Live events are back with a bang and fast returning to pre-2020 levels of engagement.

According to Eventbrite’s Event Trends Report, the outlook for 2024 is strong, with the majority of people expressing their intent to attend more events this year. What’s particularly interesting is the level of interest in non-virtual events among younger people, with 61% of Gen Y and 63% of Gen Z gearing up for increased event participation in 2023, outpacing their Gen X counterparts at 52%.

But in the realm of events, success doesn’t happen by chance. Crafting a remarkable experience for attendees demands meticulous planning and execution. As Benjamin Franklin wisely noted, ‘By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.’ In this context, we present a comprehensive guide on ‘How to Build a Killer Live Event in Nine Easy Steps’.

Here are nine key elements to keep in mind when organising a live event:

1. Relevance is crucial

The content, speakers, agenda and overall theme should directly relate to the interests and needs of your members. Survey members or run focus groups ahead of time to gain insight into the topics and pain points that are top of mind. This ensures the event strikes the right chord, serves a purpose, and provides takeaways that members can immediately apply in their own roles and organisations.

2. Variety keeps things interesting

While the event should focus on a central theme, incorporating different session formats keeps people engaged. Consider including keynote speeches, panels, small group discussions, hands-on workshops and networking breaks. Limiting the size of breakout sessions sparks interest and exclusivity and ensures high-quality learning due to smaller groups.

Sustainability is also a factor that members are thinking about, so communicating to your delegates the measures that have been taken to reduce, or eliminate, the carbon footprint of an event is more and more important.

3. Quality over quantity

It’s better to have a few high-profile speakers providing real substance than a long list of average presenters with lacklustre content. Secure thought leaders who will provide cutting-edge insights and actionable learning, and ensure they are briefed appropriately. If an attendee leaves an event with two or three great ideas and meets some useful contacts, then they’ll come back again next year.

When planning an event, EDI should be a primary focus when selecting the voices that you showcase and the stories that you tell. Every event organiser should have this top of mind (no more panels made up exclusively of middle-aged white men), not only because your event should reflect the diversity of the profession but also because, by making the range of contributors more diverse, you’ll create richer content.

4. Interactivity is a must

People don’t want to passively listen to speeches. Encourage Q&A sessions, polls, group discussion questions and gamification to get people collaborating and participating. Make sure that panels don’t overrun and that you always have a Q&A in each session. They hold delegates’ attention and provide an opportunity for speakers to talk in a more personal way to the audience.

5. Personalisation feels special

Look for ways to tailor parts of the event specifically to your members. Spotlight their achievements, provide discussion forums, or create mentoring opportunities for sharing their expertise, and enable networking around shared interests. Consider pooling questions and contributions pre-event so that you involve as many people as possible.

6. Surprises generate buzz

Consider unexpected elements that get people talking and sharing on social media, like an unannounced VIP guest, insider sneak peeks, or prizes and giveaways. Just be sure these align with your event brand. Provide your exhibitors with additional opportunities to enhance their stands, such as a better-than-your-average coffee machine, a chair-massage therapist, or a headshot photographer – and provide ideas for them to improve their stands with minimal cost, eg a wheel of fortune or a selfie frame. It’s in your interest as much as exhibitors’ to create an exciting and memorable exhibition experience.

7. Seamless logistics remove headaches

From registration to tech to food and beverage, every behind-the-scenes detail should be polished. Test AV equipment beforehand, provide charging stations, use apps and signage to direct traffic flow, and keep food timely and relevant to the audience.

There is a wealth of technology that can be used to take the stress out of event organisation, from registration and badging, apps, lead capture, gamification, social media walls and polling to tools that measure footfall of exhibitions by using tags placed in specific areas. If you have a challenge, then there’s almost certainly a technology solution that will solve your problem.

8. Comfort breeds enjoyment

Look at seating, acoustics, lighting, temperature and accessibility from an attendee perspective. When people feel comfortable, they can better focus on the content and connections. Comfort also aids networking opportunities, and creating those connections is as critical as content.

9. Post-event follow-up sustains impact

Send a timely survey to capture feedback while the experience is fresh, or even use an app to ask for comments at the end of each session. Data is essential to improve your event year on year. Share presentations, recordings and recaps that members can reference. Provide channels for networking and discussion to continue conversations sparked at the event. And use those positive testimonials!

By focusing on these elements, associations and professional groups can design events that resonate powerfully with members. The result is greater engagement, loyalty and ROI in the professional relationships that matter most. With thoughtful planning, and a clear objective, a member event can deliver tangible value for all.

Eight great member events

APM Conference

British Insurance Brokers’ Association, The BIBA Conference

CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition

CIPR Excellence Awards

Financial Times Crypto and Digital Assets Summit

Higher Education Marketing Conference

National Residential Landlords Association, The Landlord Conference

RICS Annual Conference

Showcasing innovation, engagement and member-focused content, these events represent organisational best practices. Their recognition highlights member event excellence.

Feeling inspired? Get in touch with our brilliant new business team today to find out how Think can help supercharge your event offering.

All Articles

Up next

Inbox insights to impress your colleagues