A simple truth, one not often understood by many event directors. If you can touch your participants on an emotional level, you will have truly met their needs.
This may sound like fluff, but trust me, from experience both as an event producer and a participant it is the holy grail, if you will, to truly meeting the needs of your customer.
Touching them emotionally does not mean making them cry. It means making them feel part of something bigger than themselves. It means making them feel as if they are about to accomplish something that will teach them more about themselves as an individual.
My educational background is in engineering. The concept of resonance frequency is one that still mystifies me. But it is a natural element of essentially everything. I think of the emotional element of producing an event the same as hitting the resonance frequency of a participant.
This is not an easy feat to accomplish though. You can't just put up emotionally biased signs and expect people to flock to your event. You can't just play fun music and expect participants to run their hearts out. Those are parts of the process, but not the whole thing.
First, you need to understand your participant demographic. You need to understand the age, the gender, the ability, etc. Then you need to identify, what specifically you can do to target the key demographic. Though don't ignore smaller demographic.
At my events I liked to start the day off with great signage to avoid confusion, lots of volunteers to greet participants and mellow, Enya type of music. Just enough to slowly build the emotion of the day.
As race time approaches you want to build the buzz more. Now your participants are starting to line up. Again, via music I would like to ramp things up. Maybe switching from the softness of Enya to the upbeat and moving sound of rap (though obviously not the profane stuff, right). When the gun goes off, regardless of age, go for something that will get everyone moving in more ways than one.
During the event I would use signage to promote the charity and remind participants what they are working together for. I would use lots of volunteers to yell and scream. I would stock up my aid stations and have plenty of mile markers and other signage.
As the finish line nears, I put a lot into a good looking final half mile. One that makes participants feel special. And yes, music was a big element. Make the finish line one that is unique for each finisher. I've completed three Ironman, I never won, yet I broke the tape all three times, as the announced proclaimed me "an Ironman."
After the race I would always provide a finisher medallion immediately. Photographers where there, volunteers immediately passed out food as finishers were guided into a fun, exciting and motivational post race party.
And what did I learn? As my event grew year after year, I learned that touching someone on an emotional level is the best form of advertising you can do. So perhaps, rather than spending a few thousand dollars on print adds, put that money into amenities this year that will drive participant numbers next year.
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