We're entering an age where statistics and strategy play a large part in how events are organized. In the past, it may have been about showing off a product and conversing with clientele. Now, experiential event planning and other wild forms and methods are taking center stage and defining whether an event or exhibition is, to put it simply, good or bad.
The phrase user experience (UX) exists in computer science to help programmers create and refine what it is about an application or website that draws readers to it. This serves as fodder for future endeavors, which can draw from the experiences and knowledge already gained.
Applications and events have something in common – they draw users' interest and hope to keep them entertained, or provide them with something useful. Dispel the notion UX is used for computer science for the moment – in this case, it's going to be used to create the perfect event.
The pillars of UX
Peter Morville, president of Semantic Studios, created the User Experience Honeycomb. It features 'value' at the middle – what each event is trying to create for the attendee – surrounded by six other variables, all of which contribute to what humans define as valuable.
To have a truly valuable application (or in this case, an event), Morville argued that content must provide users (attendees) with as many of these six fundamentals as possible:
- Useful: Can something be obtained from your event that attendees can't get anywhere else?
- Usable: Is the information/product/content provided at the event usable/relevant to your target audience?
- Desirable: How prevalent and enviable is your brand?
- Findable: Will attendees need to constantly be looking at a sitemap to find certain booths and areas or will they easily be able to stumble upon it?
- Accessible: Is it easy or difficult to register and get to your event? Is it a hassle for the attendee to go? Is the entire event accessible to people with disabilities?
- Credible: How much weight does your event, or company name, carry, and how does that play into the theme or concept of it?
By defining these characteristics early on in the planning process, your event will provide ultimate value to attendees.
UX isn't the easiest concept to master – it takes years of experience, cultivating past trials and errors into a formidable knowledge that can be deployed flawlessly whenever needed. You'll want to begin by including bits and pieces little by little into every event, with the end goal of becoming so familiar with the practice it becomes second nature.
Many of these fundamentals are overlapping, as value has a pretty finite definition. Take credibility and desirability, for instance. These can both be implemented best through marketing campaigns. Begin by defining your brand – what makes this event different from the rest? What type of information will be displayed that can't be gained at any other industry exhibition? Similarly, this will help users decide whether it's worth it to attend, because worth and value are so intertwined.
"Find your target audience and you'll understand what really makes your event useful."
Usefulness is perhaps the most difficult, yet most necessary fundamental to cover. There are two routes you can take as an organizer to cover it – marketing, and event content. Cvent recommends catering messages to industry professionals, rather than mass emailing the same, rote message over and over. Attendees want to feel as though the planner is connecting with them, not trying to gain as many registrations as possible.
When it comes to being on the floor, make sure everything you promised in your marketing campaign is easily accessible and findable – another part of the equation that overlaps. Quite simply, you want everyone in attendance to be able to visit all areas of the event, so give walking paths enough of a cushion from neighboring booths. Make sure there are signs either hanging from rafters or posted along high-traffic areas to help attendees easily identify where it is they want to go, and how to get there. This way, a person at the event may find the most valuable experience to be something they never knew was going to be there.
Cvent recommends ensuring registration is easy, so there isn't any barrier to attend. People don't want to spend more than a few minutes filling out event information – if it isn't vital, don't ask for it on the form. Also, hiring a guest speaker – or having a professional from your company lecture – could provide an avenue toward gaining credibility and usefulness.
Usability is a tricky pillar to tackle because of how naturally intertwined it is with the event. Attendees will likely be representatives of their companies from the industry the exhibition is focused around, which is a sign they find it usable to begin with. You can further draw out this pillar by fostering a strong socializing culture. For example, consider creating an event app that makes it easier for users to find other people from their industry. This will in turn help drive lead sharing and forge professional connections.
Another option to implement usability is to simply manufacture time in the schedule for networking. Put aside an hour and get everyone in one room for the sole purpose of sharing information and gaining leads. There's a lot to take part in at events and some people can forget to meet other professionals in the midst of all the excitement. By ensuring there's a time to do so, you can guarantee attendees will come away with usable data and knowledge.
Each part of your event will ultimately define why attendees see it as valuable. It seems like such a simple concept, but if you're not consciously thinking about it, you most likely will miss the mark. Make sure everything you do is based around providing the best user experience possible, and pick and choose from past failures and successes as you move forward in your event planning career.