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Event experience | 23 November 2016

Put The Phone Down: How To Get Attendees To Engage At An Event

David Epstein

Admit it, you’re glued to your smartphone.

You use it to reply to work emails when you’re spending time with friends, you rely on it to distract you when you’re feeling bored. It stores cherished photos, guilty pleasures and no-nonsense work apps. 

The same can be said for your event attendees, so much so that it might seem challenging to get people to disconnect from their phone so that they actually engage with the event you and your team have spent so much time planning.

In a recent webinar, the Bizzabo team reviewed three principles to follow in order to encourage attendees to engage with one another, click here to watch the webinar, or read on for a summary.

Make Big Events Feel Small

Regardless of the actual size of the event in question, event organizers interested in better engaging attendees must find creative ways to make the event feel small and intimate. People are far more likely to be engaged if they feel like they have the opportunity to share feedback and to speak with fellow attendees.

On the left (below), event organizers created breakout sessions with round tables. This allowed attendees to speak with one another face-to-face and avoided setting non-verbal hierarchies, which can happen when using rectangular tables. On the right (below), Gary Vaynerchuk a keynote event speaker, took time to connect with guests at a large event. Doing this helped to make the event feel more intimate despite the fact that hundreds of people attended his presentation.

Screen Shot 2016-11-23 at 4.24.14 PM.png

For event organizers with limited access to breakout rooms, another option to boost the level of intimacy is to encourage keynote speakers to get off of the stage and to walk among seated event attendees during a presentation. By breaking the fourth wall, speakers are able to form a stronger non-verbal connection with audience members.

Embrace Omni-Channel Networking

Not all event attendees are the same, while most will want to make valuable connections with peers, the way in which attendees will want to network is going to vary. Just as many B2C brands have embraced “omni-channel” retail, event organizers must also embrace omni-channel networking.

Attendee Engagement Webinar Slide 2.png

When you want to purchase an item from Walmart, you have many different options. You can go to a physical store,  go to, download a Walmart app and purchase items from there, or you can shop through (an e-commerce platform recently acquired by Walmart). The marketers at Walmart understand that they must allow the consumer to purchase products through different modalities.

Similarly, event organizers must provide event attendees with many different ways to network. Some will prefer traditional in-person event networking, while others will prefer to use an event app, or to connect on social media, through video hangouts, during scheduled exercise or entertainment sessions, or through text/messenger apps. Some will also need ample time to recharge in order to make the most out of the event.

Use Data to Evaluate Event Success

Once an event has concluded how can you tell if event attendees actually found the experience valuable?

There are many different ways to go about trying to evaluate this, but one quick and easy way is through NPS (Net Promoter Score) surveys. We have written about this topic before, click here to read an in-depth NPS article. The NPS survey is worth mentioning again because for organizers interested in understanding bottom-line event success, an NPS survey is the way to go and surely the main reason to improve attendee engagement is to ultimately create a more successful event.Attendee Engagement Slide 3.png

For organizers interested in collecting additional feedback from event attendees, an NPS survey makes it easier for event planners to follow up with attendees who provided different ratings. This means that questions can be better segmented based on a specific NPS score, so that organizers can better learn from attendee feedback.

Next Steps

There are a variety of tactics event organizers can implement to encourage attendees to get off of their phones so that they better engage with an event. By ensuring that the event feels intimate regardless of the size, by creating an omni-channel event networking experience and by using data to evaluate the success of these initiatives, event organizers will be able to create a “put down your phone” worthy experience.

For event organizers who want to take event engagement to an even higher level, download a free ebook that teaches readers how to make smart event management choices by clicking the button below!

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