As Events Cater More to Experiential, New Ideas Need to Follow

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"Whether meetings professionals see meeting budgets increasing or holding steady, they agree that meeting owners are, more and more, focused on attendee engagement and experience."

That comes from a report titled 2018 Global Meetings and Events Forecast put out in November by American Express. The idea of creating experiences has certainly become paramount in the events business. Terry Singleton of CCP Events told me that her company transformed an airport hangar into a party venue for a company event. Diane Arseneau of Zagora brought mining entrepreneurs onto a plane and flew them to northern Quebec for a traveling conference.

"While the complexity of meetings and events might be growing, meeting planners are excited about the 'unique' factor," the report states. Obviously, you don't need an airport to hold your event, but keeping an eye towards creating the experiential makes sense. Here are 5 ideas:

1. New seating designs. With semi-circle seating becoming more popular, can an in-the-round setup be far behind? There's a reason that roundtable discussions can be invigorating. "Consider the kind of experience your attendees would have if they spent your entire conference sitting in a classroom-style setup," wrote Samantha Whitehorne on Associations Now. "...would they feel as though they are only being lectured to and aren't being asked to contribute their own experiences and ideas? Would it hold back discussion, conversation and getting to know other attendees?"

2. Engage with apps. "Respondents indicate that improving attendee engagement, communication during the event, and facilitating networking among attendees are among the most compelling reasons to use a mobile app," the report states. Speed networking could become more personalized by some pre-event planning—finding out what attendees may be looking for and who can provide those answers. "Using meeting apps goes well beyond a reduction of printed materials, agenda management and surveys," the report states.

3. Keep the conversation going. The National Council for Behavioral Health launched a hashtag alongside its conference hashtag to enforce the message that the content presented during the event is designed for discussion 365 days a year. They held Twitter chats with speakers and assigned staff members and volunteer "ambassadors" to keep conference content in circulation. "We learned that people were craving that year-round conversation around behavioral health," said Alicia C. Aebersold, senior vice president of communications and strategic development.

4. Build a relationship with speakers. Lydia Kamicar, education and learning senior manager at SmithBucklin, encourages organizations to secure additional commitments for popular speakers when they sign contracts, "not just letting it happen as a one-off, 60-minute session and then forgetting about it." Ask if the speaker can stay for lunch or for a reception where attendees can meet her. Make sure that anything held before—a Facebook Live session perhaps—points to something special happening just at the live event.

5. The wellness factor. "Wellness is huge and it is growing as a factor in meeting planning, partly driven by a broader consumer movement or mindset," the American Express report states. Hotels... may provide more organic, free range, healthy options. In the past, meetings were where everyone broke their diet...now they're not." It's not the first thing we think of when creating an experience, but with the popularity of organic foods, wine tastings, craft beer, farmers markets, etc., there is potential for some interesting experiences.

Other ideas provided by the report include:

  • more gamification at events—perhaps a points game for posting on social media
  • speed networking
  • immersive experiences to connect with local culture
  • alternative venues
  • informal meal settings that encourage mixing
  • product demonstrations
  • user group panels
"Understanding what motivates different types of audience members and catering to their needs will keep them engaged and make your events even more memorable and impactful."

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…
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