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How NOT to Approach Event Marketing: Lessons for Presenters and Sponsors

If you’re interested in reading more about how NOT to approach event networking, check out the first part of the series on Networking Syndrome at South by Southwest.

First, let’s talk about the audience at events and why they’re so hard to reach. Attendees generally have two objectives for attending:

  1. Utilize the excuse to get the hell out of the office and dive into expense accounts. I can’t necessarily blame these folks – events/conferences offer them the chance to fill work hours with vacation leisures. Must be nice.
  2. Network to find new business opportunities – the network to get work mentality.

Neither of these two psychographics are keen to hear others’ long winded messages. Most event audiences also understand how much speaking spots and booths cost, and therefore know that no matter how engaging your content, you are trying to sell something. And they are right; we are.

Clearly, the motives of the presenters and the audience members are not aligned, which makes it pretty difficult for everyone at events to engage in ways that are meaningful, remarkable, memorable, and compelling. Presenting pitches and funneling people toward product demos doesn’t work. First time engagements are not the time to highlight new product launches. You are not Apple. And the days when prospects were willing to hear to anyones’ offers are gone. There are just too many salespeople and solutions – everyone has developed killer filters. So what is a salesperson to do? We recently saw others experience – and experienced ourselves – these struggles at the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) conference in Miami on Marketing to Small Businesses.

There are 3 ways you can get through to your audience. Using these methods, you’ll be armed with actionable techniques to broadcast information to any target. Again, we are referencing events and conferences, but our proven methods work in any type of environment and interaction because they are powered by behavioral psychology.

Check out the Radius Reading List to see where we source our thoughts.

My suggestion is to nail down one technique, and then start layering in others. You’ll walk away with a piping hot sales pipeline once you are able to craft a combo of all 3. Let’s dig in.

1. Insider Information

Convince the audience that they don’t know something they should know or  want to know, and that you have the arrived at the answers through rigorous research, theory, and/or case studies.

The more sound your methods and established the content, the easier it is to sway the crowd. Unfortunately, many of the claims made in presentations are takeaways from surveys overflowing with confirmation bias and misconstrued, misguided sample sets that are not very representative of the population. Qualitative data has its place and value, but a well-constructed, experimental design that presents hard statistics with minimal confounds is a much purer way to convince an audience. It’s why infographics are more popular than white papers and stories are easier to read than research papers.

A presentation overloaded with complex statistics will 1) fly over the head of 90% of the audience and 2) lead to a major snooze fest. Statistical backing and robust research must be wrapped in context; stories are always the most effective way to deliver insider info. Stories make sense of facts so listeners can easily consume them. Stories, because they add context to data, allow an audience to make an emotional connection with your information. Case studies are a perfect example of stories that deliver your business’ value prop.

The bottom line? Be sure to take a hefty tablespoon of salt before making a diet out of research offered at most conferences.

2. Empathy

Identify the target persona and the pains that persona experiences, then empathize with that pain, and  craft a message that aligns your solution to one or multiple of those pains.

Every person has annoyances that drive them crazy at work. People are stressed out because they don’t understand how to arrive at their objectives; because tasks take too much time and are way harder than anticipated; because there is little semantic motivation to advance their current career path; because their boss is an authoritarian; because pay is mediocre. These stress drivers offer endless opportunities to connect. Start complaining with the audience. There ‘ain’t no party like a pity party.’ Define an audience persona, and identify what causes them stress. If you are in front of the right audience, whatever you offer will help solve a pain point the majority of the audience feels. Capture the audience by bringing the pain to the surface. Good storytellers use descriptors that are so spot on and vivid that they stress out attendees. Now you’ve got the crowd curling their toes, and they believe that you also have been a victim. This is your window of opportunity. “But wait!” you say. “There is prescription to heal the pain plaguing me, you, your colleagues? It’s a new concept/software/hardware/research. It’s exactly what we’ve been waiting for. And guess what? My company happens to be the one selling it.”

Hold tight – you still shouldn’t be hard pitching your solution. The crowd could feel even more betrayed if all you do is sell after a long emotional upheaval. The best method is to leave the audience with a learn more cliffhanger: “Imagine a world in which [insert problem XZY]  now only takes 10 minutes a day and doubles your recurring revenue.” Using the “imagine a world” message sparks the picturesque, and has audience members craving advice on how to get to that place.

