Empathy: The key to event personalization

by Alon Alroy, CMO and co-founder of Bizzabo

In-person events are back. According to Bizzabo’s most recent data survey, nearly all (98.72%) event organizers will host at least one in-person event in 2022, with most planning at least three in-person events as they enter 2023. 

As event professionals welcome attendees in person again, we’re bringing with us the lessons we learned from pandemic pivots to virtual and hybrid events. One lesson? The power of personalization. 

We’ve always understood the value of customizing event experiences. But virtual events highlighted the importance of personalization as we sought to optimize attendee engagement and create community from afar. Separated by physical distance, we implemented new event experience technology to offer personalized experiences, whether our audience sat in conference rooms or at their dining tables. 

As we gather in person again, Event Experience Leaders have a unique opportunity to revitalize their personalization strategies — and empathy is key. 

What does it mean to design with empathy? 

Designer Charles Eames famously said, “The role of the designer is that of a good, thoughtful host anticipating the needs of his guests.”  Although he was talking about home furnishings, he could have easily been discussing the role of empathy in event design. 

Through his iconic furniture design, Eames sought to anticipate and meet the needs of generations of guests with a balance of beauty, simplicity, functionality, and comfort that continues to influence designers of all stripes. As Event Experience Leaders, we design with intention to fulfill our attendees’ greatest hopes for an event and to meet our marketing goals. 

Successfully unlocking empathetic design requires data. Surfacing and activating relevant event data removes the barriers between your events team and your audience to facilitate meaningful personalization. 

Build personalization into every step. 

The earlier you begin gathering attendee information, the better equipped you’ll be to provide a personalized experience. Engage with your attendees before, during, and after the event to understand their current preferences and needs and inform future event strategies. 

During registration, ask attendees to share pronouns, name pronunciation, and accessibility requirements. Offer examples of accessibility accommodations, but also provide an open-ended response for any needs your team might not have previously anticipated. 

Collecting this information at registration shows attendees that you’ll prioritize their needs and ensure they feel heard and understood. 

With the right event management software, you can customize the registration process with conditional questions leading to a choose-your-own-adventure registration path. Consider collecting information on: 

  • Reason for attending.
  • Networking goals and format preferences.
  • Topics of interest. 
  • Learning styles.

Responses point your attendee to the ticket type that best suits their needs while helping you anticipate networking opportunities, educational sessions, and content for each attendee. The insights you glean during registration and the lead up to your event fuel on-site personalization through segmented session tracks and customized networking opportunities. 

It’s also important to request feedback after an event. Pre- and post-event surveys can help you understand areas where your personalization efforts have succeeded — or fallen short of expectations. Opening channels of dialogue ensures participants feel cared for and maintain a strong relationship between event organizers and attendees. 

Innovate with new approaches 

Event organizers seeking to incorporate empathetic design into their event experiences must be willing to experiment with new approaches, even if that means disrupting traditional processes. 

Consider implementing data-driven technology to personalize attendees’ networking and session experiences while capturing robust behavioral data for future event planning needs. 

Wearable technology, including badges and wristbands, offers powerful data to personalize event experiences in real-time while providing actionable insights for future events. This technology can trigger customized attendee recommendations for sessions, content, and sponsors to visit. Event organizers can use the technology for crowd activation initiatives, such as lighting up badges of attendees who share common attributes to encourage networking. And when attendees meet, they can use their badges to touchlessly exchange contacts. 

With built-in tracking and reminders for session check-ins, wearable technology collects priceless data to customize future experiences, identify trends, and pivot to satisfy changing interests. 

AI-powered matchmaking and scheduling technology offer additional opportunities to experiment and refine attendee experiences. Used on its own or in tandem with wearable tech, the technology leverages attendee details to connect the right people at the right time. By facilitating serendipitous connections, you’ll contribute to community-building beyond the confines of a single event. 

After you try out new technology, ask attendees, sponsors, and speakers for feedback on your experiment. Between surveys and 1:1 interviews, you can gather qualitative insights to pair with your quantitative data and linform future trials. 

Better data fuels empathetic event design 

Embracing empathy as the lens for event personalization means centering the audience’s needs in every choice we make. When we design with empathy, we invite our attendees to join us at the table, creating the space within each event for attendees to follow a path that best suits them. A data-forward technology and a commitment to innovation empowers event organizers to embrace empathy and offer personalized, engaging experiences.