by Terry Linhart

I’ve recently heard three different people say that we are currently in “the golden age” of events. I don’t know who originated this idea, but it may be true. A golden age is a time that is a peak for a certain action, useful item (the leisure suit was never part of a golden age), or social custom.

For instance, one could argue that the ten years around 1970 were the golden age of pop songwriting. Generally, when people say something is a “golden age” or something like that, there’s a bit of nostalgia involved. Most people wish for those “good ol’ days” even though they weren’t really as “good” as we remember them to be. And I’m thinking of the 1970s here again. Not our best decade socially.

The difficulty is to recognize when you’re at a social peak, a “golden age,” and we may very well be there right now when it comes to events and meetings. The number of conferences, meetings, regional seminars, and training sessions is as high as ever. And all of this has developed in an era where Skype, Zoom, and other virtual means make holding online meetings easy to facilitate.

Our love for attending events (e.g. conventions, trade shows, and meet-ups) has been a boon to event organizers. Funders and organizers throw more money at events with the hope to stand out in a crowded event space. We who attend are throwing money at the event as well with the specific hope to learn and connect, to “profit” in some way.

The Pressure is On

Today’s conference organizers have to think through how to transform the rented space into something with multi-sensory appeal. They have to think about how to get attendees to participate and not “check out” on the first day, like almost 1/3 of every conference does. They have to find ways to make the attendees the “stars” in the space, working to increase interaction between who comes to the event and the talent and exhibitors who are featured at the event. They have to think about food and drinks in a culture that value eating well more than ever.

These are opulent consumer-driven times and the pressure is on to fulfill the various appetites that attendees bring with them – even ones they don’t recognize that they have.

Yet, our work has shown that the fundamental goal for the event (and what attendees will evaluate the event by when it’s over) has little to do with what consumes most conference organizers who focus on programming: It’s whether the event “rings true” with attendees and has the desired outcomes in their lives, work, and future. If an event does this, then it’s more likely that an attendee will return to future events.

Making the Event Worth It

One of our favorite examples is ironically an event designed for those who plan events. Engage Events is a company that brings together wedding planners who can perform luxury weddings. This company knows the desires and needs of their audience and their events sell out with regularity. In fact, the price for these events, though priced at a premium level, is seen as worth it because the return for attendees is worth the investment.

I once officiated for a luxury wedding in Santa Monica and I watched the wedding planner (who also coordinates corporate events of significance across the southwest) step and lead the week to a level of excellence I hadn’t ever experienced before or since. The way Debbie Vaughan worked with grace, excellence, and careful attention was remarkable given the high expectations of the venue, family, and contractors. It was a lesson to me, as a fellow event planner, that I still can learn from other events and event coordinators.

Wouldn’t it be great to not have to worry about the price of an event because the return was seen as worth every dollar of the registration fee? And, if we can’t imagine that then perhaps we need to revisit the design and purpose of the event. Perhaps we need to attend some other events to reset our understanding of what’s possible when gathering people together.

Get the Feedback Your Event Needs to Succeed

One critical element that is necessary for events to succeed is feedback. As we work with crowds that are spread across multiple venues and are representing our event to their social media world via hashtags, we need to have consistent awareness on what attendees are experiencing and thinking. And if we can do that in real-time it’s even better! However, it seems harder to get good data on how the event is going and to do so in a way that doesn’t annoy attendees.

After-conference surveys rely on faulty memory and only reward the program manager with what basically are first impressions where most responses lack helpful substance. Still, many questions remain regarding how the attendees interacted with the elements of the event and what they are “taking home.” Organizers need to know:

  • What were attendees interactions with specific elements of an event?
  • Did the event help push our culture forward with attendees?
  • What outcome goals are being realized and missed two months after the event? And why?
  • Were the food and drinks memorable or just serviceable?
  • What are people talking about as they think about coming to our next event?

How Arbor Can Help

In an era where good data is difficult to come by, we do just that: We give you the best data on your event beyond the traditional post-conference online survey (which we also do!).  From mini-surveys during the event to on-site interviews or focus groups on-site to custom end-of-event surveys for all groups (attendees, exhibitors, external partners, and talent) to virtual interviews a month or two after the event, Arbor gets beyond simple impressions and unexplained numbers to provide the depth and breadth of data that gives you a complete snapshot of your event’s effects.

Each event is different. That’s why we can custom-design the evaluation to meet the needs and budgets. For just a few dollars (or less!) per person, you can have the data you need to make your next event even stronger!

Get the conversation started with us today to learn how Arbor can help your organization realize its golden event age at your next event.