust ads served in search engine results.

So, who would be the best person to promote your event – the blogger with a small but avid audience who has been to, trusts and loves your show, or the high-profile speaker you try so hard to get but for whom your show is just one of many he or she will speak at this year? The Nielsen report indicates it might be the former rather than the latter.

The Nielsen report, I think, has one more lesson for event organizers, this one dealing with conference content. I have been working with one fairly young – albeit so far successful – conference that adopted and stuck with a philosophy that conference speakers should be practitioners in the field itself rather than high-priced third-party experts, consultants or, heaven forbid, motivational speakers.

The attendees at the conference have spoken with their registration fees: They want to hear from people like themselves – whose experience they trust – as opposed to advice or sage wisdom from somebody with celebrity status but who is disconnected from their own profession.

Yes, it could be the world is becoming more tribal, but that might offer new opportunities to event organizers who have the courage to adopt new ways of doing things.

Michael Hart is an event consultant and conference content professional. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com, @michaelgenehart or 323-441-9654.

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Why Are Event Organizers So Anxious?

We should all be diving into this new year with enthusiasm.

The stock market is reaching record highs. Unemployment is at its lowest level in a decade. GDP growth is consistent. Presumably, the new tax cuts will give companies more money to work with – and to spend with you!

All good reasons, under ordinary circumstances, for a show organizer to be optimistic.

So why are so many tradeshow organizers and conference planners I talk to worried?

Granted, CEIR’s third-quarter report on tradeshow industry performance was down 0.7 percent. But, if you remove two industry sectors from the total equation, performance was up 2.8 percent.

So what’s wrong? Why are so many organizers reporting that registrations for shows in the first or second quarters are down compared to previous years?

Event organizers are anxious because their potential attendees are anxious. Today, we live in a world in which people have no confidence their leaders can assure them that “everything will be OK.” They worry that things beyond their control will spiral into chaos.

Those of us who were around following Sept. 11, 2001, remember the impact the terrorist attacks had on shows that had nothing to do with what happened in New York, Washington, D.C., or Pennsylvania.

So what can you do if you feel you may suffer the consequences of the vague sense of dread that is blanketing the world?

Reinforce the value of your event. If your potential attendees decide they’ll only travel to one conference this year, make sure it’s yours.

Create content that will make it so much easier for your attendees to do their jobs and increase their bottom lines. Give them the most urgent information they need to navigate troubled waters. Make sure they will connect with the people who can help them the most.

And then be sure your potential attendees get the message that you have the information and connections they desperately want.

Make this the year you defy and exceed expectations!

Michael Hart is an event consultant and conference content professional. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com, @michaelgenehart or 323-441-9654.

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What If Your Show Dates Coincided With Hurricane Irma?

As events unfolded ever so slowly in the Caribbean and Florida, who among event organizers didn’t think, “There, but for the grace of God, go…”?

The organizers of the Miami International Auto Show postponed their event. Surf Expo in Orlando closed a day early.

Shortly before Hurricane Sandy a few years ago, I was headed to a long-planned event in New York, only to be stopped just minutes before I was to get on the plane. Most attendees for this particular show were traveling from the Northeast and had not yet left their homes when the decision was made to cancel, but a few dozen who didn’t get the message in time spent several days cooped up in a mid-Manhattan hotel.

What would you do if your show had the unfortunate pleasure of sitting right in the eye of a potential major natural disaster?

First off, don’t pretend — at least to yourself and your team — that it’s not about the money, because it is.

The better angel hovering just beyond your right shoulder is worried about people’s safety. But the realistic business person hovers over your left shoulder fretting about refunds, cancellation fees and busted budgets.

Even though you don’t want to, think about this ahead of time. Have a plan that, if you’re fortunate, you never have to execute regarding what you’ll do if you find yourself a few days out from the event and you — along with your sponsors and attendees — are learning about an impending disaster.

What would or could you do about rescheduling if necessary? What does the fine print in your contracts with vendors say about the financial implications of a sudden cancellation or an “act of God”? How far are the bulk of your attendees traveling and what does that tell you about how much time you have to make a final decision to go forward or cancel?

Thinking about all this in advance means you can save time changing plans on the spot at the last tension-filled minute.

Do your best during the registration process to assure you have reliable contact information for attendees and exhibitors if and when you need to get in touch with them immediately. Start communicating with them even before you’ve made your final decision about what to do.

Then be available when they start calling, texting and e-mailing you in those days when you’ve got a million other things to think about at the same time.

Do these simple things and when you make your decision about which path to take in the face of a potential disaster — cancel, reschedule, fly blind — you’ll do so with the confidence that will compel your event participants to trust you did the right thing for them.

Michael Hart is an event consultant and conference content professional. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com, @michaelgenehart or 323-441-9654.

