The Attendee of the Future

The needs of your event attendees have changed. Are you keeping up with their demands?

Every participant we (potentially) have – is able to get what they want, when they want it, at the touch of a button located on the supercomputers in their purses and pockets. We have adapted to new technologies, and we all do old things in new ways. Banking, shopping for food, booking services, ordering well… everything….  We all use digital availability to maximize our own satisfaction.

Technology allows us to be expedient and thorough in our decision making for products and services by searching for what we need online at an ever growing rate. We all compare multiple options online, usually several at one time. We do this as planners to our supplier partners, and our participants do this with the plethora of possible events they can attend.

Welcome Generation C

Generation C are the attendees of the future, united by their behaviour and expectations, rather than their age bracket. Modern attendees thrive on these C’s – Connection, Communication, Curation and Community. They cross generations, but they are curious and many of them are promoting, creating, attending and sharing our events. So what can event planners do to welcome these digitally empowered participants?

Seeking community is a reason to attend. Along with event participation, our participants are also seeking the communities they want to belong to, ever increasingly on mobile devices. Websites must be mobile enabled and connected to the social networks you are using to support your messaging, making it easy for your community to connect to you, and each other.

Before the event generate excitement about when registration will open, and the second they have registered allow them a way to share this with their connections, adding a sense of FOMO and authenticity to your event. When you know you can expect to share the event with great company, the urgency to attend increases.

Understand for associations particularly these participants are no longer just your members – this new enablement allows those who don’t desire membership in the traditional sense – annual dues, a newsletter and access to a membership list – to be connected and it is time to find ways to embrace these digital joiners and use these new mediums to build on your existing success and grow into the future.

 The New Hierarchy of Needs

Anyone involved in event marketing is familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. James McQuivey of Forrester is the author of Digital Disruption, a book first recommended to me by Reggie Henry, the Chief Information Officer of the American Society of Association Executives  as a “must read in this new age” as even this association for association executives has had to respond to the new members and the old member’s new way of working. In this book Mr McQuivey notes that when it comes to the new digital reality our fundamental human needs now include

  • comfort
  • connection
  • variety
  • uniqueness


Comfort for our attendees now means access to information on our schedule; knowing they always have power available on-site to charge often multiple devices; that ubiquitous WiFi will be available; time to attend to the needs of their digital life is available; that the schedule is available on their device; information can be contextualized on their device by note taking, visual record-keeping and sharing with others. Documents and videos from the speakers can also be uploaded, which allow participants to delve into the information more deeply if they wish.

Connection and Meeting Evolving Needs

“If you didn’t post a picture of it, it didn’t happen.”

We need the ability to connect to others in our own tribes and these needs will vary by who the participants are, who they want to connect to and the myriad ways we now connect – from 15 to 150x per day on average from our mobile devices. This can include professional connections in LinkedIn; groups in Facebook, WhatsApp or iMessage; Snapchat friends following your stories; connections made in the mobile event app; #hashtag streams on Twitter or Instagram related to the event; and email, phone, text or FaceTime with your office, clients or the family you have left behind.

We have to create shareable content and we have to allow time and space for both digital and f2f connections to happen as the digital connections are now as real and meaningful to the user in the time and space they are being shared.

Including a game with a leaderboard allows participants to share their own knowledge and experience to gain points, to stake their place, and this type of technology can be used strategically to build on intrinsic (I did it!) and extrinsic (prizes!) rewards. This is also a great way to connect people who might not otherwise meet as they start to look for those playing along with them in real life.


This is where meeting design meets the participant. Here you need to consider how this connected community wants to learn and connect with others. This includes:

  • the overall flow of the space to include places to chat, check devices and meet both on purpose and serendipitously
  • include quiet/white space – possibly even a digital free meditation zone
  • the new water cooler – the charging station where people gather

With nearly 70% of meetings (statistic varies slightly by source) offering an event mobile app you are also giving your participants a sense of control where they can build a personal schedule, make and store information for new contacts, map their show experience, share socially and take personal notes in one place. Potentially a paper program is still in use but there has been a natural phasing out of these so listen to/ask your participants what they want.

