‘Start With Participants and Their Needs’; Event Design Must Focus on Experience

“Providing custom experiences—not just events—is more emotionally compelling,” said Derrick Johnson, chief diversity officer and director of event strategy at Talley Management Group, Inc., in a recent Associations Now article. That’s more meaningful than “cookie-cutter events that are designed for a broad audience.”

When it comes to events in 2022 and beyond, whether in-person, hybrid or virtual, event designers will have to think audience first—and that means designing an experience.

“Organizations will have to be more agile and listen to weak signals so they can develop programming and an experience based on what the participant’s needs are,” said Sherrif Karamat, president and CEO of the Professional Convention Management Association. “Forget about the event and start with the participant and their needs. If you listen to your members [and audience], you will understand how to design the event.”

Karamat backs up his words with actions. PCMA has a VP of knowledge and experience design.The virtual portion of their EduCon event this summer was called the EduCon Digital Experience. “Participants aren’t getting the full experience that could be created in the virtual medium,” he told Informa’s MeetingsNet. “EduCon [showed] the world how business events can be a catalyst for bringing us back together to create deeper, meaningful, and safe interactions through a fusion of both in-person and digital experiences.”

So while content may still be king, it’s all the better if part of an overall experience. Here are a few more examples:

Strive for more interactivity. Josh London, chief marketing officer for Reuters, told The Drum that the high level of interest in their Reuters Next event—which debuted in January and takes place again virtually next week—was a culmination of a strategy which “all stems from customer experience… Thousands of hours’ worth of research [was conducted] to understand the needs of the delegates and match that with a speaker agenda so that we can make sure that the time that they are investing is best spent,” he said. The free event features a very interactive agenda: access to 3 days of live presentations, fireside chats and breaking news; on-demand sessions; and “make your voice heard through live Q&As.” Their tagline is “Taking virtual events to the NEXT step.”

Create a video experience. A 2021 Neal Awards finalist for Best New Product is FreightWaves Virtual Events. Their tagline is, “You haven’t experienced an event until you’ve been to a FreightWaves Event.” In a promo video on their site (the photo is excerpted from it), CEO Craig Fuller says that “the idea of the FreightWaves Live Experience is to bring you into the action, make you a part of the experience—letting you see how technology is going to shape the future of our industry.” Their events feature Fireside Chats, WavesTalks. Rapid-Fire Demos and immersive networking. They must be successful because virtual events are planned well into 2022.

Devote a brand to experience. Questex has relaunched and expanded XLIVE, “a brand at the nexus of the event experience.” XLIVE will provide year-round engagement via newsletters, website, events and virtual solutions. Its new content hub, XLIVE Global, will cover two areas of the live experience: XLIVE B2B Experience for corporate/event planners, venues, and facilities; and XLIVE Fan Experience for event management, production professionals, producers, marketing agencies and more. “As we return to in-person gatherings this is the perfect time to rethink how professionals can deliver better experiences,” said Paul Miller, CEO, Questex. They just hosted XLIVE@LDI in Las Vegas, which gathered “decision makers who are driving event experiences and the suppliers, services and solutions providers that support them.”

Add gamification to your event. LabX, a division of the National Academy of Sciences, has a monthly show they call Wrong Answers Only, “an interactive show featuring celebrity guests who play games and quizzes while learning about exciting research with the help of a scientific expert.” The next episode on Dec. 6 will be their public health edition featuring Chris Pernell—“she is especially known for her passionate work in health equity and making this world a healthier place for everyone.” Their tagline? Three Comedians. One Expert. So many ridiculously wrong answers. The idea is certainly to present their audience—probably a hoped-for younger one—with a unique experience that they will come back to.

Align with sustainability. The growing sustainability movement also may propel virtual event experiences. Haymarket Media has become a member of ISLA, a not-for-profit organization that is focused on accelerating the events industry’s transition to a sustainable future. As a member of ISLA, Haymarket will have access to sustainability training for its live event teams, and procurement will be able to use Isla’s carbon calculator to assess the carbon footprint of each event. “The communications industry connects brands with people and, through events and experiences, we have the power to shape a narrative to drive positive behavioral change across a breadth of audiences,” said ISLA co-founder Anna Abdelnoor.

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