Planning Pod Blog


Fresh insights and best practices for event professionals

7 Bold and Brazen Ways to Boost Attendee Engagement

by | Feb 15, 2017 | Attendee Engagement, Best Practices, Event Management, Event Marketing, Marketing, Stories

Hundreds of articles have been written on attendee engagement and all the sundry ways to create an immersive attendee experience. And we’ve heard (and written about ourselves) all the same ideas. Make sessions more interactive. Creatively employ online registration and event apps. Add a dose of virtual reality.  Gamify everything. Blah blah blah.

So instead of rehashing what you can find everywhere, we thought we’d take a different approach and offer up ideas that may not get as much attention … but are definitely attention-grabbing.

1. Make everything a secret

I may be showing my age, but back in the 90s when raves were all the rage, we “heard” about events via handbills and flyers, which instructed us to send an email for details or show up to a particular location for directions. And hence commenced a sort of scavenger hunt that took you to vacant parking lots and warehouses until you found the venue, which when you got close enough you could hear the kickdrum pounding out “oonch, oonch, oonch, oonch”. Paradise found.

The reason this worked was two reasons: exclusivity and the fact that you had to earn your attendance. And the great thing was that it immersed you in the experience long before you walked through the door. It built the anticipation. It made you yearn for being there.

You could do the same for your events, says Treshia Coleman of Coleman & Company. “For example, activities or speakers could be announced on Facebook, the venue location could be tweeted, date emailed, the time texted or included in a video message on YouTube, and hints may be posted on Instagram.”

Hells yeah … a cross-social-media scavenger hunt. Or better yet, go old school and use handbills and flyers.

2. Add fire … and snow

There’s something about extreme elements that attracts a crowd (if you’ve ever been to a towering bonfire, you know what I mean).

However, you don’t have to have a flaming tower of wooden-scaffolding-and-scrub to bring people together. Instead, you could hire firespitters or place firepits throughout the venue. Just be safe and consult the venue and local fire marshal to make sure everything is up to code.

Or you could do the inverse and focus on snow. Have a snowball fight at a summer company picnic. Challenge teams to build a real snowman on large swaths of plastic. Or set up a snowcone booth next to the bar and offer “adult” snowcone options. The possibilities are endless.

3. Sprinkle some 4:20 into the festivities

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is only an option for those states where recreational marijuana is legal. So my beautiful, wonderful, blissful Colorado as well as Alaska, California, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington are the only places where you can currently do this at this time. And the feds still consider this stuff illegal. And you need to do it carefully and by the letter of the law. And we are not endorsing this in any way shape and form. And we are not attorneys so do not take this as legal advice. Ok … I think we are covered.

It seems that certain events in certain locales have embraced the ganja and incorporated it into their festivities. I have seen this to some extent at events in Colorado with dispensaries having a presence at music festivals. But it seems to be taking hold in other states, according to Ivy Gaitatzis of Voulez Events.

“One trend that is specific to San Francisco is cannabis-incorporated weddings, including marijuana favors,” she says. “Couples envision a wedding or event with weed and consult with vendors and the venue about how to achieve their goals within the law. And education is a significant part of this process.”

Well, this is certainly a trend to watch. And if your audience embraces the “kind bud”, this element almost certainly promotes engagement. Or maybe it promotes disengagement. Or what were we talking about? I don’t remember now. Where are the chips. And the Oreos. And the Ben and Jerry’s. I love you guys.

4. Bring actors or dancers into the mix

Do you remember that wedding scene at the beginning of “Love Actually”? Of course you do, because every woman in the English-speaking universe loves that movie, which means every man in the English-speaking universe has also watched it every holiday season.

What makes that scene amazing are the musicians that pop up in the audience to play The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love”. Ignore the fact that these strangers would have been obvious plants at such a small wedding and this scene is really amazing. And you can do the same thing at your events.

Hire musicians or singers to “spontaneously” start performing. Employ actresses and actors to add drama to the event. Ivy Gaitatzis adds, “We see more and more ballet-for-hire, flash mob performances, live painting and mobile serenading Cumbia brass bands requested for our events.”

This is called priming the pump, and it can encourage your attendees to open up and act out in ways they could not have imagined beforehand.

5. Think like a spa

God I love going to spas. You walk in and you are instantly given a hot towel for your face, a glass of cucumber-infused water and an incredibly warm, fluffy bathrobe that you measure up to see if you can sneak out in your duffel bag. And that’s only the start of the pampering.

You could give your attendees the same royal treatment. Warm towels at the registration desk. Complimentary massages (via massage chairs with masseuses) scattered throughout the venue. Herb-infused or citrus-infused water stations. Gourmet coffees and cookies during breaks. Guided meditations after long sessions. Power yoga in the early AM and before dinner.

I already feel relaxed just writing this. Someone plan this event soon so I can attend it.

6. Screw gamifying … just add more games

We talk about gamifying events, but why offer a pale substitute when you can provide the real thing, as Miles Nye of Wise Guys Events describes.

“Games engage players and get them mixing and mingling,” he says. “Not ‘gamification,’ but actually playing a game. It sparks the competitive spirit and gets players invested in the event – a proper game is a series of interesting choices.”

He has hosted a Halloween zombie infection game at a salon in downtown LA (and, yes, that does sound very LA), a social card game for Disney imagineers and crazy holiday ice-breakers with mystery gifts that lead attendees to interact with each other in very unexpected ways.

Needless to say, coming up with unique games that will interest your attendees still works and is worth the effort.

7. Offer food around every corner

Is it just me or are most events pretty stingy with food. Yes, I know it’s usually the biggest expense. But study after study shows that people are happier, more willing to interact and are more intellectually active when they have food in their stomach.

So why aren’t event organizers pushing food at me the way I often see alcohol pushed? (BTW, Event Manager Blog has a great article on how events are over-saturated with alcohol … pun fully intended … IMHO too much booze detracts in a big way from genuine interaction at most events.) I don’t have the answer to this other than than most event planners don’t want to waste lots of food that has sat out all day, and it’s expensive.

The solution? Either offer unique, healthy, premium treats throughout the venue or create chef stations for quickly made snacks for your attendees. These chef stations can also entice people to eat (much like the always-on bacon skillet in the meat department of my local Safeway … explains why I always come home with more bacon).

In conclusion, you may not use any of these attendee engagement ideas, and they may not apply to your audience. But the idea here is to get out of your own head, stop discounting crazy attendee immersion ideas and try something different that may just work.