Event Psychology & Event Tech: What’s Behind Pushing Buttons

“When it comes to applying psychology to create impactful attendee experiences, we are sitting on a goldmine,” Victoria Matey told a packed crowd during her session at IMEX America 2019. “And yet many event planners are still only focusing on surface-level components of event design.”

Matey, an award-winning business event pro, has spent the past 15 years studying event strategy and design. But she also specializes in the niche field of “event psychology,” or how to apply the science behind human behavioral patterns to the creation of a more effective attendee experience. Behind every engaged attendee is “formula” of three specific elements that must work in tandem, Matey explains. They are: 

  • Attention: Event organizers are fighting for attendee attention at functions that have packed agendas, and where participants are often overwhelmed by various external factors, like bright lights and music. Event pros have to work to earn attendees’ attention by surprising them and delighting them. Offering exposure to nature, cool air and brain-friendly food options also helps.
  • Emotions: Did you know people actually trust their own emotions more than facts? Therefore, to heighten attendee engagement event pros must inject emotion into their event designs. They can do this through storytelling, gamification and being considerate of attendees’ physical surroundings (the right lighting and audio make a big difference).
  • Memory: For events to be impactful, they must be memorable. Factors like stress, lack of rest and an onslaught of new information can hinder attendees’ memories. Solutions for event design include injecting laughter, “brain breaks” and peer-based learning opportunities into functions. Engaging attendees’ senses also stimulates their memories.

Recently we were lucky enough to chat with Matey and get her take on how event psychology impacts event technology — and vice versa. Read on to learn why event tech should only be used to serve a higher purpose, tips for using psychology to increase tech adoption and why there’s a science to pushing the right attendee buttons.


A science behind pushing the right buttons

Team Attendify: Tell me a little bit more about why some event professionals are missing the boat because they’re not applying the principles of psychology and neuroscience to events.

Victoria Matey: When event planners do something for their attendees they want results. But sometimes they push the wrong buttons. We talk about “wowing” attendees, and that’s okay — when it’s aligned with the rest of the event. But sometimes event pros throw a gala or use new technology without a meaningful reason behind it. The wow works, but nothing happens afterward.

Victoria Matey talks to Attendify about event psychology and event tech.

If we want to really surprise and delight attendees, we have to understand how it works. That’s exactly what event psychology is about. If you use event psychology, tools backed up by science, it often doesn’t take a lot of money to engage. You can save time, money and be more efficient.


Event tech should serve a higher purpose

Team Attendify: Many event planners — and of course event tech marketers! — say that the use of event technology enhances the attendee experience. Do you agree or disagree?

Victoria Matey: Technology definitely enhances the attendee experience if it’s used right — that’s the key. If you’re just using it as a shiny object, it’s a misuse of both the technology and your event budget.

Victoria Matey talks to Attendify about event psychology and event tech.

Right now there are huge opportunities in front of us in terms of using event technology. Take, for example, the measuring of emotions. There are event technologies out there that can tell us exactly how attendees feel. When [event planners] know this in real-time, they can actually tweak their methods and affect the event experience. But when you use event technology just for the sake of technology, that’s detrimental. Technology should serve a higher purpose. Why are you using it? Make sure it’s providing the intended effect.


Event tech that leverages event psychology

Team Attendify: Are there specific examples of event technology out there that you think are doing a good job of leveraging event psychology?

Victoria Matey: I like the concept of Braindate a lot, which is an app that connects attendees interested in sharing knowledge on specific subjects, either one-to-one or in groups. It actually utilizes the principle of peer learning. So there’s an example of technology that uses a very effective tool for making learning from events more memorable.

Victoria Matey talks to Attendify about event psychology and event tech.

Live polling and gamification are other examples. And event apps really facilitate the whole process of grabbing attendees’ attention — just look at push notifications. What’s interesting about event apps is that they make things very simple [for the attendee]. And that’s very, very relevant to event psychology because our brains hate complexity. If we can provide tools that facilitate and simplify processes at events, we can help participants and their brains digest information better. This helps them make better decisions, and eventually, make events more efficient.

Victoria Matey talks about event psychology and event technology.

The psychology behind event tech adoption

Team Attendify: Depending on their attendee demographic and the type of platform they’re trying to introduce, some event organizers experience difficulty in getting attendees to adopt event technology. Are there any tips you can offer around applying event psychology to increase event tech adoption?

Victoria Matey: It’s an interesting question from a psychological perspective. I would suggest using Robert Cialdini’s 6 Principles of Persuasion. Consider the principle of “Liking,” which says that individuals say yes to people they like. When applied to event technology, that could mean praising attendees who adopt the event app. You could also combine it with gamification. For example, if an attendee downloads the event app, then does something inside the app, she collects points towards a prize. That’s a powerful nudge, and people will want to become further engaged.

Victoria Matey talks to Attendify about event psychology and event tech.

Another principle he talks about is the principle of “Scarcity,” where people want more of things there are less of. What if there was a limited number of event app downloads available? That might make people act faster.

Finally, there’s the principle of “Consensus,” or social proof, which is based on the fact that people are more likely to do what others — those they truly value and consider peers — do. So let’s say you’d like to increase your event app adoption rate. Try leveraging social proof by announcing that X percent of attendees have already downloaded the app!


New book on creating impactful events

Team Attendify: Fantastic. Finally, tell us about the book you’ve got coming out.

Victoria Matey: I’m working on finishing the English version of Strategic Event Planning: 10 Principles for Creating Meaningful and Impactful Business Events. It should be published in the coming year. Now that we know how much value events bring to businesses, both economically and in other ways, the industry is shifting from focusing just on event logistics to considering overall event strategy. This book explains the key principles behind creating events that have long-lasting effects. One of the chapters specifically discusses using psychology and neuroscience when planning events.

Team Attendify: Victoria, thanks so much for taking time out of your busy day to chat with us and share fascinating insights!

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