Trying to avoid rinse and repeat events every year?
Do you wish you could amaze and excite your attendees with a more personalized experience?
Looking for ideas and tips to evolve and change your next event so it feels different than before?
Listen to the podcast above as Erica Lalk, Event Solutions Director at ITA Group, shares what event marketers can do to overcome the fear of changing what has always worked in their event program and bring something different, personalized and memorable to their attendees.
Erica has more than 15 years of event management experience and she uses that expertise to help her clients produce intentional events. She excels in logistics and operations, and her attention to detail is second to none.
Good at wearing multiple hats, Erica’s passion for events has evolved into a knack for onboarding new clients at ITA Group. She focuses on getting to know both the company and the client stakeholders in order to roll out a transition plan that will leave everyone feeling motivated and energized to execute a successful event. Creating these strong and trustworthy relationships is critical in this industry, and Erica works hard every day to do just that.
After you listen to the podcast, download our white paper for even more tips on how you can personalize the attendee journey.
Max Kenkel: Hey everyone, I’m Max Kenkel your host, and today we’re going to be talking with Erica White. Erica has more than 15 years of event management experience and she uses that expertise to help her clients produce intentional events.
She excels in logistics and operations, and her attention to detail is second to none. Good at wearing multiple hats, Erica’s passion for events has evolved into a knack for onboarding new clients at ITA Group.
She focuses on getting to know both the company and the client stakeholders in order to roll out a transition plan that will leave everyone feeling motivated and energized to execute a successful event. Creating these strong and trustworthy relationships is critical in this industry, and Erica works hard every day to do just that. Erica, welcome.
So let’s jump right into it—why do you think event marketers and their stakeholders struggle making changes in their events from one year to the next?
Erica Lalk: Workload. Listen, we all juggle so much as event professionals. I rarely hear planners saying that they're not at max capacity and working at late nights and or weekends—it's just easier to rinse and repeat.
It's also more comfortable for the attendees. It’s just nice to know what to expect when you're going into an event, year after year. Sure, that makes sense. I think those are all pretty reasonable explanations.
MK: Do you think going forward event professionals can just rest on their laurels anymore?
EL: Oh my gosh—the answer is no. We have so much data now to work with, we can take the guesswork out of the event. You cannot ignore the cold hard facts, and you have to listen to your attendees’ emotion. We have to lean into this data and leverage wherever possible, but also be sure we don't lose that gut instinct. As planners we really fall back on that, and it's so important to kind of make sure you have a good mix of utilizing both.
I mentioned earlier that people like comfort. But the good news is that after 2020, we’ve realized (more than ever) how important it is to overcome that fear of uncomfortable because it's just not always something we can rely on. It's just the fact that when you're on your toes—and kept on your toes—you're going to be more engaged. And if you feel more comfortable, it's easier to float through the keynotes in the breakouts without engaging at all.
Events are going to continue to fracture in unique ways or different audience type both in person and also virtually, so we can use that data to create a more personalized feel for every attendee, especially as your participant demographics continue to evolve.
MK: That makes a lot of sense and we know everybody in the world now is craving personalization—they want to feel like they are known by the brand. How do you help event marketers and stakeholders personalize the attendee journey along the way.
EL: Well, I mean I could talk about this for hours but I’ll try to keep it short. First of all is customizing the engagement to them. Make sure when you’re talking to them it speaks specifically to them versus just a general communication out to all attendees—that just won't work anymore.
Leverage registration. I feel this is such a miss. Time after time people just use it to collect that basic information that is not okay. Ask them questions to help you create content and also drive the on-site experiences.
A simple example of this is just ask them what are they most anxious to learn about or what is the key takeaway from the event. Then review all those answers once registration is closed, and perhaps update or even tailor those sessions to ensure that you're hitting on what's important to the people that are attending.
You can then use that to follow up with each attendee on their response, and let them know: “Hey, based on your responses during registration, make sure you don’t miss these breakouts or this particular social event.”
Another thing is reimagining the gifting experience. For a while it was always “What’s the newest and greatest tech gadget?”—but it’s time to think different. Thoughtfulness goes a long ways. I always received the most feedback on site, when it's like a $5 item, but it’s thoughtful and we let them know like this item is here because of [a specific] reason.
