The Event Attendee Journey

Like the stoics of old, planning for the worst enables us to foresee weakness then adapt to perform at our best. This is the core purpose of the event attendee journey map. In this blog, we’ll explain the uses and benefits of event attendee journey mapping, plot out the key touchpoints, and provide useful tips on customer segmentation. Plus, we’ve included a short interview with a specialist and a link to a freely downloadable event attendee journey cheat-sheet.

What is an Event Attendee Journey?

The experiences of attendees before, during, and after an event is known as the event attendee journey. Mapping out the event attendee journey in detail is a vital step towards improving the experiences of event guests and the success of events.

Studying and mapping out each phase of the event attendee journey allows event organisers, managers, and marketers to maximise the performance, efficiency, and effectiveness of their events. If this is your first time mapping an event attendee journey, consider the useful metaphor of a B2C retail website’s customer journey. Each step, from first view to final sale, is designed to take customers click-by-click down the funnel towards the checkout.

This step-by-step approach is vital for effectively mapping event attendee journeys too. They should begin with your brand’s very first interaction with a potential attendee all the way through to your very last.

Putting together a plan this detailed might seem like extra work, but the insights gathered are undoubtedly worth the effort.

Why is it Important to Understand an Event Attendee Journey?

The advantages of having a firm grasp on the event attendee journey are myriad:

1)    Foreseeing Weaknesses

Event attendee journey maps can be used as a point-by-point tool for envisaging the attendee perspective before the event has even been publicly announced. By working through each touchpoint chronologically, event organisers can pinpoint areas of weakness and potential obstacles wherein the attendee experience suffers. Then, they can amend them before they ever become an issue.

Before the event, this could include moments when guests might be confused or neglected through a lack of information or, conversely, when they might feel frustrated and overwhelmed by a deluge of emails.

2)    Adding Sparkle

The value of a comprehensive event journey map not only comes in uncovering areas of weakness, but also areas of mediocrity.

Even the most educational of events needs some element of the fun factor to keep guests engaged. You may well discover that your spread of entertainment is imbalanced, and that one afternoon of your three-day event a bit too dull.

A comprehensive plan allows you to sprinkle a little excitement over every part of your event. Pinpoint the areas of “meh” and add some fun. Or pinpoint areas where there is “too much fun” and switch it out for a value-adding seminar.

A masterfully put together event journey can go a long way to creating an event that is not just “good” but unforgettable.

3)    The Empathetic Approach

Understanding the event attendee journey provides insights into the event attendee perspective. Recently, we published a detailed report based on our survey of over 500 event professionals. One of the report’s key insights into the events community was the need for more empathetic outreach to attendees.

As event specialists, it’s vital to continually put ourselves in the shoes of would-be attendees. When you last went to an event, how did you feel? What could have been improved? What gave you the most value? What made you engage? Did your more outgoing or shy colleagues feel differently? What would have helped them?

Plotting the event attendee journey acts as a valuable empathy-building exercise. It helps to understand attendee motivations, objectives, cares, doubts, fears, and attention spans. This comes as part of a larger (long overdue) events trend that emphasizes the importance of treating attendees as valued individuals, not statistics.

4)    The Long Game

While significant for understanding the emotions of attendees, mapping event attendee journeys is, at its core, a process of data gathering, analysis, and evaluation. While the data can be used to predict problems in advance, Minority Report style, it can be highly valuable for future events too.

Fresh off any event, the event team should be meeting to discuss what went wrong, what went well, and how to improve things for next time. Often, the problem with those kinds of meetings is that they lack specificity; statements like “We didn’t have enough registrations” or “Event attendees seem underwhelmed with Day 2” are insufficient. The event attendee journey map should be made the central tool for this evaluation. It will allow you to target the individual touchpoints that need optimising next time around

The Crucial Stages and Touchpoints of an Event Attendee Journey

Events vary significantly, though they do tend to follow a similar structure. Here are the key phases for an event coupled with the questions you should be asking yourself as you plan each one out:

1. Pre-Contact Research

  • Have you analysed similar events that performed well or performed poorly?

  • Have you conducted segmented target group research?

  • Do you know what your attendees are really looking for?

2.1 Pre-Registration Contact: Invitations and Organic Signups

  • How are people finding out about your event?

  • Are your communications SEO optimised?

  • Are you effectively contacting would-be attendees from your mailing lists and user databases?

  • Are your invitations visually appealing, precise, and accurate?

  • Will your invitations look sleek on mobile as well as PC?

  • Are your invitations compliant with all email systems and will they be sent to junk folders?

  • Do your invites align with your attendees’ values and objectives?

2.2 Pre-Registration Contact: Reminders

  • Are your reminders well-timed?

  • Do your reminders provide all the necessary information?

  • Are your reminders too pushy or too meek?

  • Are your reminders tailored to your target group segmentation?

  • Are you sending too few or too many reminders?

  • Have you adjusted the tone of your reminders for last-minute registrations?

  • If you have an event app, do you send reminders via that too?

3.1 Registration: Registration Page

  • Is your registration page streamlined and appealing?

  • Do prospective attendees have to fill out too much information?

  • Is the registration page compatible with all browsers and platforms?

  • Have you defined your time zones?

  • Does the registration page contribute to the event’s appeal with images, agendas, sponsors, and
    other info?

