Customization is Key, but Where Do You Stop? by @KristiCasey

According to the recent PCMA Convening Leaders convention and MPI Business Barometer, customizing your attendee’s experience is a trend you can’t ignore. But if you have thousands of attendees, how can you possibly create 1,000 different experiences? After all, budgets are just now starting to grow. You’re lucky to be able to afford a social media monitor, much less have the money to creating two or more versions of everything.

So let’s take a look at some big-ticket issues and examine the simplest way you can customize your event to address them. Below I’ve addressed the to-do items involved if you want to implement the simplest solutions. If you’ve got those licked, I include how you can go the extra mile.

Issue: Accommodating dietary restrictions and allergies.

Simple fix: Collect data about special needs at registration. Label buffet items so ingredients are obvious. Educating banqueting staff about what’s in the food they’re serving. Making accommodations on the menu.

Steps required: 

  1. Educate venues about special needs and restrictions.
  2. Create menu options that accommodate those restrictions.
  3. Communicate how those options may be selected and redeemed.
  4. Educate banqueting staff about ingredients and fulfilling orders.
  5. Ensure that attendees, staff and venues are clear on how to redeem vouchers for special meals.

Next steps: Creating vegetarian or allergen-free meals for everyone. After all, what’s free of the major allergens also tends to be low on the glycemic scale and brain-friendly. If you really want to make people feel special, ask them what their favorite snacks or Starbucks beverages are and give those to them on-site or on the shuttle prior to group activities.

Issue: Accommodating physical and age-related restrictions.

Simple fix: Collecting special needs data at registration. Booking ADA-accessible venues and hotels. Taking into account generational differences when designing events. Letting people who have motorized scooters know where they can plug in on-site to recharge.

Steps required:

  1. Designing seating with wide aisles.
  2. Striking a balance between what’s trendy (i.e., beanbags or high-tops) with what’s comfortable for people with bad backs and knees.
  3. Choosing quality A/V at your price point so people with hearing loss won’t suffer.
  4. Making sure that font-size on apps and conference screens are legible or adjustable for people with impaired vision.
  5. Providing options for people with other restrictions to help them get around and participate in your event.

Next steps: Designing seating, sessions and meal functions with a mix of options that appeal to people of all ages and abilities. (Even if that means that you do simultaneous versions of the same event, like an awards banquet that has a formal and informal paid option, so people can participate in the way that’s most comfortable for them.) Experiencing your event as if you had those challenges (i.e., vision or hearing loss, physical disability) and designing elements of your event to address those needs. For example, training staff to explain where buffet items are to someone who’s blind or creating Braille menus.

Issue: Accommodating different learning styles and personality types.

Simple fix: Asking people for areas of interest or to self identify at registration (i.e., as introverts, fans of jellybeans, etc.). Or using a mobile conference app that groups people by interests, suggests people to contact on-site or has networking as its focus (i.e., Topi, Bizzabo, SpotMe).

Steps required:

  1. Grouping people by interest at meal functions, in sessions or at special events to make meeting new people easier.
  2. Educating attendees, sponsors and exhibitors about how to use tech tools to full advantage.
  3. Make group seating smaller so discussions can be more intimate and less intimidating for introverts.
  4. Increase the amount of break time people have so they can refresh and process what they’ve learned.
  5. Have presenters break their material into chunks so discussions or group activities happen every 10 minutes or so.

Next steps: Creating different versions of the same session to appeal to people with different learning or social styles. Creating multiple handouts to appeal to people with different learning preferences.

You can’t be all things to all people. So it’s important for you to define the lengths to which you’ll go to in satisfying attendees. What I’ve listed above are just a few ways in which people are starting to customize their event experience. Do you have other examples you’d like to share? Do so by posting a comment below or tweeting @PYMLive and tagging it with #yaypym.

Plan well and prosper,



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