In many ways, events in a pre-pandemic world focused on the principle of "the bigger, the better.” As the growing trend towards micro-events shows, however, sometimes less is more. Learn when micro-events are the best choice, and how to get them right.
Micro-events have recently gained a spot in the limelight due to the sense of back-to-basics authenticity and tailored relevance that these smaller gatherings can generate. The term “micro-event” gives away the defining feature of this event type — an event smaller in scale than its macro counterparts. A micro-event can have anywhere from 10 to 100 people attending. Whereas the large-scale events of the past typically hosted thousands of attendees, this figure could be closer to 80 people at a micro-event.
The concept is not new, but recent factors are driving event planners to rethink both their best use cases and their modes of delivery. Sometimes they occur as standalone events, but often they are part of a larger series, held either simultaneously or in sequence. This approach can both simplify and complicate the event planning process: The bite-sized format can make individual components easier to manage, but the effort to coordinate events across regions can require careful forethought.
If done right, however, micro-events can be both a novel solution to some of today’s top challenges and an opportunity to amplify past wins. For planners who are thinking about adapting to a micro-event format in the future, there are some real, tangible benefits and tips that they should use to inform their decision. Here we explore the ins and outs of the new micro-event paradigm and how to make yours successful.
Why host a micro event?
While micro-events existed in a pre-pandemic world, their use cases have evolved over the past two years.
Many event planners have turned to micro-events as the only viable solution for hosting in-person events under pandemic restrictions — but there are advantages beyond meeting regulatory requirements.
A high-energy, tailored experience
Mahoganey Jones, a CMP (certified meeting planner) and event specialist, explains that these limitations forced her to be creative in ways that would ultimately benefit the attendee:
“We can go back to the fundamentals of designing experiences that are relevant and make an impact. Instead of using the pandemic as an excuse, why don’t we use it as an opportunity?’ An opportunity to redo micro-events.”
Mahoganey Jones, CMP and event specialist
After reviewing the years of event industry experience that she had under her belt, Jones realized that she often got better returns with smaller events where she and her team had more control over the design and narrative. Her philosophy has always been that micro-events make it easier to create high-energy experiences tailored to the audience.
A way to bring remote teams together
For others, micro-events offer suitable alternatives to large-scale events for companies adapting to remote working environments in a more technology-focused world.
Mark Cooper, CEO of the International Association of Conference Centers (IACC), explains that smaller meetings are becoming more common as single-destination conferences decline:
“The micro-event is a format that we anticipate will be more in demand, especially as organizations decentralized from a single location where they would have had one large conference.”
Mark Cooper, CEO of IACC
On the one hand, corporate travel management is becoming more complex because of the restrictions involved with cross-border trips, but on the other, workplaces tend to be more spread out than ever before. That means there is more incentive than ever for bringing teams together periodically, even if it’s only for small-scale meetings and events.
An alternative to exhibiting at trade shows
While in-person events have begun to recover, many tradeshow exhibitors are still not seeing the scale they were used to in pre-pandemic times.
Chris Walker, CEO of Refine Labs and growth marketing specialist, suggests that micro-events can offer an alternative to exhibitors who usually rely on tradeshows to connect with potential buyers and consumers. Walker explains that by hosting micro-events across different regions in a roadshow format, corporations can establish an in-person marketing channel for their individual brand. At the same time, they can reach a wider audience by capturing and sharing the event content online.
Through this two-pronged approach, they are no longer reliant on major trade shows to reach a large audience of buyers and partners. In other words, they are reaching out directly to their target market rather than relying on third-party organizers to bring the entire market together under one roof.
Essentially, the onsite events and digital presence work hand in hand. “The connection between what happens in the field and what happens in digital needs to be a lot more integrated than how companies historically do it,” said Walker.
