7 Ways to Improve On-Site Communication With Your Team and Your Guests
July 31, 2018
Jeffrey Huang, Senior Manager, Employee Engagement and Outforce Global President at Salesforce, shares tips for making your events inclusive and welcoming to all sexual orientations and gender identities at every stage of a guest's journey.
No matter the type, in-person events connect people — making them the perfect channel for building a community around a purpose, product, brand, or shared interest. But how do you bring people together in a way that doesn’t feel forced? And more importantly, how do you keep them wanting to come back for more?
Here's something I had to learn the hard way: just because you host one event, doesn’t mean you automatically have a community. It takes work (and time!) to build a community that shows up habitually, engages with its members, and tells all their friends.
I help run BookBabesNYC, a community of women that all share the goal of reading more books (some are avid readers, some only read once in awhile). After a year and a half, we now throw 2 events a month, and our community has grown 15 times — from 25 to over 400 members.
Below, I share some of the lessons I’ve learned from this experience so far (Rome wasn’t built in a day!). No matter what types of events you host, I hope this will get you thinking about the power of events in fostering connections and driving engagement. And yes, even building a community of your own.
person next to them?
Ten years later, our annual conference attracts nearly 20,000 customers and partners, our company has grown to 4,000 people, and we have a first-class marketing team with dedicated event professionals who are the best in the biz. Events have been a crucial part of our brand and help us better connect with our community, evangelize our customers, and ultimately grow our company.
Here’s how we did it:
How it all began
In my previous job at a PR agency, I was tasked with building a community for an eyewear brand — which is no small ask. Eyewear can be difficult to sell (frames are typically purchased once every 3 years), so the brand was excited by the idea of fostering a group of people to represent the brand in person. Not to mention, a group of potential customers.
We knew they wanted to connect with women in their 20s and 30s in NYC, and had the thought to pair readers (for your eyes) and readers (book worms). This sparked the idea for a book club, and BookBabesNYC was born.
Image: J. Crew
After working with the brand for the contract's three months and hosting three successful meetings, I could tell we were really on to something. It wasn’t the books that had members coming back: we were offering a space for women to come together, so they could freely share their thoughts and opinions with their peers (not just about books).
In January 2018, I took BookBabesNYC on as a side project (with the help of my two friends, Caroline Schimmenti and Stacey Stewart), and have watched it grow into a full-blown organization. But just like from any new experience, my co-founders and I have learned a lot about community-building and we've made our share of mistakes along the way.
Here are my biggest takeaways.
Lesson 1: Choose an overarching theme that's value-driven
One of the most important parts of driving engagement is providing value at each event. So, before choosing books, we start thinking about our ideal attendee, what her interests are, and what she’d want to get out of one of our events. This helps us ensure we’re facilitating natural conversations around a topic guests are interested in (aka the perfect networking set up!).
For example, at one of our events we wanted to focus on personal finance, a topic which isn’t traditionally or comfortably discussed out in the open. We chose a fiction book, Opening Belle, about a female working in the finance industry during the recession, and a non-fiction book, The Index Card, about the best ways to structure your finances.
Image: Kendra Scott NYC Showroom
Not only did our theme and book choices bring in a diverse demographic — from women who work in finance to women who admittedly knew very little about personal finance — the discussions were also some of the most engaging conversations we’ve ever had.
Even if you’re not a book club, choosing a theme that you think will resonate with your guests is a great way to create a more unique experience. And if you’re working with any partners or other brands, this also gives them an easy way to tie-into the conversation without feeling too pushy or salesy.
Lesson 2: If you build it, partners will come
Partnering with different brands allows us to not just grow our club's membership and expand our reach, but also provide something extra to our members.
Different brands saw our community as valuable for different reasons. Retailers were thrilled to let us host events in their stores, since it gave them access to a group of potential shoppers. SaaS companies tapped into BookBabesNYC as a resource for recruiting. Beauty brands had a chance to sample to a curated group of women and gain feedback on products (kind of like a focus group!).
Image: Outdoor Voices
But of course, we sought after a partnership with a big publishing company like Random House. It took us a year to even track someone down at the company, but it was completely worth all the effort (we just partnered with them for a Galentine's Day event at Kendra Scott alongside Ketel One Botanicals and PUNCH).
My advice on partnerships when you're trying to build a community?
• Don’t just partner just to partner. It has to make sense (there’s nothing more tone-deaf than a random brand selling to your audience). • Don’t be afraid to go after the “big fish” partners, but keep in mind that it may take some time, so it’s worth investing in other partners in the meantime.
• Consider working with another networking community. It's a great way to engage new members and expand your existing network.
After we secured a few partners, it became much easier to pitch brands we didn’t have a connection with, since we could show them that other brands were already taking interest.
Lesson 3: Prepare ahead of time, so you can be a good host
When community-building is your goal, engaging with your guests should always be your number one priority. Something I learned quickly is to deal with the millions of event details ahead of time, so you can ensure you’re spending more time with your guests on-site.
Here are a few things to prep:
• Practice any speeches beforehand: if you’ll be speaking to the group, make sure you practice in advance. You don’t want this to feel forced — so go over the flow a few times until it feels natural. • Get to know your members: look through your guest list! Google the people coming — what can you keep in the back of your mind to talk to them about? You can also make a mental note to say hello to any first-time attendees.
• Align with your team: plan out your event team’s responsibilities (throughout the entire flow of your event!) — for example who will be doing check-in, or introducing your guest speaker.
Though brief, that simple interaction with with the chef took the night beyond just an excellent meal.
Show your sales team the data and the ROI they get for taking those extra minutes to get people to register. Show them that their time investment is worth it.
