The Attendee Hierarchy of Needs: A Framework for Making Better Event Planning Decisions

What if there were a framework for making great decisions about features, programming, and technology for events? I’ve been thinking about it for a while—especially since my TSNN blog post on an attendee’s technology wish list. Since then, I’ve done two Webinars for TSNN on just such a framework.  Here are the details.

I was thinking a lot about what makes people really want/crave/anticipate live events. Yes, it’s the networking and the opportunity for education, the oft-cited reasons given by event organizers. But, I felt there was more to it than that. After all, we can network and get information online.

I’ve always been fascinated by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. According to Maslow’s theory, humans must fulfill various levels of needs (beginning with breathing, eating, and excreting) before moving to the next higher levels including safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. The familiar multicolored triangle often associated with Maslow’s theory represents the various aspects of a fully actualized, satisfied, and motivated individual.

I adapted this idea and developed an Attendee Hierarchy of Needs to illustrate what face-to-face event attendees need to fully experience a live event. What I discovered is that the framework also works great for understanding virtual attendees, international attendees, and other attendee groups that event organizers know particularly well. In my theory, there are also five levels:

Utility—the basic tools needed to navigate and participate in the event including food and beverage, registration, signage, charging stations, Wi-Fi, maps, transportation, exhibitor directories, conference agendas, floor plans, or ADA accommodations. If you make it simple for attendees to experience your event by choosing technologies and features that open the doors to exhibitors, directions, schedules, and what’s on at the moment, they will want to attend AGAIN.

Justification—the information needed to justify the ROI of time and resources expended to attend the show including QR codes, digital tote bags, session speakers, programming, show features, content capture devices, and post-show content access. If you make it easy (mainly through digital takeaways) for attendees to report back to the boss and feel as if they walked away with important, tangible information, they will want to attend AGAIN.

Connection—the human and digital connection needed to communicate and share the experience with others through such channels as matchmaking applications, social media, sporting events (golf tournaments, fun runs, etc.), alternative conference architectures (unconferences, Conferences that Work, etc.) and games (trivia, SCVNGR hunts, opportunities to win badges). These offerings deepen relationships between attendees and other attendees; and attendees and exhibitors. If you make these opportunities available, attendees will feel more fulfilled and they will want to attend AGAIN.

Recognition—the opportunities needed to express opinions and participate in discussions through Q & A sessions, Twitter falls, text walls, polling, soapboxes, opinion corners, leaderboards, crowdsourcing, collaboration platforms, and idea booths. Attendees want to be heard and recognized. When you give them that opportunity, they will want to attend AGAIN.

Understanding—the need to be transformed through higher-level learning and engagement using such tools as motivational speakers, charity events, or mentoring programs. Attendees come to events with a lot more emotional baggage than before.  They want to leave with inspiration, a transformational experience, or food for thought about improving their lives.  This is not about business. It’s about self. If you give them something that changes their lives, they will definitely want to attend AGAIN.

The Takeaway:  The Attendee Hierarchy of Needs concept incorporates a holistic approach. If you select programming, event features, and technology that fulfills attendees’ needs at each level (technology such as mobile could compete at several levels simultaneously), they will feel as if they have fully experienced your event and it will motivate them to return year after year.

Of course, using the Hierarchy requires that you take action to understand what the needs of your attendees are by using all of the demographic, preference, and behavior tools at your disposal. Then, meet those needs as amply and deeply as you can. It’s classic Business 101: understand customer needs and meet them.

To use the Hierarchy to its fullest potential, you need to expand your thinking in two ways: expand your notion of the “attendee” to include live attendees, virtual attendees, and every flavor of attendee vertical; and broaden your definition of “experience” to encompass the engagement (between the organizer and the attendee) that occurs well before the event and lasts long after. Then, use the framework as a lens through which to see your event and make decisions in the best interests of your customers.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *