Part 2: What is Attendee Experience (AX) and Why Should I Care?

You’ve heard of UX, but what is AX?

User Experience (or UX) is a concept you see everywhere these days. UX refers to how a person interacts with a product or technology like a website or app over time. In other words it’s the entirety of a user’s journey with a digital interface. With well-designed UX, it’s easy and even delightful for a person to accomplish a predetermined objective. A fun and addictive service like Spotify or a simple product-ordering website like Warby Parker both incorporate great User Experience design. Exceptional UX results in both thrilled stakeholders and fanatical customers.​

Attendee Experience (or AX) means taking the same approach we normally associate with strictly digital experiences and bringing it into the immersive world of in-person events. It includes your attendee’s interactions with your event website and ticketing process, their experience at the registration desk, perceptions of speakers and sessions, peer-to-peer connections, exhibitor visits, post-event follow up and much more. It’s all about facilitating an attendee’s journey through your event and ensuring a positive and memorable experience.

AX is Vital

Attendee Experience is vital to event success

What makes AX unique and important is that an event participant is not just involved in one interaction, but will go through several stages of engagement with an event.

Therefore, it’s critical to start enhancing Attendee Experience before your attendee even registers for your event, and most importantly, after the event concludes.

We define AX as the sum total of a live event attendee’s encounters, responses, and interactions with the content, sponsors and fellow attendees before, during, and after an event.

That sounds easy enough, but Attendee Experience must be carefully pre-planned and architected for each attendee to have a truly amazing event. From their first interaction with an online ad or event website, through their physical presence at an event, participants will interface with the tangible space, technologies, activities, food areas, expo halls and networking events. How can AX designers create seamless, delightful and powerful experiences at every touchpoint? That is where “design thinking” comes in.

Rather than simply stamping out each event using a template, a shift in your mindset toward designing for Attendee Experience will result in unique and personalized ways to wow attendees throughout their entire event journey, and it will also create your events with the end result in mind.

You are an AX designer

Event planners are already AX designers

If you think about it, Event Planners are already Attendee Experience (or AX) Designers. Creating awe-inspiring events takes more than simply implementing the same plan from the previous year. Stellar events require creativity and innovation. Like UX, AX can incorporate design thinking that can revolutionize the way we approach event planning and result in truly inspired and attendee-centric events.

As an event professional, you are responsible for so many event aspects that must come together: the look and feel of an event, timing, registration, arrivals, schedule, food and beverage, and much more. What if every aspect of your event served to engage and delight your attendees in such a way that they would describe their experience as the best event they ever attended? Those are the types of questions that design thinking can help you answer.

Get your attendees excited!

Elissa Salk explains how to build excitement through the Attendee Experience

Let’s get emotional

Design thinking is the process by which ideas are generated, evaluated and tested for the purpose of evoking positive emotional responses, solving problems and sparking innovation.

Impressive events create positive emotions among attendees and achieve mutually beneficial goals to show organizers and participants, which may include rating the event 4 or more stars out of 5 on an evaluation, or being so excited about the event that attendees register for the next event right onsite.

Put yourself in your attendees’ shoes to enhance their experience

In the upcoming posts we will unpack more of how design thinking will transform your approach, including how to map out AX and why using data to build your attendee journey map is vital. But here’s a sneak preview of one key component of AX: empathy.

The Institute of Design at Stanford University has done in-depth research into empathy. They found that, “to create meaningful innovations you need to know your users and care about their lives.” And that’s why empathy is a centerpiece of AX.

As AX designers, we need to understand why attendees and other stakeholders do what they do and deeply relate to what is important to them, and what it’s going to take to deliver positive emotional responses. Otherwise you won’t be in tune with their needs and desires as you plan your events.

Empathy helps you create better attendee journeys and helps your event ‘flow’

For instance, it may be easiest for you as a planner to set up your registration process in a particular way, but unless you know attendees’ frustrations and priorities, you run the risk of creating friction in the registration process. It may be as easy as switching the order of steps to completely transform their experience. But you’d never know about these improvements unless you put yourselves in the shoes of your attendees.

This will also help you stay out of the trap of imposing your will upon your attendees, and forcing them down your ideal path. Instead, you should feed into what the attendee wants, how they want to make their way through your event, and what they want to accomplish.

In our next post about AX, we’ll cover the steps of applying design thinking to your events.

Visit Part 3: How to Map Out the Attendee Experience at Your Event?

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