Event navigation 101: 3 tips to please conference attendees

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At the risk of preaching to the choir: event marketing works. Research from the Harvard Business Review found that 52 percent of business executives believe events drive more business value than other marketing channels. Working in the industry, we all know the impact that events have — their ability to foster connections, deepen bonds and accelerate the sales cycle to name a few.

But as an event becomes more successful, there’s a risk of diminishing effectiveness. Chris Cavanaugh, Chief Marketing Officer at Freeman highlights the issue, saying, “as a conference grows larger, attendees may feel like the experience is no longer about them.” Lost in a sea of people, booths, and breakout rooms, the experience of attending a great event can quickly turn sour without the right attendee tools.

How can event managers maximize attendee comfort and minimize any feelings of frustration? A crucial part of the puzzle is event navigation, which can be personalized through design and technology.

Getting navigation right serves two important purposes. As mentioned, it enhances the attendee experience and ensures your visitors gain the most benefit from content and exhibitors. 

Navigation can also help an event grow sustainably, allowing you to add more areas of interest without creating a maze that’s impossible to navigate.

Let’s look at three ways to optimize event navigation.

1. Use creative signage to appeal to your audience

Your event will have been designed to attract particular demographics and the needs of these audiences should stay top of mind when it comes to planning navigation. Event Manager Blog puts it well when it says “people like options” and, within reason, it’s good practice to cater to different preferences.

The advice of Event Manager Blog is to “use different mediums … and keep [attendees] informed”. While some won’t hesitate to use in-app wayfinding (more on that later), others might prefer to speak to someone on-site. Display information like booth opening times and app download instructions prominently throughout your venue so attendees know where to go before irritation arises.

Branding also helps to provide visual cues when moving around an event space, even a citywide one. Use your brand colors strategically on signs and ensure each color represents a particular track or type of venue. For example, labs or demo rooms use signs made in one brand color, while the exhibitor hall has another color. Or assign a color to each track and highlight this with your direction posts or arrows on the floor. 

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On-site branding matches the color-coded map for easy event navigation at SAPPHIRE NOW (image source: K2)

2. Elevate the experience with in-app wayfinding

At the heart of any good navigation strategy should be in-app wayfinding. It’s simply the most cost-effective option to deliver personalized, assisted directions at scale. 

SXSW promotes the navigational features of its app using eye-catching graphics. (image source    SXSW   )

SXSW promotes the navigational features of its app using eye-catching graphics. (image source SXSW)

The challenge of navigating a large exhibitor hall, sometimes spread over multiple floors, may soon be a thing of the past altogether. This is due to innovations by the likes of Heidelberg Mobil.

“Through an intuitive step-by-step approach, Deep Map™ provides seamless indoor and outdoor routing across multiple floors and buildings. To maximize their time on the showfloor, attendees can benefit from Deep Map™’s ability to provide intelligent routes, travelling times and distances.” – Pascal Morschbach, Head of Delivery and Sales, NA, Heidelberg Mobil

Heidelberg Mobil’s Deep Map™ technology uses intelligent mapping to provide 3D maps of complex indoor and outdoor areas. Their high level of detail provides an immersive user experience where attendees can zoom-in and out to get a full-view of the event. Using real geo coordinates and floor plans guarantees pinpoint accuracy for navigating even the most complex event spaces.

Aside from enhancing the attendee experience, event managers benefit from a map interface that is fully customizable and fits seamlessly into the branded environment. For sponsors, logo placement on the map can be offered at a premium to fuel traffic to targeted booths.

3. Encourage engagement to warm up cold zones

How about turning the challenge of a large, complex event into an opportunity? After all, there’s a reason that people pay to visit a maze. With a bit of creative thinking, you can turn “cold zones” on the show floor into areas that attendees won’t want to miss.

With a bit of creative thinking, you can turn “cold zones” on the show floor into areas that attendees won’t want to miss.

Hosting an in-app scavenger hunt is an effective way to inject some fun into an event, while also serving an educational purpose. Put together a list of questions that requires attendees to visit different exhibitors or sessions for answers — participation could involve scanning a QR code or getting a secret answer from staff to enter into the event app. 

The goal of a scavenger hunt should be twofold: to promote every area of the event so that booths get the foot traffic they need, and to incentivize attendees to leave their comfort zone and maximize the benefits to be had from speaking to new exhibitors.

Regardless of the elements that make up your navigation strategy, the most important thing is that it is planned alongside the event as a whole. For instance, when developing the event app, ask how navigational help and maps will integrate. Your app partner should take the time to understand your needs and provide solutions that match.

It’s not a stretch to say the future of your event relies on good navigation. Any frustration an attendee feels from not being able to find their way around will impact their likelihood of returning to your event, and of recommending it to others. Lead with a strong app, pepper in some unexpected creativity and attendees will come to enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

Looking for more on event navigation? Download the ebook The Attendee Journey: Creating Personalized Experiences for Conference Attendees.