What Attending Inbound Taught Me About Event Strategy

Posted by Samantha Stallard on October 4, 2017
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Last week I attended the holy grail of digital marketing experiences - HubSpot’s annual Inbound user conference at the Boston Convention Center in, you guessed it, Boston, Massachusetts. 21,000 people from 100 countries gathered in Beantown to bond over our shared digital marketing and CRM platform, network and establish new business relationships, hear from incredible speakers from a variety of creative industries, attend 250 breakout sessions, and drink 5,000 gallons of coffee.
As an experiential marketer, I am a harsh critic at events and notice details that the average attendee might overlook. Even with my knowledge of event management going in, Inbound’s sixth annual conference ran like a well oiled machine — with maps of the event everywhere and a seemingly infinite amount of friendly staff available to help. Of course, problems will arise (construction during Ed Catmull’s keynote sounded like a jackhammer was ripping the stage apart), but how an event staff handles hiccups and keeps attendees happy is everything.
Photo courtesy: @pieraluisa Instagram
While I was there to hone in on Pop2Life’s digital marketing strategy, I couldn’t help but pay attention to the production of it all. Here are my biggest takeaways from experiencing Inbound 2017 as an attendee and tips for other brands perfecting there own event strategy:
Over staff (it’s a good thing)
With venue employees, brand ambassadors, and wranglers stationed every 15 feet, your attendees never have to feel lost of abandoned. More than anything, make sure your working staff is trained on the venue layout and able to effectively communicate directions, because they are going to spend the day directing people to the closest bathroom, phone charging station, breakout room, and Uber line
Prepare attendees for a check-in headache, but don’t deliver one
At Inbound, attendees were prepared for the worst, but got the best. Emails sent out as the conference began warned of lines 30 minutes or more during the check-in process, making the actual reality (under 60 seconds) an even greater delight. Similar to the US Customs process, attendees first self-checked-in at a laptop, the received their badges directly from an Inbound staff member — uniting both automated and human-to-human interactions
Photo courtesy: @theinboundstudio Instagram
Provide tangible takeaways 
Square 2 Marketing didn’t want everyone sitting in their session, How to Predict Inbound Marketing and Sales Results, to have to take grainy smartphone photos of their presentation slides. To prevent this, at the end of the session, the speaker gave out a cellphone number attendees could text to receive the slide files straight to their phones. It compiled every slide into one, downloadable and shareable file that no one expected (and that no other presenter did)
Be upfront about problem areas
Spotty wifi, crowded lunch lines, or audio issues are best addressed by being honest and upfront. Make an announcement or send an attendee-wide email (Inbound even had an app attendees could download to manage personal agendas and communicate with each other) before the passive aggressive tweets start going live. Your attendees understand that shit happens, what they don’t like is blatant disregard for that shit
Photo courtesy: @issarae Instagram
Include speakers that aren’t drinking the Kool-Aid
A marketing software conference where everyone in attendance is either a customer, partner, or employee, gets a little cult-y quickly and easily. Of course, we’re gathered here to learn how to use the tool better, listen to updates from the executives, and unlock new opportunities to take back to the office with us. However, all software all the time can get stale. Inbound does a fantastic job of balancing educational sessions with interesting speakers sharing philosophies and life lessons outside the digital marketing world. 2017 highlights included Billie Jean King, Issa Rae, Andy Cohen, Elaine Welteroth, Judd Appatow, Mario Batali, and goddess, Michelle Obama!

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