7 key benefits of micro-events
The increasing popularity of micro-events may boil down to three core rationales, but the benefits are many. Here are some of the key advantages outlined by our interview sources:
1. Better opportunities for connection
Smaller events equal more opportunities to create meaningful connections. The IACC turned their Americas Connect 2021 conference into an interconnected set of micro-events, and the results were surprising. By using unique small venues across several locations, the association hosted micro-events of 30 to 50 people via a multi-hub, same-day model. And the lower attendance numbers actually led to positive feedback. With smaller groups participating in educational sessions, attendees were able to build deeper relationships with their colleagues. “If you are one person in 250, the chance of meeting somebody for more than five minutes is minimal, but when there’s a smaller group of you throughout the day or the two days, you get to know more about the same individuals without losing the larger community,” says Cooper. People also connected with others in different locations throughout the day via technology.
Micro-events allow planners to hyper-focus on the overall narrative and objective of their event. Thanks to their smaller scale, micro-events are an ideal opportunity to create fully customized and tailored event experiences that meet the specific needs of a given audience. This structure translates to extra value, enhanced engagement and high-quality in-person and hybrid events.
3. Safety in (smaller) numbers
The pandemic has placed new expectations and regulations on planners regarding event safety and large crowds. Hosting micro-events allows us to manage new health and safety protocols more effectively while potentially reducing the risk of Covid transmission.
4. Revenue potential through enhanced engagement
Engagement can be key to the long-term ROI of events, and micro-events can amplify interactivity and person-to-person connections. For this reason, they offer an excellent opportunity for maintaining event revenues — particularly when large-scale events are not possible. As Jones explains, “The micro event experience came back as not only a marketing strategy but a reminder that we can design with impact in a smaller format without losing revenue value.”
5. Sustainability and community support
Because of their size, micro-events can cut down on travel-related emissions while also leveraging local event professionals, speakers, and products — essentially better safeguarding the environment and boosting local economies.
6. Balancing accessibility with in-person opportunities
Micro-events are a great alternative to relying solely on virtual events to increase accessibility. When event planners choose to host multiple micro-events, they give participants more opportunities to connect.
7. Authenticity and creativity
In a world where remote connectivity can at times feel alienating, authenticity is a top priority for many. And micro-events give planners the opportunity to do just that: Create authentic experiences on a people-to-people basis. Further, increased flexibility and creativity make it easier to create unique, exclusive experiences that will resonate with the audience.
11 tips for planning your next micro event
While micro-events share many similarities with macro-events, there are some considerations to keep in mind when designing, planning, and hosting a smaller-scale gathering. Without being aware of the potential pitfalls, planners risk losing their audience and producing micro-events with a lackluster and disjointed feeling.
To create and host the most successful micro-events, keep the following key strategies in mind:
1. Consider the attendee’s perspective and deliver core value
Like any event, micro-events work best when you know where you are going and what you are trying to achieve. Jones explains, “Designing with the attendee in mind is the first step[…] What are you looking to accomplish? What are you looking to teach? What is the transformation? ” For example, if a core incentive for attending your event is some form of educational accreditation, offer micro-events that provide this kind of credit.
2. Keep it simple and focus on your event’s biggest selling point
Jones adds that micro-events don’t have to be grandiose, with the agenda covering every element that would be expected at a large-scale event. Planners should start with what they do well and preach that day in and day out. “If you do well at choosing great keynote speakers or networking, that can be the focus of your micro-event. Lean into your strengths and expand from there,” says Jones.
3. Design for different time zones
When planning a series of micro-events across geographically distant regions, planners must consider the various time zones and their effect on the overall event design. For hybrid micro-events, some sessions could be designed for real-time participation from all attendees, with cross-regional communication and interaction managed through digital channels. Other activities could be set up for the in-person audience only, with the schedule designed around times that are most convenient for each location. Finally, some content can be made available on demand for anyone to enjoy at their leisure.
4. Choose a qualified event tech partner
Having a good event tech provider is critical to any successful micro-event that combines in-person and digital experiences, especially when hosting events across multiple venues. “In a situation where you are running a multi-location meeting, your delegates are in three locations, anywhere in the world, and you are connecting them with technology, you need to have a good technology provider — someone that knows how to do multi-location meetings,” says Cooper.
