You know and dread them. No matter how well you've designed the event experience, a few attendees will always give you that look: the one that lets you know that they are completely unsatisfied, miserable, and eager to leave the venue.
They look like they’re getting a cavity filled at the dentist, not attending an event. You think there’s something wrong with your event, since you can’t get them to participate in the group dynamics or the networking session. You try to figure out where you went wrong, while becoming anxious and doubtful about your skills as an event professional. Don’t worry: You’ve done a great job at setting up a truly valuable experience.
Those few people who don’t seem to be enjoying the event are what are known as 'reluctant attendees', and it’s not totally their fault they’re unhappy... but it’s not your fault, either. As the '2018 Global Meetings and Events Forecast' report, published by American Express, indicates, "Reluctant Attendees may feel overwhelmed by the experience and the social demands of events. They may be awkward with small talk and feel uncomfortable socializing with people they don’t know. It’s likely they’re attending the event because they feel obliged to do so for personal or professional reasons."
Reluctant attendees will experience difficulty and discomfort just at the mere thought of attending an event. However, there are a few tips you can use to help them feel more relaxed and at ease with the event environment.
Tip 1. Put your attendees in control of their experiences
The thing reluctant attendees hate the most is to feel out of control. Not knowing what to expect and dealing with high levels of uncertainty, these guests will always be defensive. Moreover, they won’t be able to enjoy their experience, since they’ll be constantly evaluating the environment.
To keep this from happening, give the reluctant attendees full control over their presence at the event. Make sure every dynamic, event-related game, and activity is optional. You can also let them design their own program and choose the sessions that make them feel the most comfortable.
By having the power to choose their own event activities and not feeling forced to participate, your reluctant attendees will feel less stressed and more eager to engage.
Tip 2. Set up a hybrid event for those who don't want to attend
It really is as simple as it sounds. Nothing feels safer for reluctant attendees than to attend an event from the comfort of their offices or homes. Obviously, you’ll have to ensure plenty of interaction options for your hybrid event, so they can digitally engage with the event environment and the speakers. However, the possibility of being a virtual guest will save your reluctant attendees a great deal of stress.
Tip 3. Offer spaces for disengagement
When setting up the venue layout, designate space where reluctant guests can take a break and rest. Since nearly all reluctant attendees are introverts, they’ll definitely need a quiet corner where they can disengage and recharge their batteries. Don’t deprive them of this small but much-needed retreat.
Tip 4. Design friendly networking sessions
How can you make reluctant attendees feel even more anxious and uncomfortable? By making them interact with strangers during a networking session or coffee break. Even for the most experienced and extroverted guests, networking is not an easy task, but for reluctant attendees, it can feel like torture.
So instead of tormenting your introverted guests, think about running a different type of networking session. Maybe plan a B2B matchmaking dynamic, where the attendees actually decide with whom they want to meet and have the control to set up the meeting by themselves. This will significantly decrease the uncertainty factor and help your reluctant attendees feel more comfortable with networking.
Tip 5. Focus on providing REAL value
Get your reluctant attendees to enjoy your event by making their 'pain' worth it. In other words, transform the conference, convention, or seminar into a relevant platform for knowledge transfer. Provide fresh insights and base your session on valuable data that can be extremely valuable to your reluctant guests.
Whenever you design your next event, remember that no matter what you plan or how you plan it, you’ll always end up hosting a few reluctant attendees. So instead of getting mad or frustrated with them or yourself, try to focus on designing an optimal experience for them (and for the general event population) by ensuring a safe and comfortable environment.