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SAN FRANCISCO An engaged attendee is a happy attendee. But with all the other challenges of putting a conference or exhibition together, from food and beverage details to attendee registration, how do you focus on improving engagement as well?
Intuit’s QuickBooks Connect Conference offers some insight. Held November 13 to 15 at California’s San Jose McEnery Convention Center, the conference deployed a number of engagement strategies, from cutting-edge technology to a program designed for first-time attendees. AgencyEA produced the event with Intuit, and Kristin Barbour of the Chicago-based agency shared four key strategies they used to engage the conference's 4,200 attendees.
1. Design dynamic networking spaces.
When it comes to spurring engagement, promoting attendee-to-attendee give-and-take is critical. Barbour said that QuickBooks Connect created designated areas—and programming—for attendee networking, including designing inviting atmospheres that made connecting fun.
“Themed lounges and ancillary networking events provided opportunities for attendees to connect outside of conference programming,” Barbour said. “The meet-up lounges designed to look like a music lounge and quaint park replicated common places where people meet, allowing attendees to connect organically with their peers in a less-structured atmosphere. The atmosphere was made complete with live local musicians serenading attendees in the music lounge and a fun swing table in the park that provided a unique spot for conversations.”
Another space, the Pavilion, was a networking hub with a central location and scheduled activities. It held an array of mini-sessions titled Millennial Mimosas, Females Entrepreneur Meetup, Makers’ Bazaar, Bookkeeping Buds, and more.
2. Make your content relevant and useable.
While that may sound like conference planning 101, how often have you been to shows where programs and speakers are extremely broad in focus or provide inspiration instead of tangible guidance? QuickBooks Connect succeeds with their attendees—mainly entrepreneurs and business start-up aspirants—by instilling them with concrete steps to starting and growing a business.
“The event is uniquely designed to ensure it meets three core objectives for attendees, which come to life throughout the education program and entire conference,” Barbour remarked. “The three objectives are to connect attendees to those who can help them succeed, educate on business success strategies, and inspire people to pursue their passions and dreams.”
Barbour explained that educational breakouts were designed with the specific audience type in mind in order to provide relevant learning and takeaways. Highlights included developer sessions focused on solving technology problems and sessions with small business and self-employed experts on how to scale and find business. Of course, it doesn’t hurt engagement to have a relevant celebrity speaking—as QuickBooks Connect did with supermodel/entrepreneur Tyra Banks and Hollywood powerhouse Shonda Rhimes as speakers.
3. Tempt them with tech.
While attendees today expect networking and education ops, there’s also an expectation they will experience cutting-edge technology. QuickBooks Connect provided breakthrough tech tools—including virtual-reality art and “emotion detection”—but introduced a new setting, the Emerging Tech Showcase, with tech experts to guide attendees. The design was inspired by the clean and simplistic design of museum spaces, and each vignettes included descriptions of devices and invited attendees to interact with technologies and ask questions.
Spotlighted technologies included: Google Tilt Brush, a VR art experience; Google Earth VR; emotion detection using Microsoft Cognitive Services API; a “smart mirror” that would talk to the user and provide financial analysis and forecasting; and a Microsoft HoloLens to demonstrate mixed reality.
4. Focus on first-timers.
Each year, QuickBooks Connect incorporates “improvement actions” based on feedback from the previous year. The most recent edition focused on improving the experience for first-time show-goers.
“We found the most success with the orientation dedicated to first-time attendees and newcomer guided tours,” Barbour said, adding that post-orientation, first-time attendees enjoyed separate breakfasts and lunches that were intended to facilitate connections. She said the tours for newcomers were led by Intuit representatives who were able to both educate attendees on the conference space and answer any product questions. The tours were so popular, Barbour said, that all time slots sold out.
On a final show note, the incorporation of Facebook Live was another new element in 2017. The event generated 190 million social impressions, with more than one million Facebook Live views throughout the three days.
QuickBooks Connect 2018 is scheduled for November 5 to 7 at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center.