Just to be clear, when I say 5 key takeaways, I really mean things that I took away from the event, rather than the top five facts, predictions, or concepts I learned at BizBash's delightful Connect 2023 conference in Minneapolis last week. So here they are:
HOSTED BUYER WORKS!! For any event organizer dealing with "what have you done for us lately" from their sponsors and exhibitors - give them a hosted buyer experience or speed dating or whatever you want to call it. What an excellent experience this was for me. Not free of course, but having 44 meetings with planners all interested (almost all of them, anyway) in hybrid event services, over two days, was exhausting, but exhilarating. Out of those 44, we scheduled 25 follow-on meetings, so it really does work. Although, I suppose we'll have to see if everyone shows up to their meeting. I suppose there may have been some who felt scheduling a meeting was the only way to get rid of me. Hope not. But pretty much all of them were very serious prospective buyers of one or more of our services, and many had taken the time to read a lot of the advance materials we sent them. So - huzzah!
WE'RE GOING TO NEED TO GET USED TO ASKING ATTENDEES FOR MORE INFO about what they are interested in. This was a hosted buyer event. You would expect them to find out good information about their prospective attendees before they foot the bill for them to come out and meet suppliers, and they did. But all events with sponsors and exhibitors should be trying to coax this info from their attendees. It is what we suppliers crave and will pay good money for. Sure, let them opt out of letting us know their answers, modern times demand that, but require them to answer the questions (we've found that when you don't, many don't bother, and then it's less useful). The difference between providing this opt-outable info and not is significant. I've heard more than a few suppliers say having a spreadsheet of info on what the attendees are interested in prior to arriving doubles the value of investing in that event. But comparatively few events are doing this yet. Gotta change that.
IT WAS A GREAT EXAMPLE OF HOW TO DO A BIG TENT EVENT. I suspect they are not called big tent events, but you know what I mean - everything: several stages, booths, food and networking tables, activities all in one big high-ceilinged space. BizBash did a nice job of laying everything out, and all aspects were easy to follow and get to. I wasn't there really for anything other than the buyer meetings, which happened at long rows of tables and chairs, the length of a football field or longer. You have to say your piece in about 8 minutes, so buyers and suppliers alike got pretty good at cutting right to the chase of either what they wanted or were selling. There was often a mad dash of 50-100 yards, every 10 minutes or so, but . . . steps, right? The main stage was very nicely appointed - great colors and lighting and loose seating space - everyone wearing surreal looking lighted headphones to listen to the modestly amplified keynoters.
WE'RE GOING TO NEED TO GET USED TO ASKING ATTENDEES FOR MORE INFO about what they are interested in, PART DEUX. As we learn to cope with the parabolic rise in AI applications, we will be seeing more and more events using it to better cater to their attendees. And all of this means more info is needed. Again, let me emphasize, of course they can opt out. But, according to some of the Connect 2023 speakers, in the future that may also mean that they are just not able to benefit from some of the benefits that will be available to those who do. Like personalized schedules made up of sessions picked specifically for them based on their interests; like accessibility accommodations ready for them on arrival either onsite ro online; like chatbots that will answer their questions about the event or the session they are attending, AI will become integral to the event business pretty much right away, and attendee info will be a critical element of that.
WOULD LOVE TO SEE MORE OF THE RAZZLE DAZZLE AT NON-PLANNER ORIENTED EVENTS. One thing about planner-oriented events - they tend to be pretty fun, and Connect 2023 did not disappoint. Their meals were sponsored by CVBs that gave attendees delicious temptations from their various regions. The dog petting pen was, as always, a big hit - much delight on the part of both the humans and the dogs. There was an arcade games booth and so much more. And I know this is easier to put together for planners than any number of other verticals. But these guys want to be at YOUR show. And why not - attendees will think more kindly about coming back next year if they had a little fun this year. So maybe a little more thought about what sponsors might be interested in backing some fun? Plus there are likely ways of getting some of this razzle-dazzle even without some of the razzle-dazzle vendors. If you have local attendees, the local humane society might come out and do a petting zoo.
Bottom line, BizBash knows what they are doing in the current world, and provided a few glimpses of where we might all be heading.