Amy Barone, Senior Director of Marketing Events & Engagement Programs at Tableau
When it comes down to it, the goal of any event is to grow and nurture the relationship between your guests and your brand — whether you’re promoting a product, building community, or looking to increase brand awareness.
I also always make sure we have extra hands on-site to help in case anything does go wrong, that way I can still focus on what matters.
This way, guests didn’t have to worry about memorizing each other’s names or drawing a blank when they turned to chat with the person next to them, and we also got to show off our product in a natural way.
Lesson 4: Track every RSVP and attendee
Knowing who attended your events is always important, but it's even more important when you’re trying to build and maintain a community.
We use Splash for our event pages, emails, guest list management, and check-in, but whatever way you use to manage your events, just make sure to check people in at your event. That way you’ll know every single person who attended (and who RSVP’d but didn’t show up) and can better plan any follow-ups or future outreach (e.g. sending a thank you email with a discount from your partner brand, or letting your no-shows know about the next event).
Lesson 5: Facilitate networking
Remember, they’re not just there to hear content or read books — a great side effect of being part of a community is the opportunities for networking! To do this, two things we always think about are introductions and activities.
If you’re the host, try to greet each guest and introduce yourself. And since you can’t keep one person entertained the entire event, I like to find out a little about them and then make an introduction to someone else in the room. They’ll appreciate that you took the time to make their experience a good one, and you’ll already have sparked meaningful engagement right off the bat.
Image: Rebecca Taylor
Our book discussions are always our main activity, but we try to think of other activities, too, since we know people are also there to grow their networks. And if you plan something for the very beginning of your event, guests will get to meet new people right away and they won’t feel as lost trying to find someone to talk to.
One activity that we love (and that one of our co-founders, Stacey, swears by) is speed-networking. Set up two rows of chairs facing one another, ask a question, give the group one minute to discuss, and then ask one side to move down a seat. Six Degrees Society has a great concept where they ask for bios in advance and then “match” their guests for quick networking. Brilliant.
Lesson 6: Stay in touch with your members
Here’s my secret: the key to building community doesn’t necessarily all come down to the actual event. Events help you build community — giving you a group of people you can follow-up with, continue conversations with, and grow a relationship with going forward.
Think about all the ways you can communicate with members between events — but you don’t just want to spam their inbox. Just like at your event itself, it’s all about providing valuable information. Here are some of our favorite ways to stay in touch with our members:
Think about all the ways you can keep in-touch with guests between events — but you don’t just want to spam their inbox. Just like at your event itself, it’s all about providing valuable information. Here are some of our favorite ways to stay in touch with our members:
1. Post-event recap: after each event, send out a recap (to those who attended and those who didn’t). Create a post-event page so guests can relive the experience (or see what they missed!). Here's an example of a video recap we posted on Instagram after an event:
A post shared by Book Babes (@bookbabesnyc) on Sep 26, 2018 at 3:42pm PDT
Video: Jake Self
2. Create buzz for future events: get the word out about your next event, even if every single detail isn’t finalized. You can also create an event calendar (in Splash we call this a “Hub”) that houses all of your past, current, and future events.
3. Send other community events: if you know your group likes yoga, send them a class nearby that’s free or has a discount — not only is it a nice gesture, but it will help position you as someone they can turn to for recommendations and advice.
4. Reach out individually: this one takes more time and effort, but try to reach out to your members on an individual basis (start small: don’t try to contact 100 people in one week!). Congratulate them on their new job, send them a book you think they’d like, a travel recommendation, etc.
5. Foster engagement outside of the events: social media is a great way to continue the conversation post-event and infuse your community into a platform they’re already using. Our favorites are Slack channels/groups and Facebook groups, since they lend themselves well to group conversations.
Lesson 7: Valuable feedback is the only way to get better
The only way I really know how an event does is by asking our attendees for their feedback — usually in the form of a post-event survey (you can do this in Splash!).
Send a survey after each event, and even incentivize people to take them with a giveaway opportunity for everyone who completed it (this is when working with a partner can come in handy). This feedback will not only allow you to get to know your community in a more personalized way, but you can also use this valuable information to make your events even better in the future.
Building a community doesn't happen overnight
The most important thing to remember is that you can't force a community. I believe that one of the reasons BookBabesNYC has been so successful is because we've always emphasized being authentic. Our community began as a space for women to come together and share their ideas, and it's remained that way to this day.
My best piece of advice? Host an event and see what resonates. You'll be able to see which activities kept people the most engaged, or what you should cut out next time. Building a community takes time, but when you put in the work, it can be one of the most rewarding ways to to foster connections with, and among, your audience.
Even if your event doesn’t require a full seating chart with assigned seats, think about how you want the flow of your event to go, and how you can create natural opportunities for meaningful connections.
• A sense of privacy: a completely private and closed off room for dinner proved to be an extremely crucial element. At one of the venues, an open section in the room allowed noise to disrupt the flow of conversation — making it feel less private and less special of a night compared to dinners that were completely closed off to the public.
6. Create the best guest experience possible
At the end of the day, throwing events mean nothing if you’re not providing value to your customers.
At our conferences, we provide “Tableau Doctors” on-site that help customers or prospects with any questions about our product. Not only do these one-on-one appointments empower customers to engage with us in a meaningful way, they’ve also been the critical to driving event ROI.
Victoria is a Brand Strategist as Splash, where she works with all different kinds of companies (tech, real estate, software, beauty, etc.) to help strategize best practices for their event programs. If she’s not working or attending industry events (or her own book club events), she’s probably living at Equinox, trying not to shop, running in and out of the Rent the Runway store, eating everywhere in NYC, or reading a book!
Thinking about your next event? This guide has everything you need to plan, promote, manage, measure, and optimize a stellar one.