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Published in Content Marketing category on (09/01/2016)

How to Develop Killer Event Agendas and Content for Award Winning Events

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Developing session topics, event agendas, and event content to create an award winning event experience is challenging. Marketers are constantly scaling the content marketing burden, dealing with multiple, competing deadlines at any given moment, and every project we complete needs sign-off from a variety of stakeholders, all of whom have different perspectives and needs. And that’s only internally! Additionally, you have the needs of prospects and attendees to deal with when crafting an event content strategy, and the question that haunts every marketer: how can my message rise above the rest?  

For a moment, let’s strip away all of the goals and metrics that you’ll be measured by post-event. (Don’t worry, we’ll get back to the importance of event data and how you can use it to create effective event content later!) I understand that data and KPIs are useful in helping marketers evaluate what session content has been effective in the past, however, does data tell you how you can connect to your buyer at face-to-face events? Does your marketing tech stack replace creativity?

I once was involved in a brainstorming session for name development of a new product. During this session, a product marketer took a random collection of words associated with what the product did, and then plugged these words into a “product naming” tool, as if naming a product was that simple; as if a company’s name and branding are not a set of complex, interconnected ideas that reflect your company’s values, establish brand recognition, and have associative and aspirational powers. What am I even doing in this room, I thought. This is exactly how your prospect feels when your content does not hit its mark. So how can you prevent making this mistake and avoid creating disconnect with your target audience?

In Certain’s #MKTGPOV Twitter Chat series, we asked content queen Ann Handley how to create killer content to slay your next event. She said, “From an event programming point of view, think through what your audience really needs at a depth they aren’t getting elsewhere. Quick example: at the MarketingProfs B2B Forum, a key persona is what we call the “Aspirational CMO” or business leader. Tomorrow’s CMO needs to know the latest in marketing. But also “Life Skills” (presentation skills, C-suite communication, etc).”

Excellent event content goes beyond best practices and top tips and hones in on the life skills that your buyer needs in order to get to where they want to be in their career. So,  separate your event content from the rest by focusing on industry leaders’ aspirations and giving them the insight that they need: the ability to stay ahead of the curve in their industry. Additionally, when creating your event content strategy, Handley recommends creating diversity in programming, curating the best voices, and assembling a Program Advisory Committee to help you with your content and keynote selecting process.

So, what can you do to make sure that your event stands out with exceptional content? Here are three actionable strategies that will elevate your events.

Select a Keynote that Brings the WTF Factor

^I’ve got to give a shout out to Marketing Influencer, Michael Brenner for this one, because I did not come up with this concept on my own. Brenner’s theory is that sometimes the best keynotes are not the Top 50 Marketers that we already follow— instead, the most popular keynote speakers are outliers with relatable stories that inspire your audience.

Brenner recently wrote a piece about Mark Hamil, of Star Wars fame, being selected as the CMI World’s keynote speaker. His post was called WTF does Mark Hamil Know About Content Marketing?, and it’s a play on one of his previous posts, WTF does Kevin Spacey Know About Content Marketing? (It’s also an allusion to one of Joe Pulizzi’s earlier posts who is literally the father of CMI World—but for now, we’ll focus on Brenner). So what can marketers learn from Brenner about the power of WTF keynotes and why their message is universal, controversial, and appealing?

First off, no one is more familiar with how to sell the hero’s journey than someone who has played Luke Skywalker, which makes Mark Hamil uniquely qualified to speak to a group of marketers who are trying to accelerate their buyer’s journey. This goes back to Ann Handley’s point earlier, of putting yourself in the position of the “aspirational CMO” and thinking: what does my audience need from me in order to be inspired to do their job? Brenner says:

“Know anyone that likes boring and promotional ads? Content marketing focuses on making your customers the hero. Content marketing focuses on turning your promotions and interruptions into valuable messages that people actually want and need.”

Now, selecting a hero might sound like a tall order when choosing a keynote, but not all speakers need to be a hero in order to deliver the WTF factor. Take the example of Tyra Banks’ keynote at Oracle’s Modern Marketing Experience this year. Many were wondering what industry knowledge the former supermodel and queen of smizing had to offer a group of savvy digital marketers. While choosing Tyra to headline MME might seem counterintuitive to some, there is no denying that Tyra is an expert on powerful branding. From producing 22 successful seasons of America’s Next Top Model, to running her own global beauty brand, Tyra Beauty; Tyra is a marketing machine when it comes to establishing strong brand identity, crafting a relatable voice, and developing deep relationships with her customers and audience. Again, her message is universal and relatable.