So again, pick a topic that will motivate your audience (education and savviness, workload, authority and coworkers, ambition, and compensation). Coordinate the pain with your solution and your audience. Craft a story that hits home with the audience. And then introduce a solution that has the crowd wanting more.

3) Interactive

Getting an audience to interact with you or through content during your presentation is the sure-fire way to know your message resonates with them. It is also the hardest method to accomplish.

First, don’t turn the presentation into a classroom or work session. Second, don’t be too cutesy. Attendees are definitely not there to work hard. And they won’t appreciate anything that makes them feel like kindergarteners. Forcing the audience to interact will leave a bad taste that will hurt you during the follow up process – and the follow up is when deals are made. Go for a soft promotion strategies that get the crowd to build a natural affinity to your company. If your hand is too heavy then attendees will be turned off by the pressure.

So what works? Use, create, or repurpose a piece of content for the audience that intertwines with your topic. For example, if you have insider information that involves in-depth statistical analysis, then distributing a printed infographic to each audience member will allow them to take a close look at the research and to take it home. If Radius had presented at CEB, we would have covered why it is so important to make sense of big data when selling to SMBs. Data that provides insights to help sellers prospect more effectively is a topic that is weaved into that message. During the presentation, we would have referenced our latest e-book, “99 Tips for Prospecting SMBs,” and doled out tip cards or a print version of the e-book for the crowd to engage with if they so chose. We had wins using this strategy at our kiosk at the CEB conference. Instead of the standard promotional sign that lists bulleted value propositions, the Radius board hosted tip cards that any passersby could grab.

Image Radius Tip Cards and Board

This strategy is not invasive or pushy, it simply offers free value. The crowd should be free to do what they like and to opt out of undesirable arrangements if they want to do so.

A lot of your initiatives may not be fully utilized by attendees, and that is okay. Yes, if you create a special opportunity for attendees to engage and they participate and derive real value then that is ideal. But by merely extending the opportunity you can further develop the relationship with attendees. It is like gift giving: you’ve given the attendee something from which they can gain value, and it is essentially risk free. When they recognize your effort, it will increase the likelihood that they are willing to hear you out, which is essential when following up with attendees after the event ends. It is a real example of “it’s the thought that counts.”

Another example is the Radius local business guide for the CEB conference that was included in the welcome packet that all event attendees received. The guide was tailored to the local businesses surrounding the CEB Marketing to Small Business Summit, and highlighted the best local businesses to grab a bite, get a mani-pedi, rent a jet-ski, and several other highly reviewed businesses. To create this guide, we used the Radius application and data. Did anyone actually use the guide when planning their activities in Miami? Doubtful. But again, that was not the point. The value was immediately realized in many of our initial conversations with other attendees. They went something like this:

“Hi. I’m John from Radius.”

“Oh, you are the guys that created the map. That was cool.”

“Glad you liked it! It was fun using Radius to discover and call all the business owners.”

Radius Local Business Guide: Miami, FL

Thereafter were unpretentious conversations about what all is possible when reaching local businesses using Radius. For your next event, think of a valuable interactions, contact the host organization for approval, and nudge attendees to opt-in to your offer.

We hope you can see how to benefit from using insider information, empathy aligned with solutions, and content that spurs interaction. For your next conference or next networking event, think of ways to present value to the audience in ways that guides them into more opportunity focused conversations.

P.S. – 6 other tidbits to consider for presenters and sponsors:

  1. Never get the last speaking spot. People are checked out – mentally, and literally checked out of the hotel.

  2. Don’t pretend you are a T.V. show host on stage unless you are blatantly doing a T.V. show parody.

  3. I empathize with a bad cough, but the clearing of the throat and coughing into the microphone has got to stop. If you are speaking then plan ahead – overload on Vitiamin C and stock your pockets with cough drops.

  4. Never, NEVER, go overtime. You are cutting into networking time. End 15 minutes early and let everyone know you are doing it to give them more networking time. They’ll appreciate that.

  5. If you have to repeatedly ask the audience “are you following me?” then they probably aren’t following you.

  6. Make fun of yourself – those are the most effective jokes. They bring you down to the audience’s level. You are no longer speaking at them, you are with them – no more superiority.

What else am I missing? I am a noobie so help me out! Drop in a comment or feel free to reach out directly –

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