What is the best experience we can design for our participant?
Like user experience design for software, with conventions and conferences, you really need to best understand how the end user will experience the event based on their already established common behaviors and patterns (ie Steve Jobs knew you didn’t really want to do three clicks to get to your email, you wanted to swipe and drag on your smartphone). And to best design the experience you want for your participant, you need to focus on content design, environment design, and logistics design.
Today’s blog post will focus on logistics design. Good logistics design should be seamless and tertiary. The elements are so integrated into the overall event that the participants need only to enjoy the environment and focus on the content before them.
Three things to keep in mind (and if other planners are reading this, leave your comments for elements that you look for or prioritize) as you design your show’s user experience:
1) How does the building flow and what will your flow of participant traffic really look like?
Many sales managers hate it when you request a site meeting during another group’s meeting, but most planners I know love it. Why? Because you can actually see how people walk a building. Today, I went on a site visit where the venue had a great atrium lobby, with lots of open space, high ceilings, free wifi, electrical plugs, excellent seating, and…a giant random pool in the middle of the restaurant.
Now, the pool is a noteworthy thing to point out because even less experienced planners would be like, say what? But it makes you stop and ask yourself, why is that there and would our audience respond positively or negatively to it? Anything out of the ordinary that makes you slight take pause or could inconvenience your mother should be looked at and looked at again because IT WILL have impact on your flow of traffic.Where are the best signage drop zones? Is the lobby on the first floor or eighth floor? Where are the bathrooms? Do the elevators all go to the same towers? Why did they put that staircase there? Egads, look at those 8 foot ceilings, and so on and so forth.
2) How will you integrate the must have and can’t miss elements of your program as you try to fit it into a different time frame, room set up, or venue that you hope compares to a participant’s “most memorable moment” that they keep telling their friends about when they describe your event
Culture is a powerful thing in logistics design. It should actually show up when you look at the venn diagram of environment and logistics. It’s the relationship piece of the event that allows you to better connect with your participant and that means paying attention to logistics so nothing appears forced.
For example, an association I worked with, one of their long time speakers always did a recap at lunch time of all of the events that have happened so far that day. His introduction was the guitar riff and hook from Bad to the Bone. People heard that song, picked up their napkins, and twirled them in the air as he walked on stage. For many of our long time attendees, these 5 minute sets made it their “most memorable moment” because of the delightful anticipation they felt when the speaker was about to take the stage.
One year, we changed up how the general session fell timewise, and we ate lunch offsite rather than as part of our session programming. Logistically, to incorporate the napkins portion of his presentation, it was going to cost us extra labor for set and strike the napkins. For a 5 minute portion of a 75 minute segment. We could have told him, sorry charlie, we’re an association, we don’t really have the extra money. But, we’re a member driven association, and because our members and the culture they want and thrive in is experience based, we wanted their experiences to be at the forefront and missing this logistical piece would have definitely detracted from the culture that our participants love and are familiar with.
3) Take stealth view notes of the venue staff in action BEFORE you bring your event
Conference planners hate surprises. Some of the worst surprises can come from the customer service side. Many planners I know are a little inured to how service and sales staff can act. We live our lives in the back of house with a head set on and we don’t necessarily expect to be catered to all of the time because we’re also staff who need to get stuff done. However, getting stuff done should never be at the expense of the participant who has paid money to be there.
Make sure you observe how the venue staff acts when they don’t realize who you are. Site visits often flag you and logistically, the building can run smoother the day you’re in looking it over, than it might run on a day it’s full to the seams with people and under stress to run 800 rooms on peak, 25 breakout rooms in action, and 7 meals to serve for 1500 people. Have high expectations and hold the venue to them. After all, you’re paying for it.