How to Win Events and Influence People With Guest Author Rob Zaleski

During my two-and-a-half years with MarketingProfs, I had to the opportunity to take part in creating attendee acquisition and engagement strategies for their flagship event, B2B Marketing Forum. The best thing about that event, aside from the ridiculously good learning, is the sense of community we built. It felt like a coming home, like our own little marketing family. That didn’t happen overnight though, and in this article, I’m going to share some tips to make sure your event attendees get those same warm, fuzzy feels.

Ask, then listen closely

As in any marketing, you need to truly know who you’re talking to. This is especially true if you’re creating an experience for people. When you ask people what they want, the answers may not be what you had scribbled in your persona notes. We did this when I was at MarketingProfs through post-event surveys, and asking questions on social, unveiling a ton of interesting feedback.

For example, we learned just how many of our attendees were introverted and didn’t feel comfortable starting a conversation. They wanted us to manufacture moments for them to make networking easier, and so we did. With topical roundtable discussions, themed in-app discussion channels, and an in-house “game night” happy hour, we gave people easy opportunities to interact, exchange expertise, and share a few laughs; rather than simply giving them a couple drinks and expecting them to be able to do it on their own.

The results were spectacular. The roundtables filled up immediately, people participated and shared knowledge in the app, and all the game tables were full and buzzing with conversation.

This tactic can be as simple as a survey or as in-depth as a one-on-one phone call. If you listen attentively, ask specific questions, and have an open mind to feedback, you can use this information to cater your event directly to attendees’ needs, and they’ll love you for it.

 Constantly ask why

I mean this about every aspect of your event. When you get an answer, ask yourself why again, and again. As Samantha Stone says in her book Unleash Possible, “To truly understand our customers, marketers must complement quantitative analysis with qualitative research to uncover our buyers’ motivation. We must ask why.”

  • Why do you have a conference? This is your opportunity to tell a story, to create a grand adventure that your attendees get to be part of. A great example of this is Influitive’s Advocamp. Their story about abandoning the tired old marketing methods by building advocacy plays out through a camp counselor named Buck. This narrative showed up in their advertising, marketing materials, and led directly to the moment attendees experienced the opening of the conference. You felt like you experienced the whole “trip” to Advocamp as a community. Also, it was hilarious. 
  • Why are attendees there? What do your attendees get out of the event? What are their needs? Make networking events more than just a couple of drinks, as mentioned above. Give attendees opportunities to show off their own smarts and build their community. Not sure exactly what attendees are looking for? Create a short survey and send it out to current or past registered attendees. Promote a targeted post on social and see what responses you get. Jump into the comments section of “Must-attend events” posts in your industry and see what people are saying, or ask them why they love attending X event each year. Always be curious!

Make. It. Personal.

This year, 95% of B2B marketers will be creating the same or more content than last year, through an average of eight different tactics, on an average of six different channels. (MarketingProfs and CMI research) Holy content overload, Batman.  You’re going to have to outshine this content explosion if you want to reach prospective event attendees. One way to do that? Make it personal.

As the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer shows, people’s trust in “people like yourself” is equal to their trust in technical and academic experts! Never has there been a more important time to empower your strongest advocates to spread word of mouth for you.

Have you hosted past events? Work with and feature previous attendees in your videos, ads, and other marketing materials (with permission, of course). Encourage user-generated content and promote it through your brand’s channels. Get testimonials and photos taken from past events and put them to work.

Holding your first event? Seek out your brand’s most vocal advocates and work with them to incorporate their voice and presence in your marketing. Perhaps even create a small advocate group “street team” in exchange for passes to the event or other incentives. Provide them with exclusive swag, discount codes, or VIP access at the event.

To quote Samantha Stone again: in order to get someone “to pick you over an alternative, you have to instill into them some of the passion you exude for your business. The best way to do this is to build a partnership with an influential advocate.”

In either case, work with advocates (notice I don’t say “use advocates” here because, like Samantha says, it’s a partnership) to create a sense of community, of belonging, and create a little fear of missing out (FOMO) in other prospective attendees. Then, at the event, maintain and build upon that sense of community to make everyone feel like rock stars. That sense of belonging will bring people back again and again, helping you scale your event and build upon the community you’ve brought together. Put a relentless focus on the customer, or in this case, the attendee.

Now, it’s your turn. What are you seeing at events you’ve attended that have worked? Have you tried any of the above already, and if so, to what level of success? Share your input in the comments below!



Rob Zaleski is a marketer, social media and tech geek, community builder, and resident extrovert. He blogs occasionally at and you can follow him on Twitter at @robzie_.