How to Build Your Event With an Experience-First Design
A human-centered approach to creating events that are more memorable and successful.
Whether you’re planning an event that’s virtual, in-person, or hybrid, you should be leading with an experience-first design. This creative, human-centered approach ensures that your attendees get the most out of your event, and that they remember it long after it’s over. No matter what use case you’re exploring, experience should be your North Star for driving impact with your events.
“You want to be remembered,” says Lauren Kerr, Director of Events at Bizzabo. “The experience will make the lasting impression, otherwise you’ll be one of thousands of events that go on.”
In fact, the metric is so important, event professionals are seeing an influx of Experience Designers in the industry. Lauren believes the title humanizes events more, and speaks to the attendee-centric design everyone is seeking. ”I’m seeing a lot more of that role,” she says. “You’re now getting specialists that look at the experience piece more in-depth so it’s not just generic event planning.”
And with more reach than ever available due to virtual and hybrid, generic events just don’t cut it anymore. “The disruption was needed,” says Lauren. “Larger scale events need to focus on experience to stand out.”
Here are some areas you should focus on to best employ an experience-first design.
Attendees and Personas
Embedding attendee experience into the planning process is a must, and that includes determining the types of personas—fictional characters who represent your audience—that will be in attendance, and what their goals are. This gives you insight into how to best design tailored experiences. “Cross the levels of personalities with key contacts when planning to make sure you have their input on what they’d be looking for,” says Lauren. Designing with empathy around personas keeps attendees engaged and motivated, while allowing you to refine your marketing message for each consumer.
This step is not only crucial to the individual attendee experience, but to the overall relevance of your event. Don’t just assume that your agenda is offering what attendees want—ask. “Check in and see that what you’re doing is still in tune with what the industry needs,” says Lauren. Once you’ve determined who will be there, you need to focus on what they want to get out of your event.
This is another area where you can’t assume. Multiple personas at an event means multiple goals need to be met, and designing your event to work towards those goals will ensure a higher rate of success. “Identify those goals before the planning process,” says Lauren. “Get many people to give their input on the objectives. Find out what is going to inspire them, who needs to bond.” The wider cross-section of information you can gather about audience objectives in advance, the more tailored your plan will be. Once you have the personas and objectives locked down, you can begin to map the attendee journey.
Take the information you gained by engaging with attendees in advance and build your action plan around that. Start with a clear mission, and use it to inform the structure of the day. Lauren likes to start her planning process with an agenda template that moves attendees of all personas through a journey.
- Wow factor: Entertainment or exciting keynote speaker that engages attendees
- Interactive component: Use the buzz of your wow factor to get attendees to engage with each other
- Action items: Deliver the takeaways of your event in a learning capacity
This template not only creates an exciting and engaging user experience, it provides opportunities for each persona to get what they came for in a memorable way.
Journey mapping is an important step especially when considering hybrid events. Consider: what is the experience journey for an in-person attendee versus a virtual attendee? Does your event support all personas able to engage in their desired way no matter how they’re consuming the event’s content?
Because there’s not always time and resources to curate an event perfectly, let’s explore how to employ a pragmatic, experience-first design through an event use case.
Use Case Study: Sales Kick-Off
For the sake of this study, let’s explore the attendees and possible personas of a sales kick-off event. Then we can determine how to design a sales kick-off experience that connects with each persona.
Attendees: Go-to-market teams (Account Executives, Customer Success Managers)
- Mandated Learner
- Friends Socializer
- Extreme Networker
*We’re referencing our data-driven attendee personas here.
- Inspire the team and leave them with a sense of confidence and excitement
- Enable and prepare them to achieve their goals this year (i.e. hit quota)
- Deliver opportunities to bond with their team and the wider organization
With this information, we can design an experience for each persona that is memorable for their type, while also allowing them to achieve their objectives, and meet the company’s goals.
At a sales kick-off, this persona wants to walk away with real action items. Provide more than surface-level insights during sessions, and offer physical items to take away like downloadable workbooks, or action plans.
Best formats for Mandated Learners:
- Plenary sessions
- Content focused on action items
At this type of internal event, curate this persona’s experience so they’re engaging with the team members they connect with the most. Provide experiences that allow them to speak with their group, and create more intimate settings with fewer people where the interaction is more targeted.
Best formats for Friends Socializers:
- Inspirational speakers
- Collaborative group sessions
This persona requires interaction to keep their attention—panels or sessions that allow the audience to be involved work best here. Keep them engaged with polling, a chat feature, or asking for feedback.
Best formats for Extreme Networkers:
- Short and sweet content that’s easy to digest
- Longer networking breaks between sessions
For a sales kick-off, the agenda should reflect the goals of the event in a way that’s memorable for the various personas in the audience. An agenda for this event might include time to:
- Inspire: Engage the leadership team to rally employees around the sales kick-off goals
- Learn: From outside speakers and peer-to-peer, allowing space for collaboration
- Bond: Something fun and memorable that the entire organization takes part in
How Data Can Help You Measure Success
Once you’ve planned an experience-driven event using personas, objectives, and journey mapping, how can you measure if it was successful or not? “The data speaks louder than words,” says Lauren. The more you’re able to use data to prove success, the better you’ll be able to tailor your events in the future.
Consider taking a closer look at event metrics like:
Attrition rates: Track this information event-over-event and note what changed and if it affected the percentage of attendees who didn’t just register but actually showed up. Did you land a bigger keynote? Was your marketing more effective?
Engagement times: How long was a session versus how long did attendees stay in the room (virtual or physical)? Is there a time of day where people are better engaged or more available? Curate your experience around this information.
Popular events: Did one session have double the attendees than all the others? Figure out what made it different and replicate that success.
With experience-first design you’ll also see new attendees coming to check out what you have to offer. “Unique events cause great word of mouth and will have other people curious,” says Lauren.
“You’re going to be remembered, and will stand out beyond your competitors. People will want to come back.”