I had the great opportunity of attending the 1st annual Market515 (marketing & digital media) conference yesterday, put on by the Greater Des Moines Convention & Visitor’s Bureau. I can honestly say I am very pleased that I chose to attend. The information that I gathered was insightful and very useful. I walked away with new ideas that I truly believe will help me move my company forward and ultimately lead to greater profitability. As an event design professional, I am obligated to share my overall reception of the experience itself revealing both what I LOVED about the event and what suggestions I might offer for events to come.
- The accessibility of the event to the public at large. Being a marketing partner with the CVB I was able to attend the event for free and as a new business with a limited marketing budget, that is huge! For those who aren’t CVB partners the price ranged from $20 (student) to $40 (general public), which is still a modest investment considering the wealth of inspiration & knowledge that was provided.
- The event content & chosen speakers. There wasn’t a point in time where I found myself thinking, the content was stale or predictable. Each speaker had their own message that provided valuable insights into a specific area of the marketing and digital media world. It is clear that whomever chose the speakers was extremely thoughtful and focused on very specific objectives they were hoping to achieve. Each speaker brought their own personality and expertise to the table and was very warm and forthcoming with their experiences. As I milled about the event, the general reception was the same; everyone was very pleased with the content they were being provided.
- The Event Program: The event program was very appropriately timed. The frequently planned breaks ensured attendees didn’t suffer from information overload and the duration of which attendees were tied to their seats before being allowed the time to stand-up and move around was very thoughtful. Speakers had no longer than 45 minutes to share their ideas, (which is just about the max attention span for most people), so this ensured that their messages were succinct and to the point.
- The Venue: This event was held at the FFA Enrichment Center in Ankeny and accommodated the event program quite well. The facility was clean and well maintained and it was appropriately sized and offered enough varied space options to support the structure of the program itself. The main room and breakout spaces were large enough to provide everyone their own comfort zone but not too large where we felt like we were swimming in extra un-used space. The maintenance crew was attentive to the cleanliness of the facility as well as event program schedule and even restocked and wiped down the restrooms while we were all in our break-out sessions so to not inconvenience the attendees. Their sensitivity to the maintenance of the space demonstrates the level of service by which this venue runs itself. As an event planner who has frequented many venues that don’t provide the same level of service, I was truly impressed by the FFA’s commitment to their facility.
- Snacks! The CVB ensured we were well-nourished throughout the course of the event by providing granola bars and cheese sticks to attendees between meals. Although it may seem like a trivial addition to the event, food is what fuels our brains. When you are a part of an event so rich in content like this was, maintaining a constant stream of fuel to the brain is very important for information absorption and retention. This also demonstrates the level of attention to detail that the CVB gave while planning this event.
A FEW SUGGESTIONS I MIGHT OFFER FOR NEX TIME…
- Vary content delivery: I’m not going to lie, when I left the event yesterday I was wiped! I was so excited to start putting into practice all that I had learned but mentally my brain was so exhausted I had to table my excitement for the evening and allow my brain to recharge. I think ultimately that is a great thing! I would challenge the CVB to consider different & varied ways in which they could deliver the content in events to come. I think because the event content in its essence was focused on providing marketers with unique strategies to gain brand awareness and value in their desired marketplace, it couldn’t hurt if the event demonstrated some of these strategies when delivering content to the attendees. I think providing information in a number of different ways, helps to keep attendees engaged longer (decreases possibility for brain fatigue) and increases the possibilities of information retention. We all learn differently, so by providing varied outlets for information sharing ensures messaging is received by a wider range of individuals. Experiential marketing was a topic of discussion at this event (one of my favorite topics when it pertains to events), and could have been creatively utilized to deliver content and further hammer home the real messaging the CVB was hoping to provide to its attendees through this event
- Create more intentional mental/physical breaks: This could be as simple as incorporating a moment of silence to allow the mind to take a break and recharge. One of the speakers brought up the importance of meditation in their life-so to demonstrate that could have been an effective tool to teach attendees the importance of mindfulness in our daily lives. Or maybe the break is filled with doing 10 jumping jacks to get the blood flowing again and stress the importance of physical health in the overall strategy for success. Whatever it is, providing intention to all aspects of the event program help to cultivate the overall experience you are hoping your attendees receive and can serve to enrich the overall event reception.
- Step Up Social Media Game: I think associating a hashtag with everything these days is common practice but to be a true social media leader you have to work that hashtag. I think this event could have benefitted perhaps by implementing a more intentional social media plan. Posing questions, providing visual and interactive “shareable moments” and incentivizing your attendees to share will increase your social media participation and thereby increasing your reach AKA- FREE marketing! By vocalizing your hashtag early (prior to event) you can also start to build momentum for the event itself, getting attendees excited for what is to come. Likewise, you can utilize the hashtag following the event to sustain the excitement and encourage attendee feedback. Ask pointed questions and you will get pointed feedback.
- Actively Encourage & Facilitate Personal Connections: As an event host, you have the opportunity to facilitate the creation of real personal connections. Encourage that by inserting intentional moments for attendees to interact. Create “mini-campaigns” by challenging attendees to collect at least (5) business cards by the end of the day, or pose questions you want your attendees to discuss at their table. I know personally when I first arrived I sat down at a particularly anti-social table. It took real prying for me to get some decent conversation out of everyone. I finally resorted to my iphone when I felt like I was getting slightly annoying to the group. Had there been some sort of encouragement from the event hosts to get out of their comfort zones and make some connections perhaps that could have been different.
- Think through logistics of food & beverage accessibility: Obviously these sorts of logistics can get a little tricky with larger groups-so maybe think about multiple food and beverage stations strategically positioned throughout the space to help streamline the overall process. This simple solution will help to ease the stress on the event hosts and prevent potential irritation that might creep on the attendee.
- Incorporate more complex A/V: If the event grows I think it could really benefit by incorporating some glitzier staging & effective lighting on the key note speakers. By creating an eye-catching spectacle as your attendees arrive, you can set the tone and further deliver your messaging in a sensory way.
- Décor: I am sure I am one of the only people in the room who noticed the tables were lacking centerpieces and although the event got by without them just fine, it is an opportunity for the event host to further hammer home any sort of messaging they are hoping their attendees receive. For example this is a GREAT spot to create an ice-breaker for the table or symbolic conversation piece for the event goals as well as a perfect spot to encourage the participation in your event social media campaign by reiterating your hashtag and posing options for what you would like to see shared!
All in all a very successful event that I look forward to attending next year! Thanks for a good time, CVB!