Keep Your Participants Coming Back

Posted on May 14, 2014

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The goal of any event is to create an experience that participants will want to have again and again. No event planner wants their participants crossing the finish line and thinking, “Phfew! Glad I never have to do that again!” So once you meet the challenge of getting those coveted past participants to return, the next step is to make them glad they did. Here are four tips to help you get there:

Keep things fresh.
Keeping things fresh means keeping some details a surprise. Once someone has attended your event a few times, they may feel as though they can give the play-by-play from memory. From the snacks offered to the script for the opening ceremony – veteran participants start to know exactly what to expect and when to expect it. (Insert yawn here.)

One of the best ways to delight your veteran participants is to surprise them with something new and different. Has your event always had the same basic look and feel? If the answer is yes, then it’s time to embrace your inner art director/chef/party planner and make some tweaks. Out with the same old granola bars and in with the make-your-own-trail-mix bar.

Another way to keep your event fresh is to leverage your surrounding community. Get local businesses involved by asking for donations of sample products that can be used as giveaways before, during or after your event. Enlist local residents in cheering on your participants. These are win-win relationships: the community at large will feel great about supporting your event (and getting free publicity to boot) and your participants will certainly feel the love.

Listen to feedback.
When your participants take the time to offer feedback – whether on the event itself or in a post-event survey or email – take the time to listen. Keeping both your ears and your mind open can lead you to a more successful event.

The changes that result from feedback may be small, but meaningful. If you provide photo ops at your event but hear complaints that the lines are much too long, add more. Then, assign volunteers to help keep things moving. These are relatively inexpensive and simple solutions that will help keep your participants happy.

Sometimes feedback may lead to more significant changes, such as reducing the distance of a race, adding or subtracting obstacles from a course, or inviting friends and family members to join activities previously reserved for registered participants. But when these adjustments lead to happier participants – and a more popular event – the time and effort spent is well worth it.

Walk in your participants’ shoes.
Maybe not their exact pair of shoes, because that would be weird. But, in order to truly understand the needs of your participants, you really do need to experience your event from their perspective. So lace up those running/walking/bowling shoes and get out there. There’s no substitute for experiencing firsthand the anticipation and emotion that comes with being an event participant.

One of the most important times to consider your participants’ needs is when faced with the unexpected, which we have talked about a lot on the Event 360 blog. For example, when experiencing an unseasonably hot or cold day, a little extra effort to ensure their comfort goes a long way. Providing rain ponchos and a cup of hot chocolate when an unanticipated storm hits will make even the crankiest participant grateful. So does providing an indoor space to cool off and take a break from the heat.

Rethink the way you’ve always done things.
There is certainly something to be said for the adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, just because you’ve always done things a certain way, doesn’t mean there isn’t a better approach out there.

Often there are very valid reasons for staying the course and sticking with what has worked in the past. But the combination of savvy veteran participants, evolving technology and an increasingly crowded  event market means that, now more than ever, it’s important to stop and ask, “What would make me want to come back again next year?”

Keeping things fresh, listening to feedback, walking in your participants’ shoes and rethinking the way you’ve always done things are only four ways in which you can enhance your participants’ experience and entice them to come back year after year. Use the comment section below to tell us how you’re making the event experience one even your most seasoned participant will want to return to.

When not playing the role of participant in everything from 5ks to marathons, Cheryl works as Event 360’s Programs Manager, helping to deliver a meaningful event experience to others.

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