For example, we were on a site inspection kind of roaming about the area and we came across this artist who was out painting, and we stopped to just chat with him for a little bit. He was so passionate about the area and just so engaging, and we’re like, “Oh my gosh—Would you be willing to curate a custom piece for our group and perhaps even come and talk to them?” And he was so excited to do it. We actually were lucky to have enough time that he thought he could execute on it. Luckily he did. He came to the dinner and shared a story about how he came to the area and why he stayed and his passion around art, and everyone fell in love with him. And obviously we then put that curated piece of art into their room that night. It wasn’t that expensive, but everyone loved him so much and the next day they were all coming in talking about how special it was it just gave us all the fields was such a great experience.
One more thing is giving back to the local community on the attendees’ behalf. We all know it, giving makes us feel happy and when you’re happy, you’re engaged and you become more loyal to that brand. Talk to local contacts and find a project that ties back to maybe the company’s passion projects or, even just do something that is locally of need. It's important that you make the attendees feel part of it. Don't just say, “We donated X amount”—that doesn't engage them. It doesn’t make them feel like they’re part of it.
A great example of this could be a donation of schoolbooks to a local school. You could have the principal come and give thanks while at a dinner or during the meeting; maybe even have some of the kids from the school come and perform as a token of their gratitude. I did this once in Tanzania and Max (oh my gosh) it's a memory, we will never forget. The kids love showing off in front of everyone. And the group actually became so attached and involved and engage that we ended up having to change the agenda the next day so the group could go see the kids at the school.
Talk about the “feels” right? That gave us that exact feeling even elevated more so than we thought we would get.
MK: Yeah, no kidding talk about forming a connection, not just to the brand in that case, but the area there and the whole event—you’re making lifelong memories.
Do you have any recent examples of how you’ve infused personalization or helped reimagine a client’s event? I know we've had our own fair share of curveballs the last year and so has everybody that's tried to do any type of event. How have you guys brought personalization to virtual events, to hybrid events and now as we're starting to get back into the live the live arena. What's that look like?
EL: It’s been a wild, wild year. A great example: We had a client come in and they decided now is the time. They knew they need to refresh, and they needed to reimagine their event structure as it stands. They were trying to get ahead of it so when they came back, like we are now, they were ready to go.
Their demographics were just so diverse, their survey results were plummeting, and they just realized they were trying to fit the bill for all the different height, the age groups, etc. But it wasn't hitting the mark for anyone. It was generic so they came to us for some support on how to help and get to where they need to be, and match up to personalization. Our recommendation to them was just give them the power of choice—provide a flexible structure, which is structured for each individual's preference. We offered up about five premier destinations all little diverse, all spread out throughout different times of the year. Some of us have kids so in the summers were really busy or maybe some have kids and they have nothing to do when looking for something to do in the summer so having the choice of not only destination but also time of year was something we find to be really important. And then once they each figure out their destination and date, then they’re able to curate their own on-site experiences, even more so within that selection. Again, it was about making it about them. Still, within each group each destination we are doing those group dinners and group networking to get everyone together to create that excitement as well.
MK: That’s awesome. I think those demographics, when they're that spread out, having the ability to make that choice, really, really helps drive a connection, I would imagine.
MK: Well, this is great. As we wrap up, what’s the one or two key things you’d want every event marketer to take away from our conversation today?
EL: Well, if I can be candid—and anyone that knows me, I’m always going to be—we should be afraid to not make changes as time goes on. Let’s be honest, evolving and changing events is more fun. It's more fun to play and try things that are different. It also makes a more amazing the journey for your attendees year after year. Leave them with something to talk about, but also leave them wanting more.
When I’m asked, “How do you continue to excite and amaze your groups year after year?” My answer is so simple: Just make it feel different, because it’s impossible for them to compare year over year when each event feels incomparable.
MK: Alright, Erica, this is awesome. Pretend now I’m an event marketer, and I want to get started. I want to make some changes. I want to do something different. I want to bring personalization to my events. What's the first step? What do I need to do to get this going?
EL: Just reach out to us. Our first request is going to have a discovery call, and learn a little bit more about your current structure: what’s going well, what’s not, your demographics, what technology you’re using—just learn more. From there we can have some candid dialogue and start brainstorming some ideas, and we'll take it from there.
MK: Sounds simple enough. If people want to reach out to you, where can they find you?
EL: Well, you can find me on LinkedIn—so feel free to message me anytime. Or you can visit our website at www.itagroup.com to get started.
MK: Great advice. Thanks a lot, Erica. And you can check out more of our podcasts online at www.itagroup.com.