The best events have always delivered a sense of community for attendees. But today, the average event attendee in 2021 and beyond expects more and more events to deliver this sense of community. They expect them to do it well — and to do it in new, creative ways. While this may mean extra steps in your event planning process, it may also mean you end up with a more loyal audience, one made up of fans who, at the conclusion of your event, are already asking about the next one.
Building and maintaining community among your attendees is more important now than perhaps ever before. Here are a few things to consider as you aim to create more meaningful connections among your event attendees and keep them coming back event after event.
1. Change the way you think about community
Identifying great speakers will always be a part of the planning process that event professionals just can’t cut corners with, but it’s no longer alone at the top.
In 2020, the entire events industry went through an intense period of trial and error when it came to going virtual, and we’ve emerged from the darkness in 2021 better equipped to do virtual and hybrid events the right way. Audiences learned that virtual events can in many cases provide more person to person connections, as events upgraded their virtual platforms, and they’re expecting these same kinds of connections to continue to be made even as we return to in-person or hybrid events.
In 2021 and beyond, the community feeling that attendees will experience is just as important as the content they will encounter. Event professionals should devote as much time creating opportunities for these connections as they do finding the perfect speaker for their events. Having a partner like AAE with years of experience orchestrating unforgettable events will go a long way.
AAE bonus tip: create an advisory board of some of your most engaged attendees to gauge the success of your efforts and to generate ideas to improve future events.
2. Communities don’t build themselves
The real work of building community starts long before any events take place. Developing an extensive, calculated, organized plan – and sticking to it – is key to having any kind of success.
Like we’ve touched on before in regards to your overall ROI strategy, the first step after identifying what your stakeholders care about is figuring out what success would look like. Perhaps a baseline goal for infusing community into your events is to increase your repeat attendees by a certain percentage, or maybe simply up the participation rate for your live discussion. With your unique goals clearly defined, you can now build a comprehensive plan to test out strategies that bring you closer to achieving them.
If you make community building a key part of your event plan, stick to that plan, and adapt and improve it with each event, you will have a much better chance of delivering the kinds of events that allow your attendees to make lasting connections.
AAE bonus tip: host a post event Q&A with the event speaker during which attendees can ask questions and have a conversation about key takeaways.
3. Your community should transcend your events
If you think for a moment about some examples of communities — say, a local sports league, professional organization, university alumni group, or even a faith-based community — you’ll notice that none of them have a designated expiration date. So why should the sense of community we build through our events not transcend the event itself?
Event professionals should build online spaces for their attendees to meet, exchange information, and have conversations. Be it through social media like Facebook groups or via a custom platform, this communication hub should be up and running before, during, and after your event.
This living, breathing hub can become the lifeblood of your event planning process. Attendees will continue conversations long after the event — but, crucially, these conversations will happen in a space where you can continue to engage your audience and share information about upcoming events to hopefully keep them coming back for more.
AAE bonus tip: let the conversation amongst attendees drive the topics for future events. This way, you know your events are aligned with what your audience truly cares about.
There’s no getting around it. Attendees’ expectations for events — virtual, in person, and hybrid — have changed. Event professionals who are able to deliver the kind of events that give audiences the sense of community they now crave will set themselves apart from the rest.
As you navigate the challenges that come with this process, AAE is here to guide you through, with years of experience helping event professionals garner resoundingly positive reviews from attendees.