How to prove the ROI of business conferences to attendees

How to prove the ROI of business conferences to attendees

Your average event attendee views their participation in a business event as an investment with a particular objective.

For startup founders, the goal might be to connect with potential investors they can pitch to at a later date. For jobseekers, business networking with headhunters and HR teams may be the order of the day. Other participants may be representatives of their organizations looking to brush up on best practices discussed in a workshop or keynote.

Whatever the case, joining a conference or exhibition comes at a cost that involves both money and time, the latter being more valuable to some business executives. For event planners, it’s crucial that you can prove the return on investment (ROI) of your event to potential attendees, which will help them determine whether their participation will be worth it. 

How attendees see value in business events

To understand how attendees find value in business events, it’s important to first understand what their event goals are. A report 2017 by The Experience Institute explains that there are three drivers motivating people to attend a business event:

  • Education – 92 percent of event attendees saw education as a major draw to an event, whether it’s gleaned from the official program or from the exhibit floor. 
  • Destination – Location/destination factors into the decision of 78 percent of attendees, who cite an accessible venue and variety of experiences in the general vicinity of the venue as motivating factors in their decision to attend. This is why Bangkok has become a prime location for conferences with a large overseas audience, such as the upcoming Affiliate World Conference.
  • Networking – Finally, business networking opportunities are important to 76 percent of event attendees, especially among Millennials who see events as opportunities to grow their professional network. In a separate report by EventMB, networking was the top priority of attendees attending corporate events.

With this information, event planners can look at the true value of attending a conference from an attendee’s perspective. 

Of course, this begs the question: How do event planners know if these activities are actually taking place? 

This is where data come in.

Measuring the right KPIs

The advent of new technologies has made it possible to gather data and new KPIs (key performance indicators) that provide an accurate measure of your event’s value to attendees.  

Apart from providing valuable insights, measuring the right KPIs also helps you figure out how to improve your future events with the same budget. 

Here are four ways to gather event data and KPIs before, during, and after your conference.

1. Social listening

Listening to social media chatter before, during, and after the event can help you optimize your event marketing and event experience, and even provide added value to attendees after your event.

Pre-event

Engaging your attendees should happen well before the event. With social listening, you not only get to identify engaged attendees who are genuinely interested in your event, but you can also shape the narrative experience leading up to it. 

SXSW, for example, uses Twitter to get people to vote on 2020’s conference panel. It’s a classic example of crowdsourcing ideas, and in SXSW’s case, one that ties directly to the value their audience gets from the conference. 

This approach allows attendees to influence their upcoming event experience and align it with their goals for joining, whether it is to learn industry best practices or network with thought leaders. 

During the event

According to an EMI and Mosaic report, 34 percent of event attendees said they post about their experience on social media. By promoting the use of event hashtags and check-ins, you can respond right away to both positive and negative feedback during your event. This also ensures attendees are constantly engaged and get the most from their attendance, encouraging them to come back because they know you listen to them. If anything, your engaging of attendees helps them to fully experience your conference, using whatever takeaways they glean from it to fuel their business and client conversations. 

Post-event

Finally, post-event social listening is a fantastic way to create even more value for your audience after the event, leaving a lasting impression. For example, listening to audience feedback allows you to create post-event content based on what your attendees loved most. This could range from infographics of a popular keynote, quotes from a much-awaited speaker, or case studies on a popular product exhibit. 

The goal here is to help your attendees know what takeaways they can bring back to their organizations, which is especially important for attendees prioritizing the quality of their learning experience. 

2. In-event surveys

Another way to gather audience feedback during the event is through surveys. Of course, not paper surveys! Remember, not everyone will be posting on social media, so it’s important to go out there and ask attendees what they think while the experience is still fresh in their minds. With surveys and live polls embedded in the event experience, like how event software Glisser asks questions within the speaker’s presentation slides, you can discover KPIs such as:

  • Speaker engagement and satisfaction – Did attendees enjoy the topic? Is there anything they wish the speaker could’ve covered? You can then use these insights to create post-event content.
  • Time spent in sessions – How much time did attendees spend at a session? What made their stay brief/long?
  • Exhibit engagement – Which exhibits did they find most interesting? 
  • Sales leads – How likely are attendees to purchase a product/service from exhibitors? If so, which one and why?

With these insights, you can then craft a powerful hook that generates interest in your next event’s attendees. For example, you could share that 80 percent of attendees at your previous conference left positive feedback about your keynote speakers—a sign that you go to great lengths to find speakers with valuable content to share. For exhibitors, you could highlight how your previous exhibitors closed X deals from your exhibition. 

3. Targeted messaging

In today’s personalized world, one way to identify the information your attendees are most interested in is by sending them targeted messages. You can use attendee tracking software and technology such as RFID-equipped badges, event apps, and check-in/tap-n-go counters at booths and sessions to know which audience groups should receive certain messages. This can include reminders for upcoming speakers or sessions they may be interested in based on their movement and activity on the event floor. 

You can then analyze message open rates, bounce rates, and engagement to understand which messages resonate with your audience the most. A practical application of this technique can involve sending targeted messages to a certain crowd to drive them to specific exhibits or parts of the conference floor. For example, a sponsor may have invited a big name for an appearance on the floor or another sponsor may be giving away free beverages or merchandise. In either case, targeted messaging can be used as a catalyst for driving people to take desirable actions that they actually find interest in.

4. Business matchmaking insights

Business matchmaking platform is all the rage among event planners today, and for good reason. When we work with event organizers at Toasty, they often tell us that the number one feedback they hear from event attendees is that they want more opportunities to build meaningful business relationships.

And so using a business matchmaking platform not only helps your attendees prove the ROI of attending your event, but it also allows you, the organizer, to collect and analyze event data directly tied to many of your attendees’ objective. These KPIs can easily be tracked:

  • Number of scheduled meetings indicating interest to connect
  • Number of confirmed meetings indicating successful business matching
  • Number of relationships carried forward to LinkedIn and follow-up meetings
  • Statistics on countries the most active attendees are from
  • Trending keywords among attendee’s profile
Attendee’s ROI often relates to the number of successful business connections

For events with a strong business objective, a business matchmaking platform that facilitates connections through features such as live chat and meetings scheduler offer the most accurate way to measure these KPIs, giving your attendees a numerical representation of their event ROI through a summary report sent to each attendee after the event. At Toasty, we also look at the quality of these meetings. 

For example, after successful self-arranged meetings, we ask both parties to rate their experience. This presents an overview of how the overall networking opportunities go at the event, which you can then leverage to set expectations of the quality or relevance of business matchmaking attendees can expect to have at your next conference. We also use this rating to improve how we recommend top matches for each attendee.

Wrapping things up

Remember, when it comes to justifying the ROI of your next event to potential attendees, the key is to put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself: What am I looking to get out of this conference? Go back to the three top event goals we mentioned earlier: 1) Education 2) Location and 3) Networking. From there, it’s just a matter of choosing which of the four techniques in this guide can help you get the data your attendees need.