Part 3: How to map out Attendee Experience (AX) for your event
You know what AX is. Now put it into action.
Attendee Experience (AX) is defined as the sum total of an event attendee’s interactions with the speakers, sponsors, spaces and fellow attendees before, during, and after an event. AX helps you better define and evaluate the success of your event by using a framework that takes into account the entire journey of the attendee, and aims to thrill them at every milepost. For instance, dynamic speakers, exciting activities and delicious food are all important, but if attendees aren’t having the meaningful and satisfying experience they expect, they may not choose to attend your events in the future.
Keeping AX at the forefront of your planning process allows you to apply design thinking to the challenges and opportunities of your events, resulting in immersive experiences that will delight attendees. Remember, every event planner is an AX designer.
Let’s map it out
At its core, AX means you as the planner must put yourself in your attendees’ shoes. This is often referred to by designers as “achieving empathy” with participants. Great AX designers examine their events from the attendee perspective first and foremost, and let that viewpoint inform their planning process.
As an AX designer, you must be able to acknowledge not only your own needs and goals (like increasing revenue or hitting attendance goals), but also deeply understand what motivates attendees to sign up and show up and ‘rise up’ (or get involved and engaged with the event). Once you harness that, you can architect events that are truly spectacular.
A medical trade show, a three-day user group, and an internal staff meeting will all look quite different from each other. Their purposes vary and attendees have totally disparate goals and desired outcomes, but the overarching considerations for you as a planner are actually quite similar. No matter the type of event, you must understand what each group of attendees want, need, enjoy and detest. What do attendees expect from their experience? How can you make the event unforgettable? What theme will bring the event to life? Answering crucial questions like these begin to shape how your particular event will look.
Remember that it’s a journey
To thoroughly transform AX, you need to wear attendees’ shoes and walk a mile in them.
We suggest documenting a group of hypothetical attendees from the moment they hear about your event until they arrive home afterwards. Picturing their journey helps you place all of the different elements of the event and guideposts in a logical progression. Doing so will help you convert that empathy into enjoyable experiences, and see how different elements fit together (and where they don’t), from publicity to registration to participation.
Watch this video to learn more about your attendees
Check out these thoughts from David on getting to know your audience.
Let’s get thinking
Let’s start our thinking with the diagram below that encapsulates the AX map and the Attendee Experience lifecycle. This isn’t the map (that’s further down this post), but gives you an overall picture of the progression from start to finish. Note that it’s a circle because often one event leads into and informs the next. If you’ve ever felt like you’re on a hamster wheel planning events, you’re not entirely wrong!
Here’s how to create an AX map
Just like a geographical map shows you paths and turns to get to your destination, an AX map helps you break down the steps in the attendee journey from inception to post-event follow-up. An AX map tracks, from start to finish, the steps an attendee will experience in connection with your event. This doesn’t start at the door of the conference venue or trade show. It begins when the attendee first becomes aware of the event and flows through the event itself all the way to their memories of the event after it’s over.
Don’t get too caught up in the different types of attendees you might have at your event. Segmenting can come later (stay tuned for a future post about that). Simply consider what a typical attendee wants and map out the ideal experience, from pre-event to post-event and even their attendance at your future events.
Download our AX Map Framework
Use this downloadable worksheet to sketch out the framework of your AX. Here is the map (preview below) — note that you need to click on it to see the whole thing!
Start with an attendee who is completely unaware of the conference. They are the left-hand column. As they move through each stage, from awareness to engagement, consider the key concepts we’ve put vertically in blue the far left column of our AX map. They are:
- What are the key questions attendees are considering at this point in their journey?
- What are the attendee pain points or challenges at this stage?
- How can we measure the satisfaction and happiness of attendees?
- What would be the ideal outcome for an attendee at this stage?
Similarly, in the right hand column, consider what concepts are important to you as a planner.
- What questions should you be considering at this stage of preparation?
- What activities should you be doing to address both your questions and the potential pain points for an attendee?
- What feedback can we gather at this point to help improve upcoming events?
Your specific questions and answers may differ slightly from the ones we’ve given in our map, but let them be a guide to your consideration. Mapping out this journey may help you recognize any communication gaps, especially when it comes to relaying information before the event. Breaking down the attendee journey chronologically allows you to not only think of the different elements of an event, but also how and when those elements are conveyed to attendees so that it creates a cohesive experience.
Make note of any changes you can make to your current plan in order to address any issues and flesh out your ideas. the map should bring up new ideas and give you an entirely different perspective on your event. What does the Attendee Experience Map teach you? What issues or challenges does it illuminate? What ideas or new concepts does it generate?
To go even deeper, download and/or print these two worksheets that break down the first two stages in the AX Map in more detail:
Inspiration can come from anywhere
Using the AX Map will also push you toward innovation as you address challenges. If long waits for food vendors come up as a pain point for attendees, what can you do to alleviate that? Could you set up mobile payment centers to relieve congestion? Finding inefficiencies is a great way to spark ideas and brainstorm solutions.
If you’re stuck on your AX Map because you’re not sure how an attendee might be experiencing your event at a particular stage, then consider how, in your next event, you could deliberately gather this sort of information better. Surveys, polls, and post-event evaluations are useful tools in gauging sentiment and hunting for improvements. Likewise, more informal communication from social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter can show you the good, bad and ugly of the Attendee Experience. And don’t let the informality of that type of communication fool you. There is a wealth of information to be gleaned from what attendees take the time to post and comment on surrounding your event.
Have you used our AX map?
We’d love feedback on how utilizing our AX map or letting it inspire your own AX map has changed and improved our planning. We’d love to hear from you. We believe an Attendee Experience mindset and utilizing AX tools can transform your event planning. Let us know what you think!
Part 4: Use the Attendee Experience to Plan Perfect Pre-Event Activities (COMING SOON)
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