Sarah Coniglio and Patrick RileySocial media and technology have had a profound impact on how we interact every day. We’ve certainly seen changes in event fundraising — people have migrated from emailing fundraising letters, to leveraging CRM systems like Blackbaud and Convio to benefitting from social networking and other integrated online fundraising platforms like StayClassy. As the fundraising side of our work is changing, so too are the expectations for the actual event.

Direct outgrowth of social networking is a big reason why more people are craving in-person contact, which makes a live event even more desirable. Social sites and an influx of portable gadgets have contributed to a loss of human interaction. As a result, we are finding that people want to maximize their face-to-face experiences and don’t want to deal with small inconveniences that distract from the event. JWT Intelligence’s “10 Trends for 2012” forecasts that to “balance out our increasing immersion in the digital world, people will embrace face-to-face gatherings and digital downtime.”

This trend impacts the most basic interactions we have with participants, like how to collect donations at an event, which is a simple transaction. People are now used to “anywhere, anyway shopping.” The best example is the Apple Store. Apple makes everything seamless from being greeted, to direct interaction with the products (touching computers and gadgets is encouraged) to a sales person checking you out anywhere in the store. Those of us in event fundraising need to learn lessons from such experiences and maximize the point of sale on event – making things quick and easy certainly helps. (See JWT Intelligence’s “2012 and Beyond” for more examples.)

Participants don’t want to spend their time waiting in line when they’d rather be out interacting with people and doing the activity. Ideally, registration should happen online before a participant arrives on site (for some of our events we allow participants to navigate registration self-serve online and even print their own credential to bring to the event). In cases when you offer check-in and registration on-site, that experience has to be unobtrusive. Kiosk or iPad systems allow us to make the process an easy self-serve task, registering a higher number of participants more quickly and efficiently.

I believe our future is going to be less about event production and more focused on being experience curators. What’s the difference? Event production is more of a one-way street: “We build it, they show up.” But experience curating is social: “We build it together, we participate together, and we communicate about it together.” Events will be about providing a venue with multiple experiences where people can move through focus points that we design. There will be a major emphasis on being able to meet with others to discuss what’s happening or just be social in various spaces, a focus on human interaction. Think Burning Man and South by Southwest (SXSW) — models for the next generation of events.

Socializing through Twitter and Facebook can start relationships that lead to positive in-person connections. So when people shut down the computer and show up at your event, be sure there are ways to grab their interest and make connections to grow. In this cluttered Attention Economy, events will need to provide more than one focus and plentiful peer-to-peer opportunities. Participants now expect to contribute to building the experience. Events need to be immersive and multi-faceted with elements of surprise. People need to walk away feeling like they learned something about themselves, a cause or others. And they want to get online and talk about your event and post photos and feedback via Instagram and Twitter. This combination of online and live buzz provides memorable experiences for event-goers, and also makes others feel they missed something big if they did not attend – they’ll be sure to get involved next time. Offer sharable content and never underestimate the power of a good photo opportunity.

As we adjust to “Event 2.0” as an industry and strive to be experience curators, the opportunities are endless since our participants will want to help us build the experience.

“Patrick and Sarah’s Experience Hub” blog posts will be featured monthly. Director of Event Production Sarah Coniglio and Director of Event Production Patrick Riley have many years of hands-on experience in almost every aspect of event operations and production.

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