Event Management

How to Use Gamification at Your Next Association Conference

Skift Take

Don’t let the term fool you. Gamification drives motivation, rewards desired behavior, and engages members, even ones who hate games.

What is Gamification?

Gamification is a practice that uses visible motivational awards (game thinking) to inspire desired action. Most of us are exposed to it at school when teachers post boards with student names and apply gold stars when we do something well, like good behavior or a good test score. How we are measured is known to us (not arbitrary) and the awarding is consistent, measurable, and public. We also see elements of gamification in the Scouts, military, fitness tracker apps, and rewards/loyalty programs.

Examples of Gamification

The Competitive Carriers Association used an aspect of gamification in its conference app. The group defined a number of desired activities and gave attendees points for performing them, similar to a Foursquare check-in. By performing these activities, they unlocked badges and leveled up.

Some associations offer badges or points for attending secondary events like networking gatherings or book-signings that many attendees otherwise forget about or skip. You can also use gamification to motivate e-learners.

Why Does Gamification Motivate Us?

There are a number of reasons gamification motivates people. While studying game play, Richard Bartle created the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology, a look at what motivates individuals in gaming. He found 4 distinct personalities. (For greater insight into gamification and why it works, it’s essential to mention this study. However, it is important to note that people enjoy gamified conference experiences, even when they do not consider themselves a “gamer.”) Most people strive to achieve the goals set before them in gamification for the following reasons:

Achievers. This group plays games to win. Leaderboards are their inspiration. Posting a list of your daily top influencers on social media according to numbers of shares, for instance, encourages those who are close to the top to try harder tomorrow and those who are not on the list, to share more so they can be. Achievers need to see a goal laid out and then want to be at the top of that category.

Explorers. These people are motivated by the unexpected rewards along the way, like badges outside of levels. They’re not as interested in being number one as they are in finding something cool. They don’t care about leveling up, but they do love gaining an unexpected reward like a coffee for sending out 5 tweets. These sorts of unexpected treats tied into desired actions drive them to experiment more and try new things. They don’t like time constraints like daily awards for the most of anything.

Socializers. These friendly folks enjoy the kinship involved with gamification. They don’t want to win or uncover unexpected treats, they participate because it gives them a deeper connection with other people who are also involved. This group’s interest in gamification is particularly helpful at a conference since the point is to socialize and network.

Killers. On the opposite end from the socializer, is the very small group that thrives on competition to the point that they want to be number one by any means. While this personality is more apt to show itself in traditional gaming environments, and less so at a professional conference employing gamification, you may have to soothe some combative personalities at times. The good news is that this personality grouping is a very small percentage of people and most killers will probably understand the difference between a professional game played with other association members and one on a gaming system with unknown assailants.

How Can You Use Gamification at an Association Conference?

Gamification must be a public experience. Exhibiting a level of achievement, without something to compare it to, doesn’t inspire continued action. If you place a badge on a member’s profile in your online community that reads “silver level,” she has no idea, without a reference to others if that’s good or bad. Nor does she know how she measures up to her colleagues.

Gamification can be as simple as a leaderboard and as complex as a gamification platform designed specifically for your association. Some associations have gamification components within their association management software (AMS) and online community platforms. For those who don’t, there are several ways to incorporate gamification tactics to inspire desired actions among attendees.

Decide What You Want Attendees to Do

The first step is listing things you’d like people to do. This might be visiting more exhibitor booths, sharing content on social media, or referring others to your conference.

Design a Way to Motivate Them

Once you know what you want them to do, you need to decide how you will “entice” them to do it. As mentioned earlier, to encourage more social shares, create a leader board of your top content sharers using a specified platform(s), for instance Top Tweeters. Laud them publically and reward them in some way. Make sure the reward is also publically shared. For instance, “Top Tweeters for today are invited to a special social media meet and greet with the keynote speaker.”

In this example, you are elevating them above their peers and rewarding them for their efforts. Achievers, Killers, and Socializers will take note. (Socializers are inspired because the reward is an opportunity for networking and socializing.) Ideally you’ll have different types of rewards available throughout the conference so as to appeal to different personalities.

Offer Mini-Goals and End Goals

Part of what makes an ideal gamification platform is balancing out short-term goals and long-term ones. If you space out the reward to something that seems unachievable, very few people will attempt it. If you make all the desired activities too easy, people will tire of it. Give your attendees easy goals like check-ins, and longer term goals that they can track their progress towards.

Think about how a fitness tracker works monitoring your steps and reporting the number of steps left to attain your daily goal. That reminder drives added effort towards achievement. Without that reminder you probably wouldn’t have pushed to achieve it.


Results most be publicized and activities lauded. Part of the motivation behind achieving the levels is the public recognition.


Gamification is an easy way to inspire desired actions and engage association conference goers. There are gamifications platforms at a host of price points but you can also incorporate game theory and motivation in non-technical ways. As long as there are actions you’d like your attendees to perform and you’re willing to publicly acknowledge their achievements, you can use gamification at your next conference.