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Expert Advice: Game On!

By John Chen, Founder and CEO of Geoteaming


Today’s conferences are not just about business, they’re also about fun and games. Yes that’s right, games. In the never-ending quest for attendee retention and engagement, many planners understand how important interactivity and stimulation are to reach an audience. No longer can you just get away with great keynote speakers and swag—there needs to be active components that really keep people on their feet.

This latest trend is called gamification, and it’s not too different from the team-building platforms you’ve used in the past. Gamification is defined by the use of gaming mechanics in a non-game setting, in this case a meeting. Normally you’re not playing a game during a meeting, but the experience really changes when you do. Not only are attendees consistently engaged, but they will retain more of the educational content and sponsorship values and be able to take advantage of more networking opportunities.

The way we coordinate gamification is setting up various “missions” that are achievable and also rack up a certain number of points. These missions can incorporate your goals for attendees—perhaps getting photos with keynotes and tradeshow booths—and will also create fans that want to keep coming back to your conferences if they find them entertaining. While only 10 percent of attendees have experienced gamification programs at conferences, the trend is growing. It’s an opportune time to get on board with these kinds of programs, which are still regarded as forward thinking and innovative. Here are six tips to get you started:

1. Know what you want. As a planner it’s ideal to understand what your key goal is: Is it a percentage of people that participate, a specific number of visits to sponsors, etc.? Make a plan for what you want the game to help you do.
2. Start early. A lot of gamification platforms can be tech-driven using apps and social media, so you can actually commence the activity about one to two weeks before anyone arrives on-site and secure important pre-engagement. Even better, one of the natural occurrences will be that people who adopt early will likely train other people on how to play and become your advocates.
3. Have help on hand. At your registration area, have a “help desk” that can assist those that haven’t installed yet. If participants get tripped up on any steps, they’re likely to quit before they even get started; having a help desk mitigates that risk. Another key is having “help marketing,” which might be using screens during general sessions to show high scores or tabletop cards with more instructions.
4. Get main stage support. Set aside 60 seconds for an executive or someone key to the conference to come on stage and demonstrate how to finish a mission. It sounds small but we have seen a 25% jump in participation with this strategy.
5. Plan multiple prize levels. High scores aren’t always the most incentivizing. Instead, create various categories of prizes, such as “enter to win” and “instant win” options so any casual player can win at any time. Maybe it’s a prize for best photograph from a series of submissions or a random drawing. Tradeshow sponsors love this because it helps people interact more.
6. Learn from it. At the end of the conference, make an executive summary. Restate your goals and see what the game did to move these forward. Having that knowledge will help you find games that resonate more with attendees.

John Chen is the CEO and founder of Geoteaming, a leader in digital team-building and leadership programs that use technology and adventure to produce breakthrough results. Chen’s work has earned him multiple awards, including being named a Meetings Today Trend Setter and MPI’s Supplier of the Year. Chen has more than 160,000 clients across the United States as well as internationally in Spain, France, and Taiwan.

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