"You would be surprised how many meetings happen because those are meetings that 'we always have and they're always on the calendar,' and they become a habit for the organization," said Stephanie Harris, director of global marketing and event strategy for American Express.
In Focus on the Why: How Branding Principles Can Guide Your Event Design, the report says the first step for any new event should be establishing the desired outcomes for both the organization and attendees.
"Most simply, why are you having this event? Defining your event's why—the 'one thing' that it should accomplish and how it should make your attendees feel—will serve as your guide post through every aspect of the event-planning process."
The report, summarized in an article in Associations Now, outlines three steps to "identify and apply the 'why' of your event to ensure the experience is focused, meaningful and consistently delivered across all event touchpoints":
Step 1: Identify the desired outcomes.
Before planners start thinking about menus and room setup, they need to engage stakeholders in a conversation about what the event should accomplish. "In as few words as possible, [have them] describe the measurable goals as well as the intangible goals of the event," the report says. Then, choose the top one or two that will be priority, such as building customer loyalty or increasing sales by 20%.
A recent study titled The Decision to Attend for Conventions & Exhibitions added that we should entice people with ways to extend their stay. It's time for new thinking, the report says. "For decades, our industry has viewed attendees as people who 'come in and out' of the destination for meetings, conventions, or exhibitions with success measured by final attendance, filling the block, and overall economic impact." But today, over 50% of attendees are likely to extend their stay.
Attendees should also be involved more at the event. "So often, our learning design is too much about content and not enough about action," said Karl Kapp, director of the Institute for Interactive Technologies. "Game design is all about action. Give learners something to do."
Step 2: Know your audience.
"Just as brands need to understand the needs and wants of their target audiences, event designers should consider all their constituents, from participants to sponsors/exhibitors to media," the report says. It recommends exercises to help define and visualize the emotional attributes of an event, such as highlighting attendee personas and conducting pre-event surveys.
"You should start by finding out what makes for a great day, what brings [attendees] joy, what allows them to be successful," said Lisa Kay Solomon, chair of transformational practices at Singularity University. "Notice, this is not 'Do you like my product?' This is about them. This is about understanding how you create value for them from their standpoint. That is empathy and deep customer understanding."
Step 3: Choose the functional attributes.
Here, planners circle back to focus on delivering the "why" in ways that meet attendees' needs. "The functional aspects of your event—from invitation to registration to onsite experience—are the elements that will deliver a transformational experience that will exceed attendee expectations," the report says.
National Public Radio thinks about the why for their events. In an article on Digiday, Jessica Goldstein, director of NPR's events and strategic initiatives, said that "NPR content is at the center of [our events] wheel, and each spoke is connecting content with the outside world. We're thinking about everything we do connecting at the end of the day with content, and events is helping with that."
Goldstein's team has a person dedicated to creating events that specifically appeal to millennials and Gen Z, and the events bring in a younger and more ethnically and culturally diverse audience than the average NPR listener.