10 Keys to Maximizing Your Event ROI

By • November 5, 2012

By Association Adviser Staff

Study after study shows there's no substitute for face-to-face interaction when it comes to cementing relationships with your members, suppliers and key stakeholders. But in today's difficult economic climate with travel budgets slashed, time out of the office more carefully scrutinized and Web-based “meeting” software becoming increasingly sophisticated, the pressure on event planners to deliver has never been more intense. But you don't have to pray for miracles or secure the hottest “venue of the moment” five years in advance. You just have to be smart.

A recent U.S. Travel Association survey of 401 executives found that four out of five (81%) respondents agreed with the position that “more client contact, not less,” is necessary in a slow economy. What's more, nearly three in five (59%) strongly agreed that in-person contact had a positive impact on growing their businesses and relationships.

  • Think of your conference or seminar as an ongoing dialogue with your target market — not as a one-time-only event.
  • “While association boards, committees, volunteers and staff have keen insight into the challenges of the industry they serve,” said Boale, “they must understand the real-world discussions and interaction of the 'industry in the trenches.'”
  • Provide ongoing social dialogue, free education in the expo, new marketing opportunities for exhibitors and sponsors and give a voice to those with non-traditional ideas to keep an event exciting and vital.
  • Each event is a precursor to the next one. Ensure continuity and a free flow of ideas between events to keep the discussion and involvement vital and moving forward.

The key is to think of your conference or seminar as part of an ongoing dialogue with your members and customers— not as a once-a-year event. “Pre-show marketing has evolved into pre-show engagement with event delegates, exhibitors, sponsors and industry partners,” observed Richard Boale, show director for the upcoming AppWorld 2010 Conference in New York City. “By using social media and rich media content to engage attendees (and prospective attendees) in event-related discussions, you can stimulate networking before, during and after your event.”

Pre-Show Tips:

  1. Develop online communities as part of the marketing effort. Doing so will allow attendees and prospects to actively contribute to and develop relevant and current programming content. It also allows exhibitors and sponsors to develop their own content and immerse themselves in the conversation prior to the event, which drives their marketing effort before the show. Web-based tools such as LinkedIn ( and CrowdVine ( can help.

  2. Offer free education and learning areas inside the expo. It will attract those who are in transition and allow them to rub elbows with industry thought-leaders, stay current and relevant, and reconnect with key contacts. Some of them will invest in full registrations once they discover the value and benefit of the full-boat program (which should be tax-deductible as a job-search expense).

  3. Offer free education and learning to all attendees. High-value free programs drive traffic in the expo even if paid-program sessions are offered concurrently.

  4. Remember free education is not “free.” It offers exhibitors and sponsors new “paid” half-hour time slots to reach their audience—folks who might not have visited their booth otherwise. Attendee data can be collected at the door for lead retrieval. The investment by the exhibitors and sponsors is well worth it and expands and maximizes their exposure at the event. The event producers realize additional revenue from offering this type of service that can attract attendees who might not attend otherwise due to financial issues.

“Rather than 'manufacturing' topics and discussions that you hope will be relevant to your show, you can leverage naturally occurring pre-event social interaction that occurs between your organization, attendees and even presenters,” said Boale. “After preliminary session content is rolled out, opt-in social networking allows delegates and exhibitors to form discussion groups and communities on their own. These open and candid discussions can be monitored and incorporated into the core content of the show and make it more compelling for attendees.”

Onsite Tips:

  1. Provide “Showcase Rooms.” If your event is being held in a hotel ballroom, consider offering sponsors large breakout rooms within or adjacent to the main ballroom that they can use for private sales consultations, demos, educational sessions or receptions out of competitors' earshot. Private rooms cost you very little to offer and provide excellent value for the Showcase Room exhibitor, said Boale, since the exhibitor gets much more real estate than they would with a standard 8×10-foot booth.

  2. Develop “invitation only” events. You can add extra value by helping the Showcase Sponsor to secure “invitation only” attendees for private events from the registration rolls.

Post Show Tips:

  1. Consider online community chatter to boost participation. While post-event surveys can be valuable, sometimes the response rate can be low, especially if your survey is too long. Any survey insight will be constrained by the scope of questions and response format, whether multiple choice or prosaic. Using online community chatter before, during and after the event drives participation and content to constantly move the conversation forward.

  2. Use news items from attendees' comments. Insights gained from unfettered participant involvement can be very revealing. Cull news items from attendees' insights and use those comments to bridge the marketing time gap until your next event. Keeping the conversation going post-event is as critical as precursor marketing for the next event.

  3. Identify trends and industry perceptions from online community observations and trend spotting and roll it into upcoming session content, show features, publications and editorial output.

  4. Consider recognizing the “outliers” and “heretics” and consider using non-traditional thinking in programming and editorial to create excitement and to give a voice to all constituents.

By making your event an ongoing dialogue with members rather than a once-a-year gathering, you'll build pre-show buzz, improve the onsite experience and bolster the likelihood of repeat attendance and referrals.

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