5 Ways to Maximize Engagement & Motivation at Events

By: Erica Lalk
attendee using event app

Delivering a powerful attendee experience should be the top priority for event designers. 

It’s a crucial differentiator in a crowded lineup of conferences, trade shows and seminars. The best events, and event designers, help attendees forget their inbox and focus on the content and community-building opportunities. They cultivate serendipity, too. 

Event magic happens when participants get the opportunity to experience something exciting together. Create an ideal scenario where total event immersion inspires attendees to register early, participate fully and meaningfully engage with each other. Here’s how.

1. Use a Storytelling Approach to Immerse Event Attendees

A uniquely branded event environment immediately immerses attendees in the experience. But striving for an experiential event means thinking beyond themes and color schemes. Storytelling is about so much more than look and feel.  

A cohesive agenda weaves the brand’s mission and vision into the attendee journey to amplify the event experience and spark conversation around your event topic and goals. There’s an “aboutness,” or core idea, that touches on essential questions your audience can’t necessarily answer on their own.

Ask yourself: 

  • What is the consistent message that ties together every element of the event? 
  • How can sessions spark attendees’ imagination and create dramatic moments from registration through their return home? 

The event should guide participants through discovery phases with plot twists and extras that surprise and delight. Mix media to build an engaging end-to-end story that increases recall. Combine facilitated discussion, film, animation, game plays and other hands-on elements. A culminating activity should incorporate “can’t-do-it-themselves” elements, such as a “carnival” village with spinning aerialists who appear in the blink of an eye. 

Related: Understand how to build a narrative arc and its purpose in immersive event design.

2. Communicate Your Event Purpose Early Across All Channels

Event communications often lead with the facts: what, when, where. Announcing an appealing destination can certainly help with early buzz but answering the “why” will make your event a must-attend for your target audience. This needs to happen right away, otherwise competing commitments are bound to fill their calendars.

Potential attendees need to understand the event purpose before they secure their spot and book their travel. If you don’t do this, reaching attendance goals will be difficult. 

Here’s how you make attendees realize what’s in it for them.

  • Compelling pre-event communications increase excitement and visibility while building a community of engaged attendees long before the day of the event. 
  • A personalized, cross-media approach conveys the purpose and key takeaways. 
  • Print and digital communications expand your reach and ensure your message is received and acted on in a timely manner. 

Related: Follow these steps to create an event marketing plan that gets the word out early. 

3. Measure Event Attendee Feedback With New Technology 

Emerging technology is poised to impact every aspect of event design. Now, AI-enabled tools can read human emotions and offer real-time insights into audience reaction. “Reading the room” to determine which of the keynote’s words and phrases resonated could provide better data than relying on people to remember how they felt for post-event evaluations. 

We still love and recommend mobile event apps, especially as more events become paperless. Use surveys and polls before, during and after the event to better understand trends, and attendee preferences and demographics (that you can apply to future events). Questionnaire and session feedback features can also gauge whether attendees got what they wanted out of your event, and how well it resonated. Tie fact-based data with the emotional response feedback to inform decisions to improve future events. 

Related: What to ask on post-event surveys to get feedback that benefits future plans.

4. Facilitate Attendee Interactions Through Branded Interactive Elements  

Focusing on connection lets your attendees add more value to their experiences. Think differently about how historically one-way conversation keynotes and plenary sessions are planned to maximize engagement. The majority of attendees’ time together should take place through specialized breakouts, workshops and interactive sessions. 

  • Look for ways to encourage bonding while building brand loyalty—a key goal for companies that invest in events. 
  • Section a big event into more intimate opportunities. 
  • Create “birds of a feather” topic tables and offer lanyard swag that showcases their preferences. 
  • Kick off with speed networking breakfasts with color-coded drink sleeves that signal specific roles, such as sales, research and development, marketing, etc. to drive connections and conversations throughout the event.
  • Ask yourself: 
    • How can sponsorships include a hands-on component?
    • What elements enable attendees who share common goals or attributes to find each other? 

5. Design Event Spaces to Spur Attendee Collaboration

For in-person events, lean into the energy created by uniting people with a common purpose, in the same physical location. It not only eliminates wasted space but maximizes the environment for attendees to engage and collaborate. Using your imagination to create a room layout specific to a presentation, theme or goal can leave a lasting impression while enhancing engagement. Pay attention to how your setup (from the style of tables and seating arrangement to technological assets and other supplies) can encourage small group processes and paired conversations. 

  • Place blank whiteboards in breakout rooms to give those napkin sketch brainstorms a broader audience. 
  • Make high top tables with chargers available for people to “plug-into” each other’s insights while they re-charge their devices. 
  • Create physical pathways to encourage organic “hallway conversations” that often lead to meaningful connections. 
  • Post QR codes around the event space to engage attendees in 3D-learning scenarios.
  • Incorporate icons into stage breaks so attendees can opt-in to affinity groups.
  • Hold a design lab or mini “hackathon” to offer an experiential learning environment where they can idea-share and problem-solve. 

If your event feels relevant and engaging in the moment, and brings clarity to challenges that participants can use in their day-to-day roles, attendees will be motivated to mark their calendars for next year.    

Download our event experience ebook to learn how evoking emotion in immersive experience design builds brand loyalty.

Download Our Immersive Events Ebook
Erica White
Erica Lalk

Erica’s passion for events and incentive travel can be felt immediately upon speaking with her. With 15+ years' experience planning and operating global travel and incentive experiences, she’s been well prepared for her role as Event Design Leader. From day one of working with clients, Erica prioritizes building strong, trustworthy relationships while offering original ideas that elevate the attendee experience. When she’s off the clock, you can find her laughing with her family or chatting with her Husky, Naya. And if you have a Peloton, send her your username, so you can become best friends.