Your Audience Is More Important Than Your Budget
Thursday, October 25, 2018
By Connor Myhre
Budget: that B-word rears its ugly head once again. At the end of the day, it’s probably the most significant player that informs event planners’ decisions and competes with our ideal outcomes.
Budgets are always a challenge. They can limit the scope of what events look like and how far they reach to establish connections with the people who attend. They can also force you to make decisions that marginalize groups of attendees and subsequently miss opportunities.
As event architects, our goal is to bring the event, its message and our audience closer by providing ways for them to connect. Budgets have significant power to drive them apart.
The key is to remember the most important part of the equation: the audience. They are the who and largely the why our events happen. A deliberate understanding of our audience can also be the foundation for how our programs happen. Without an audience, how do we or our clients achieve goals with the events we plan?
It bears repeating: Our audience is always the most important element of whatever we do. It’s not a new idea, but it’s common that we find ourselves distracted with other pieces of the planning process that can cloud our ability to best make decisions.
Audiences are necessarily complicated, so we need time to research their nuances on the front end of our projects in order to optimize success at their conclusion.
We ought to kick off the planning process by gaining a thoughtful and purposeful understanding of who will be attending our events and meetings. Those attendees always include members of our target audience, but if we plan solely for a generalized target, we lose the opportunity to further engage and influence a great deal of others. We may not know how valuable they can be to our goals, as well as for those of our target (think influencers) unless we plan for them, too.
In understanding our audience, our overall goal is to collect two areas of information:
- What are all of our available opportunities to capitalize on in connecting all attendees with our event and message?
- What obstacles exist in doing so?
In order to gain that understanding, we should first consider ourselves (or our clients) and what we bring to the table:
- What is the purpose of our event?
- What do we want our audience to take away from it?
- What is our or our client’s relationship with the event’s purpose, message and audience?
- What expertise do we or our clients hold that can aid us in bringing those elements together?
- What challenges do we or our clients bring to the table? (That can be a tough and honest question, but we need to ask it so we can overcome those challenges.)
Knowing the details and experiences that inform those answers provide us a lens through which to make key content, programming and design decisions.
Next, we think more about the audience. Of course, we should gather data and feedback from past event surveys to help us narrow the scope for what we may need to remedy or change.
We should also use demographic information, too, but we need to be careful. Information such as the audience’s location and employment can be helpful in identifying ways we can design our events to connect with them, but making stereotypical assumptions can severely inhibit our ability to make an impact.
Either way, we need to dig deeper.
We should ask these questions to our attendees and think carefully about the answers:
- What are our audience’s expectations of the event?
- What do they want to take away from it?
- What is happening in their professional or personal lives (that the event could benefit)?
- What is our audience’s knowledge of, interest in and attitude about the event’s proposed content?
- What will our audience be critical of about the event?
Having these conversations not only gives us the opportunity to expand our professional networks, but most of all, it implicates audience buy-in from the beginning. Think about having a conversation with a potential attendee: We’re listening to their insight and, with our validation, they start getting visibly excited while sharing their thoughts. We may have just won an influencer who can help increase audience attendance and engagement.
It’s also imperative to work with our trusted catering, AV production, decorating and venue partners, as well as our other colleagues. The more diverse perspectives we consider, the more informed we can be when making our decisions.
From here, with the research we’ve done and the conversations we’ve had, we can now identify the opportunities and obstacles that pertain to bringing our event, its message and our audience closer. We can then use those findings to draw further conclusions about our audience’s specific nuances and establish priorities for our budget, using our audience as a lens through which to make budgetary, content and design decisions.
This level of understanding can help us more effectively allocate budget areas for elements like speakers, AV production and catering while also informing us of what content would play most to what our audience needs and values.
Depending on who holds the purse strings for our spending, it can also lend us more credence, if not hard evidence, when asking for expanded funding. When we can thoughtfully demonstrate the significant complexities and values within our audience and how more funding would help us address them, we can more confidently justify the need and the ask for more resources.
All it takes is reminding ourselves to begin with the who in mind.
Connor Myhre is the manager of Next Generation Development at Heroic Productions, an audio, lighting, video and event staging company committed to quality, consistency and customer satisfaction. Connor’s years of experience include marketing and communication, live television production and live event production. He is focused on addressing complex problems, loves his home state of Minnesota, and is driven by optimism, sarcasm and large cups of coffee.