From Industrial Farmed Attendees to Free-Range Engagement: Revolutionizing the Event Experience

Industrial farming is what we do now. We pack cows, chickens, and other livestock into ever dirtier, ever smaller, ever darker spaces. We make it impossible for them to move, and simply push food at them, fattening them up for the slaughter that will eventually bring them to market. The food we give them is unhealthy; we pump them full of antibiotics and make them sick. Over time, that sickness gets into the food chain. We are polluting the whole system.  We have spent so much time and effort trying to perfect the system that we are destroying it and bringing it down around itself.

And then there was a movement. Small at first, but gaining steam every day. Some farmers started to see a different way to do things. They opened the cages and let the livestock out. They let them roam free; eat nutritious meals that were meant for them; They live a healthy life without the use of antibiotics. The change is dramatic. Healthier food enters the food chain making this system stronger.  This system goes by many names like organic and free range.

This sounds a lot like the current state of the meeting, event, and conference industry and you must ask, are your attendees industrial or free range? Don’t know the difference….

Standard Industrial Style Event with Industrial Attendee:

Attendee X wakes up, trips over unopened direct mail pieces from show, must get to airport, get on plane, get taxi, get to hotel, get to conference, get in the queue, receive badge, get same swag bag,  get to seat, stay there, listen to the same old presentations, get up, go to lunch, eat unimaginative, unhealthy food while listening to sponsor give a sales pitch, no time to mingle must get back to seat, listen to more presentations, get up, no time to mingle, must go to the cocktail party with more unhealthy event food, listen to sponsor give sales pitch, talk to other attendees about how this year is just like last year, day over must get back to hotel room, open swag bag, throw away contents, same as last year, go to bed, get up next morning, get to continental breakfast, grab bagel, sit down, listen to speakers drone on, watch more PowerPoint, get up, go to the lunch, listen to sponsor give sales pitch, no time to mingle must get to tradeshow portion, same exhibitors, same 10×10 booths, more PowerPoint, stagger through show floor, must get to next booth, pick up brochure, next booth, pick up brochure, next booth, pick up brochure, next booth, pick up brochure, get back to hotel room, throw away all brochures, go to evening event, eat same unhealthy event  food, listen to same band, too loud to talk to other attendees, go back to hotel room, wonder why here, get up next morning, keynote, is this the same guy as last year, next speaker, next speaker, next speaker, go to lunch, same food, conference over, fill out response form and check all above average cause no one listens, no one cares, attendee X does not care, get back in queue, get to airport, get back to work, open email, receive marketing email for next event, make plans to attend next event, see above………terminal fatal loop.

Moving to a new way:

Then one morning, this attendee wakes up. Not a sleep-wake but an awakening. She gets the marketing email for the event she has attended for years and she deletes it. She no longer sees the need to attend this event. Why she thinks, it is just going to be like last year. There must be something better.

This attendee goes to her computer and she types in a few keywords. Perhaps, “Industry X networking event”……. Bam, one event pops up and catches her attention even through her foggy, glazed-over eyes.

As she clicks the link, a strange thing happens as she reads. Her eyes become a little more focused. It seems that this event has social media links. The attendee joins and finds others like her, they start to connect. They are discussing topics that they would like to see. Attendee X is no stranger to social media, she knows FaceBook and has a personal Twitter account. She starts to type. She starts to interact.

The program is a little different she is learning, interactive, and crowd-sourced….. There is a smartphone app that she downloads. Without registering, she can get all of the speaker bios and handouts and read them at her will…..choices, even before she commits. She is choosing what sessions to attend, when, and how. There are links to see videos of last year’s events. The attendees seem to be laughing. She likes this format and she registers.…..

After she registers for this event, she realizes that all of the meal functions use locally grown food and center on the cuisine of the local community. For attendee X, this is just interesting; she is not a “greenie”, but she likes that it is different. She also likes that there are no sponsor pitches during the lunches. This is cool, it seems that the lunches are reserved for round-tables or networking. The evening events are tweet-ups and happen at locations all over the city. She can learn something new or go to her comfort zone, whichever suits her mood. She is no longer locked in. She is making choices. She thinks that she might be glad she registered.

Soon she learns that the show floor is different too. Because she downloaded the show app to her phone, she has all of the exhibitors contact information and marketing materials right at her finger tips, right now. She no longer has to carry all of those brochures just to throw them away. She is making appointments with the exhibitors that interest her and she is contacting them before the event so that they know her needs and can address them specifically, sometimes, before she arrives. By noon of this day, she has made appointments with nine exhibitors.

She is now interacting with the sponsors and following their show updates on Twitter and Facebook and they are talking to her, not at her. Wow, this is different.

Attendee X then she does something that she has not done in years. Something that she does not even realize that she has not done in years and something she will probably never even realize that she did. Attendee X did something that every event planner and show producer hopes for………..and something that should scare the daylights out of the show she used to call home……….

Attendee X writes an email that simply says “You should attend this event, I am going to be there” and she sends it to twelve people in the office and 5 more outside of the office, she then posts a link to the reg page on her FaceBook page and shares the link on Twitter. She has opened her own cage, walked out, and joined the community.

She is now a free-range attendee.

There is more to this story, but it is still playing out. You see, this attendee, this show, these exhibitors, and these sponsors are learning. They are learning how to make this work, they are learning to communicate and they are learning from each other. Something that they had never done before. They will make mistakes, they will fall and they will have triumphs and successes. Attendee X does not care about the failures or the successes for that matter. She cares that she is now a part of something.

Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston

Keith is the Managing Partner of i3 Events but is most widely known as the outspoken publisher of the event industry blog PlannerWire. In addition to co-hosting the Bullet List and Event Tech Pull Up Podcasts, he has been featured in Plan Your Meetings, Associations Now, Convene, Event Solutions, and has appeared on the cover of Midwest Meetings Magazine.

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