Now, not every company can afford or wants a celebrity as a keynote. So who else can bring your event the WTF Factor? Speakers with marketing expertise and their own special flavor, like Marketing Technologist Travis Wright, can save the day at your event by delivering the unexpected. At MarTech 2016, Wright informed marketers that the marketing technology stack was dead, AT AN EVENT DESIGNED AROUND THE MARKETING TECH STACK. If my use of capitalizations has not highlighted what a big deal this was, let me break it down for you. Instead of building off of the conventional “stack” concept, which takes for granted that marketers need a specific assortment of marketing technologies in order to complete their stack, Wright posited that the future of marketing technology abandons stacks altogether. Instead, the future of marketing technology embraces a more integrative approach. Systems like CRM, marketing and event automation work together to eliminate operational inefficiencies and enable marketing teams to be highly productive. Instead of one type of technology stacking on top another, martech is a rich ecosystem with complementary products that help fuel the marketer’s pipeline. Wright effectively destroyed the idea of a stack, by creating his own idea (with humor, wit, knowledge, and experience) which aims to capture the attention of his audience by giving them what they never knew they wanted.     

So, when selecting a keynote to improve the success of your event, think of how effectively they capitalize on the hero’s journey and relate it to their audience’s journey, leverage relatability, and deliver the unexpected.

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Boost Attendee Engagement By Developing a Killer Presentation

Once you’ve got your keynote(s) selected, you need to develop your session agenda and or/develop a killer presentation. As Ann mentioned in our Twitter Chat, a variety of session topics and diversity of voices are essential in making your conference appeal to as many different audiences as possible. But again, relatable content is also important. So how can you develop a session presentation that is educational, engaging, and motivates prospects to follow-up with you and drive leads to your business?

Developing a presentation that captures your audience and inspires them to take action first takes an understanding of how your presentation can effectively achieve this. In an insightful piece for Inc., Sims Wyeth writes on what to keep in mind when trying to capture your audience’s attention,

“In my mind, there are two kinds of attention: neck down, and neck up. Neck-up attention is when the listener has to make an effort to pay attention. Neck-down attention is when the listener is riveted to the speaker: she can’t help but pay attention.

Please note that, in our language of English, attention is paid because attention is a valuable currency. When listeners pay attention, they are rewarding you with arguably the most valuable currency in the world.”

Wyeth beautifully illustrates the concept of the “price of admission” —or what is commonly known as the barrier for entry— and how audiences decide how much content is “worth.” As marketers, we want to reduce our barrier for entry, or the amount of work that a prospect has to do in order to engage with our content. At the same time, we are trying to create content that our audience finds valuable. So how can marketers earn our audience’s attention?

Polish that Intro

As a content creator coming from a journalism background, I believe that your first line in any piece that you create is the most important. Your hook often determines whether or not your audience will read on, or in the case of a presentation, listen. Just how limited are our attention spans in the digital age? A recent article in the Telegraph reveals:

“According to scientists, the age of smartphones has left humans with such a short attention span even a goldfish can hold a thought for longer.

Researchers surveyed 2,000 participants in Canada and studied the brain activity of 112 others using electroencephalograms.

The results showed the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000, or around the time the mobile revolution began, to eight seconds.”

In this digital age, you’ve got eight seconds to capture your audience’s attention. No pressure! So how can your opening hook your prospects with attention spans shorter than a goldfish? Here are some ideas for crafting a powerful intro:

  • Start with an Anecdotal Lead An anecdotal lead is essentially a narrative device in which you use a metaphor, an anecdote, or a contrasting piece of information to better illustrate the thrust of your piece, without directly discussing your subject. So, instead of “cutting to the chase,” anecdotal leads set the scene, create an emotional connection to your audience, and most importantly surprise your audience. Employing an anecdotal lead can be a great way to capture your audience’s attention.
  • Use a Quote That Captures Your Message Proceed with caution on this one, because what you find to be an aspirational quote, others might find to be cheesy. That being said, did you know that quotes are one of the top forms of content shared across social media platforms? When choosing to lead with a quote for your presentation, think of which industry leaders hold clout in your field, and what quote is representative of your brand and who you want to attract. Select the right quote to begin your presentation, and you just might find your presentation going viral.

Highlight Benefits and What’s In it For Your Audience

Case Studies are one of the most effective types of session presentations. Why? Case Study presentations take abstract ideas and makes them concrete. It is one thing to tell your prospects how your product or service can help them, and it’s another when you show them.

If you and a partner or client have a success story working together or collaborating with a client, this is what you want to highlight, that way you can demonstrate how your products and services lead to the success of your customers. In your case study presentation, you can give examples of how your product or service can be integrated with other products and services and also engage your audience by giving customers and prospects a roadmap to their own future success.