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How a Total Eclipse May Have Helped Make Total Store Expo a Success

The National Assn. of Chain Drug Stores shares a few major challenges with other trade associations serving consumer-facing industries: technologies disrupting the traditional brick-and-mortar store model, consolidation and fast-changing consumer preferences.

To say the least, as one trade association executive told me recently, “Our members are grouchy.”

And, when it comes to NACDS’s annual event, apparently getting grouchier. I compared attendance figures reported last year to TSNN on the Total Store Expo with similar figures reported by NACSD to Tradeshow Week eight years earlier: Attendance has declined by two-thirds, from a reported 4,129 in 2008 to 1,336 last year.

Attendance totals for this year’s Total Store Expo, of course, are still to be announced.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that the poor Total Store Expo is suffering the same fate as other association events: The perception it is less and less relevant in meeting the needs of its attendees and members.

One saving grace this year though: NACDS got lucky when it came to the idea that a productive event should create the all-important opportunity for attendees to engage with one another. An unintended (I think) addition to the conference schedule was a total eclipse of the sun, at least some of which could be viewed from San Diego.

Bright and early on the third morning of the annual event, attendees poured out of the San Diego Convention Center in their eclipse-friendly sunglasses to watch the once-in-a-lifetime event unfold in front of them over San Diego Bay.

My guess is there was as much chatter there on the sidewalk by the bay for a few minutes as there had been during all the hours the show floor was opened.

Who knows? Maybe a few new business partnerships were started amidst the chatter.

In a world in which creating opportunities for event attendees to engage with one another is the most important priority, sometimes an event organizer just gets lucky.

Michael Hart is an event consultant and conference content professional. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com, @michaelgenehart or 323-441-9654.

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2 Ways Event Organizers Can Outperform GDP

The recent CEIR Index report on 2016 exhibition industry report was…meh.

The overall tradeshow industry growth for the year was 1.2 percent, down from 2.3 percent the year before. Gross domestic product growth for 2016, on the other hand, was 1.6 percent. The most discouraging analysis of this indicates it has been more than a decade since the factors measured by the CEIR Index routinely outperformed GDP. Meanwhile, marketing channels that directly compete with events continue to enter the arena.

CEIR economists predict stronger growth for the CEIR Index this year (2.5 percent) and even stronger growth in 2019 (2.8 percent). Their explanation is that they anticipate tradeshows in the heavy equipment and raw materials sectors will pick up – although I’m not sure I understand why they would.

At some point, event organizers will have to understand they are on their own when it comes to competing with digital marketing channels and they must offer both buyers and sellers something different than in the past – and many organizers are catching on.

The first element, for attendees, is engagement. Face it – if you haven’t already – your show is no longer the one place in the world where the industry professionals you serve can get information they need to do their jobs or news about new products. That’s what the Internet is for.

What the Internet cannot offer them is the ability to engage with each other in a meaningful way. The first time several years ago I saw a B-to-B event create a time slot for roundtables where attendees could sit down wherever they want and talk to each other, it sounded like a waste of time in a valuable event schedule. Who would just sit down and talk to a stranger?

And yet today you would be hard-pressed to find an organizer who’s thinking about the future of their show who doesn’t include a space for these roundtable discussions in their event.

The second element, for exhibitors, is more data on who is coming to your event. With enhanced data analytics, choosing a marketing channel to communicate with potential buyers is increasingly being commoditized. Marketers have the means to use numbers to find the most effective way to reach the people they want to communicate with.

So, do your part. Give them the attendee information you have; collect more of it if you need to; and make sure exhibitors and sponsors understand they can count on you to deliver to them the leads they want.

Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com.

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Abandon the ‘Old Think’ in Attendee Marketing

In his CEIR blog post earlier this week, “At Last Penny-Pitching Catches Up With Association Organizers,” Bob James notes that event marketers on the for-profit side of the industry seem to know a few tricks their peers on the association side have not caught on to yet.

You can look at Bob’s post yourself for specifics, but he attributes the fact that the typical association has unique problems with event attendance to “old think” beliefs about why people go to the trouble of traveling to a show or conference: The associations are still counting on member loyalty.

Association members are true believers, they think, who wouldn’t dare miss their industry’s most important event of the year.

We live in an era in which consumers not only can scan a website to get the best price on just about anything, they can choose from multiple websites to do their scanning!

Value and convenience trump loyalty, and you deny that fact at your own peril.

You must make the case every single year that your event is the one place that a person can go to:

  • Get the information they need to improve their bottom line or boost their career – right now.
  • Learn about the newest products and services that will make the difference to their company.
  • Meet the people that will be their future partners.

I have said this before, but it bears repeating: If, at the conclusion of an event, an attendee can say, “I did not meet one person I didn’t already know or learn anything I hadn’t heard before,” they’re not coming back.

Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com or @michaelgenehart.

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