3.2 Registration: Confirmation Email

  • Is the confirmation email sent immediately after registration?

  • Does it contain a useful summary of key information?

  • Is there an add-to-calendar link?

  • Will the title of the email make it easily findable later?

  • Have you considered rewarding registered attendees with surprise content?

3.3 Registration: Pre-Event Communication

  • How easy is it to locate and download the agenda and/or event app?

  • Is your pre-event communication personalised?

  • Have you given attendees the opportunity to decide their own communication preferences?

  • Are you unnecessarily repeating information?

  • Are you successfully building excitement for the event?

  • Are your communications making attendees feel valued?

  • Are you sending out valuable content?

4.1 Event Attendance: Joining the Event

  • Will onsite registration be streamlined or staggered to avoid queues?

  • Will there be entertainment organised for waiting guests?

  • Will Wi-Fi be easily accessible and functioning?

  • Will there be charging stations?

  • Will staff be easily identifiable and spread effectively?

4.2 Event Attendance: Virtual Venues

  • Is the login process simple?

  • Is the software optimised for all platforms and operating systems?

  • What technical issues might crop up on your side and/or on the attendees’ side?

  • Is there engaging or entertaining content for loading times and downtimes?

  • Is there effective tech support on hand?

4.3 Event Attendance: Sessions and Content

  • How will you notify attendees of changes to the schedule?

  • Is it simple enough to get from one session to another?

  • Do attendees have enough time to eat?

  • Is there enough seating?

4.4 Event Attendance: Engagement

  • Will attendees feel rushed, bored or tired at any point?

  • Will interactive non-passive content be well-spread throughout the event?

  • Will attendees have the tools they need to engage?

  • Is your planned content relevant and value-adding?

4.5 Event Attendance: Networking

  • Will event attendees attend both larger sessions and smaller, more social sessions?

  • Will you allocate seating to maximise relevant networking?

  • How have you facilitated networking for shyer attendees?

  • Will there be sufficient downtime?

4.6 Event Attendance: Closing

  • Will the final speeches be of the highest quality?

  • How will you inform attendees of the next steps, downloadable content, future events, and ways to participate in the community?

5.1 Post-Event: Thank-You Email

  • Do you have a thank-you email prepared and ready to send out within 24 hours?

  • How much follow-up content will you deploy?

  • How personalised will you make your thank-you emails?

5.2 Post-Event: Survey

  • How extensive will the attendee feedback you’re collecting be?

  • Are all your questions relevant?

  • How soon after the event will you send it?

  • Will you incentivise survey completion with competitions, giveaways, or exclusives?

5.3 Post-Event: On-Demand Content

  • Are your materials high-quality?

  • How will you notify attendees that the presentations and other content are uploaded and available?

  • Will you run post-event competitions and keep the buzz going?

  • Will you share pictures and videos of the event with attendees? Have you asked for their permission
    to do so?

5.4: Post-Event: Community Invitation

  • Do attendees understand the benefits of joining your community?

  • Have you made it easy enough for them to join?

The Event Attendee Journey Mapping Cheat-Sheet

We recently threw an event (we practice what we preach) on the Frictionless Event Attendee Journey with speakers Florian Kühne, CEO of Sweap, and Francesca Rodriguez, host of The Events Cast. Whether you have been linked here from that event or you’ve just accidentally stumbled upon gold, we’re offering a free Event Attendee Journey Cheat-Sheet to help you streamline the phases laid out above.

The Importance of Target Group Research, Segmentation, and Personalisation:

The secret to effective event attendee journey mapping is target group research and segmentation. Your audience will likely be complex. In order to value and appeal to them, you’re going to need to segment them into smaller categories and build detailed data profiles for each. From there, you can create effective, personalised journeys for each segmented target subgroup.

  • Questions you will want to answer include:

  • Has the attendee visited one of your events before?

  • What is the attendee’s position or job?

  • Are they a VIP?

  • Are they familiar with your brand?

  • Are they already a converted customer?

  • Will they want to contribute to the event?

You can then make personalised communications for each subgroup and contact them in a way they will best respond to. A top tip is to give attendees control over their own event communication – by offering tick boxes for different communication types. This effectively allows your audience to segment themselves.

Every touchpoint following target group research should be aligned with these bespoke journeys. Some areas to personalise include: the registration process, communications, the event itself, sponsor interactions, and post-event interactions. For an example of the latter in action, imagine how differently attendees might feel in response to an email stating, “We saw you attended the ABC workshop at our XYZ event…”. For some, this would be an impressive level of knowledge and attentiveness. For others, it would be an intrusive, even creepy, violation.

Conclusions

The best events are structured around well researched, well-planned, relevant, and meaningful event attendee journey maps. By following the steps that we have laid out, you will be able to avoid mishaps and transform the mediocre into the exceptional.

  • 5 Things Event Attendees will Expect in the Future

    • Event Planning

    Hardly any industry has suffered as much from COVID as the event industry. One thing can be said for sure: It will never be the same again. Wondering what will be important when events are possible again? We'll tell you!

  • 10 Tools for More Engagement at Virtual Events

    • Event Marketing

    Many event organizers have switched to virtual event formats in recent months. The challenge: transforming the benefits of a physical event into a digital one without losing user experience or brand value.

Article by Alex Sinclair Lack
Alex explores the world in search of new and interesting opportunities in education, storytelling and beyond.