When selecting a partner or client to develop a case study presentation strategy, define a target audience of prospects that would be interested in both of your products and services and make sure that both teams are aligned with what they want to communicate in their presentation. By doing this, you ensure that both companies will develop a presentation that is mutually beneficial, while also strengthening your relationship with your partner or customer.

Build Polls Into Your Presentation to Capture Data and Improve Attendee Engagement

Live polling gives you the ability to collect data from your attendees, keep your audience engaged, and discover what content is connecting to your buyer and what isn’t. Additionally, polls can be excellent ice-breakers. So for example, at the beginning of a session, you can leverage a poll to test your attendees knowledge on a subject before and after an event, or if you want to, you can use humorous questions like: Are you more of a Beyonce or a Taylor? To make your audience relaxed and ready to take in the information that you are about to deliver.   

For best results, polls can be leveraged before your event, or launch mid-way through a speaker’s presentation. This increases engagement and makes it easier for your team to gather essential data regarding audience feedback and interest. Additionally, this type of live polling helps tailor the presentations for later sessions to ensure all delivered content is relevant.

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Utilize Past Event Data to Inform Event Content

How else can you ensure that your event content is connecting to prospects in the room? As we touched upon briefly before, once you have developed your creative vision for your event content, it’s important to review events that you’ve hosted in the past and analyze which sessions were popular and which were not. When reviewing past event data to develop more personalized and effective content, here is what you should be looking for:

Know Your Persona: Who Attended Last Year’s Event?

If you review registration data that you collected either through registration or during your attendees’ check-in process, like Certain Check-In, look for trends in your attendees’ demographics. For example, are your attendees mainly from enterprise companies, small business, or a mix of both? Do you have a high number of Directors, VPs, or practitioners?

Once you’ve established who make up the majority of your attendees, you can focus on developing presentation materials that are catered to your audience. Practitioners, like those of us in content marketing, marketing operations, or demand generation, are often looking for sessions that cover how to’s, tips, and best practices, so that we can apply what we’ve learned from a presentation to our jobs. Directors, CMOs, and members of the C-Suite are often looking for new marketing technology, tools, and systems that streamline workflow, and thought leadership.

Additionally, the needs of attendees who work in the SMBs versus the enterprise space cannot be more different. Often, SMBs have budgetary concerns, lean departments, and very slim margins, so your content offering must match their needs. When developing content for attendees with an enterprise background, you must also think of the challenges that they face. For example, trying to integrate multiple different marketing technologies across many different departments and ensuring branding integrity are important things to keep in mind. So, the more you know about your event’s past attendees, the more you can cater your content to your future attendees’ needs.  

Track Past Event Engagement

With event automation, you can track attendee engagement at your sessions. So, if an attendee engaged in a poll, received a product demo, or visited your exhibitor’s booth, you can capture that information. You can also track how many prospects attended specific sessions, and which sessions were poorly attended. By tracking past event engagement, you can leverage that past event data to develop your event schedule.

Additionally, if a particular product or service was popular, you can develop presentations that highlight how these items can integrate with other technologies or foster collaboration within teams to generate more buzz and interest around your company. By reviewing which sessions were poorly attended, you can also establish what type of content is not a good fit for your audience and remove these types of sessions from your event content strategy.   

Analyze Event Surveys

Post-event surveys can be effective, and with event automation you can launch a survey immediately following the session to gather feedback while the experience is still fresh in the attendees’ minds. By launching a satisfaction survey at the end of each session, you gather data that you can use to adjust the content for improved delivery during later sessions.

When developing an event survey, here are some questions that might help you improve future event content:

  • Who was your favorite keynote speaker?
  • What was your favorite session?
  • What was your least favorite session?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how valuable did you find the content at the event?
  • Which session did you feel provided the most helpful advice?
  • Were our session recommendations helpful?
  • How could our event programming have improved?

These are examples of the kinds of questions that you can ask on a post-event survey. Feel free to cater your questions to find out exactly the information that you’re looking for. After you’ve captured this data, review the feedback, and try to build more event programming material where there were gaps and remove session material that your attendees didn’t find helpful in future event programs.

When developing your event content for your session or conference, you must have a holistic approach to your content strategy. Carefully select your keynote based on their WTF factor, boost attendee engagement by creating killer presentations for your sessions, and analyze past event data to inform your event programming. By integrating thoughtful, out-of-the-box content that’s personalized to your demographic with learnings from the data that you’ve captured from past events, you ensure that your next event will be a success.

 

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