5. Ensure seamless production
Cooper further advises that planners will need to give more time and attention from a production perspective in advance of the event — a high level of synchronicity needs to happen across groups, as is the case with different time zones. It is not just a question of coordinating schedules and finding a reliable tech partner, but of ensuring that all the parts fit together seamlessly. Do the participants of each event location know when to log into cross-regional networking activities, and how? If a keynote presentation is being live-streamed to satellite locations, will the audience be ready at the right time? Will engagement features allow them to pose questions in real-time?
6. Know your audience
Knowing your audience is possibly one of the most critical tips to consider when planning a micro-event — planners must make the experiences relevant. “The real solution is that you’re so integrated with the community that you always know what they want, and you can always put on an experience that they love,” says Walker.
7. Use each event as an opportunity for community feedback
Micro-events create more opportunities for an evolving event strategy and experimentation. Some aspects to consider are the opportunity to crowdsource ideas and gather feedback. As Jones explains, the standard method of collecting feedback through surveys is most effective when the questions are bit more guided. She recommends using a “start, stop, keep” formula — ask attendees what you should start doing, stop doing, and keep doing. “I keep taking everything we learn in business and applying it to the event world. But I found those surveys allowed us to truly tailor an experience versus [open-ended questions like] what would you like us to teach you?”
8. Assign hosts to each location or delegate logistics
Coordinating multiple events across different regions can be one of the biggest challenges that come with organizing micro-events. Should one person be in charge of everything, or should organizational tasks be delegated down to people on the ground?
Jones believes that it’s best to have a “host” on the ground who can ensure that everything goes according to plan: “When possible, it’s nice to have someone dedicated to each of the individual pieces, just like we dedicate someone to food and beverage, someone to AV, someone to speaker management. Have somebody assigned as a ‘host’ for each of the locations.” When that is not possible, she suggests having a strong agenda set by the central event organizer, with someone on the ground there to ensure that each activation happens according to plan.
Walker takes a slightly different perspective, believing that the best approach is to have one central person manage the core plan for the entire series of events, with some logistical planning delegated down to people on the ground. In his view, it’s crucial to have each part in the series managed by one person who understands the event’s overall objectives and strategy in depth.
9. Be strategic about staying consistent vs. offering variety
While planners must define their objectives and be strategic about their micro-event narrative, different locations can add variety to the overall experiences. “A location might dictate a different flow, or you might be in a city that has a whole different cultural dynamic to it,” says Jones.
Walker suggests that when you host an event in regions with different linguistic needs or market specializations, it is important to create experiences and content in shared languages or speak to local interests. For example, planners might want to offer content in German when hosting an event in a German-speaking country, or cover topics related to aerospace engineering if that sector is dominant in the region.
10. Amplify in-person experiences through digital channels
Micro-events don’t need to stop once the event is over. To reach a wider audience, Walker recommends amplifying content across digital channels like on-demand video or podcasts. Walker uses micro-events to create content and expand the event experience, which drives word of mouth indirectly and sends attendees and customers your way.
11. Get creative
Cooper explains that there are many layers a planner can use when hosting a micro-event compared with larger events. For example, you can host an offsite lunch in a disused factory where the environment challenges you in different ways — something not easy or affordable to do with large groups. “The environment and the venues that you choose for micro-events open up a world of creative spaces. […] You’ve got this ability to immerse your micro event into an environment that already exists,” concludes Cooper.
Less is sometimes more
Micro-events may not be the best solution for planners who need to follow a cookie-cutter approach or reach a large attendee base. For example, this format type may not work for those who have traditionally organized large annual conferences and are happy with the status quo. However, for planners looking to add something new into the mix while reaping the benefits — sometimes less can be more.
By going back to basics, perhaps more planners will start to see the value that micro-events can provide and opt for more intimate gatherings that focus on adding value and fostering a connection with the help of event technology.