Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What We Can Learn from Loyal Attendees

“I don’t take notes at a conference, I write a to-do list,” a company president and regular conference attendee told me. “I get started on execution while I’m still at the event,” he explained. You can improve your retention rate by learning not simply why your loyal attendees return but also how they achieve the benefits that draw them back.

Your returning attendees are demonstrating that they have gained from your last event. Undoubtedly you’ve used their feedback to articulate the benefits of your event for marketing purposes, but have you looked at how your returning participants actually use the events?

Talk to your most loyal attendees. Find out what they do differently, compared to the typical attendee. Ask yourself, are there ways to support the behavior that makes it more likely for attendees to return?

Loyal attendees can usually identify specific actions they took as a result of event participation. Returning attendees are more likely than one-timers to have applied an idea which they picked up from a session or from informal exchange. They are also more likely to have followed up with a new contact they met.

Helping attendees take action will improve your retention rate. Engagement at the event generates positive feedback and leads to action after the event. For example, we found that in executive workshops where attendees were asked to share one idea they intended to implement, evaluation ratings improved. More importantly, we have evidence that these attendees were more receptive to future event invitations. We have also set up game-show style and role-playing sessions that got people involved – it was not a surprise that we saw those people again in subsequent years.

Attendee engagement with fellow attendees facilitates follow-up action after the event because participants get to know each other better. Group exercises and truly participatory discussions within sessions are something our most loyal attendees have consistently told us adds value because of the relationships formed in the interactions.

New technologies can also aid the engagement that leads to action. Not everyone wants to stand up and ask a question or give a response. We’ve gotten attendees to text and email questions from the floor and respond to questions using their smart phones. Forming LinkedIn and Twitter groups to connect attendees is also a growing practice.

Here’s a test: Motivating action is crucial to helping people and encouraging them to come back for more. Put the above ideas to a test yourself by adding one relevant item to your to-do list, right now. I would love to hear about your results!

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Anonymous Shauna Peters said...

Great post, Roger. We have definitely found over our many years in event management, across industries, when attendees are actively engaged, they are more satisfied and more likely to return. I think the challenge today is convincing people to slow down long enough to engage fully, rather than try to collect lists of information in the quickest way possible.

November 12, 2009 at 1:21 PM  
Blogger Roger Wilson said...

The key concept is that engagement leads to action which leads to value gained. E.G. in my first example the attendee who writes out a to-do list instead of taking notes is engaged by his own process of translating abstract ideas into action. Returning attendees have a distinctive bias toward taking action.

November 14, 2009 at 5:24 PM  
Anonymous Catherine Lincoln said...

Roger, this gave me an idea of a new social media group of past attendees who want to keep in touch with one another. We know our frequent attendees from overseas look forward to seeing their friends and colleagues from year to year, so why not give them a place on Facebook or LinkedIn where they can touch base in between?

November 15, 2009 at 7:30 AM  
Blogger Roger Wilson said...

Catherine- Fairly easy to do, let me know how what kind of response you get. One question, how can you help your overseas attendees take action for their own benefit? What I have found in surveying returning attendees is that they have taken some explicit action as a result of their participation in previous meetings. Could you say, when you solicit their participation in the group, that you want them to do three things:
1) Sign up
2) Report to the group about one thing they have done or intend to do based on something they picked up at your event
3) Follow-up with one person that they met or saw on the registration list that they have not yet contacted.
I have been surprised at how much leverage attendees find in one simple action. And again it is in stimulating action that we help attendees create value from our events.
Thanks for your comment and let me know what happens when you do set up your groups.

November 15, 2009 at 8:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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November 23, 2009 at 10:34 AM  

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