Consider meeting different learning styles of your digitally enabled participants. This may include

  • flipped classrooms where you learn the subject matter on video ahead of time so you arrive prepared to discuss it with peers in the session;
  • speakers who can take questions directly (or via a moderator) which can be asked in the app, by texting, or live from the participant’s’ phone-now-a-microphone;
  • an active hybrid event, with facilitators who encourage conversation within your live audience, answer questions and invite comments from your your virtual audience, plus a moderator who facilitates discussion in a virtual chat room and where these two hosts can work to bring the viewpoints of both audiences together.

Super charged seating! Your seating should also be varied and offer solo, comfortable, shared, high and low seating and maybe even standing room or exercise balls or beanbags for those who have their own idea of what is comfortable, and ideally allows charging at your seat for a portion at least. You need to consider a whole variety of needs, and allow guests to feel as though they have some level of control over their experience. Often we disregard the idea of mixed seating assuming it will be over our budget, but often this can be accomplished using primarily venue seating with rental additions or rethinking the way we use the space available. As we have shifted budget from print materials to digital marketing and mobile apps, we also need to consider shifting budget towards meeting design which facilitates greater depth of learning.


I am having this experience, and I am sharing it with you in the way that feels important to me and which I can also customize for you – my audience of peers, friends and people we-haven’t-met-yet.

Every single person has their own perspective to share on the event and when we create an event with variety, the peer sharing of location as in “come and check this out over here” allows for a richer, more personalized, but still shared experience overall.

Sharable Surprise and Delight

Our globally aware attendees are seeking non-traditional destinations and venues, demanding unique “can’t buy” experiences even beyond the extraordinary such as swimming with dolphins or driving a Ferrari in Italy or other fabulous experiences which they have seen others share on social media, in travel posts, on YouTube or Facebook. They want to craft their own journey and curate the story in their own way. They can and will use technology to do their own research using traditional search engines, asking peers online and likely finding places, spaces and even experiences outside of the meeting – so you need to give them reasons to stay within your event and to share!

The idea of positive surprise is not particularly new, it is just now more difficult to capture in a live event as participant expectations have risen, and the moment you pull back the curtain on such an experience it is socialized by dozens (at least) nearly immediately.

Ideas to Enhance with Technology

I agree with Kevin Jackson that event technology is not going to replace the event planner, but understanding technology’s place in your event can enhance the experience. Consider the power for a fundraiser where your cause is communicated outside the walls of the event and where online activity and seeing their names moving up the prize leaderboard boosts your fundraising dollars.

The power of the food and beverage you choose that tells the story of your location, but imagine the impact when allergy alerts or special meal information is sent directly to those affected just prior to the meal services.

How about the performances that wow and the performers who are being featured which make the audience understand this event is extraordinary – and then you send a link to a featured song to every participant! You might be surprised at the difference in your evaluations and desire to return just by implementing small changes which positively impact the overall experience.

With more mobile devices than people active on our planet it is past time to understand the new needs and to craft responses and deliver events that exceed expectations, and are share-worthy. Participants who are digitally enabled come in all ages, across all industries and from every part of the world. Every participant with a device in hand is also sharing with you a precious resource, data about their behaviour at your event. Everyone leaves a trail of rich data behind and taking care to use this is also part of the new reality – from automatic tracking of CEUs to creating storybooks of participant pictures and understanding how exactly the event flowed, this data is yours for the taking.

In Conclusion

Knowing where people went when, and for how long provides the planner hard facts to continue to adapt and improve on what you are offering. Seeing your participants engaging with speakers, exhibitors, each other and those in the virtual eventsphere shows you a depth of experience we were not able to share prior to the widespread use of smartphones and tablets. Even those who may not be sharing on social media may be comfortable asking a question through the mobile app, or simply selecting sessions or answering survey questions this way. Ultimately, disruption has happened, how are you keeping up?  (and please share your stories below!)