5 Tactics To Create An Experiential Event

How meeting planners are utilizing new solutions to meet an age old trend.

As you compete for your potential attendees’ time and money, it’s more important than ever to provide them with a meeting experience they can’t get anywhere else—not from an online workshop and not from a competitor. Experiential events leave your attendees energized, ready to take action and looking forward to next year’s conference.

Seventy-eight percent of millennials would rather spend their money on a desirable experience or event rather than buying something they want, according to an Eventbrite survey conducted by Harris. Furthermore, 77 percent of millennials said some of their best memories are from an event or live experience. They believe these experiences connect them better to other people and their communities. But it’s not just millennials. The Eventbrite survey said that since 1987, the share of consumer spending on live experiences and events increased 70 percent.

“There’s just a large drive for that kind of experiential, emotional connection,” said Samantha Meigs, PhD, chair of the Experience Design Department at University of Indianapolis. “It’s been shown over and over again that things that integrate experiential programming have more appeal. … You’re trying to build emotion through what they’re doing. Quite often, you’re building in a very strong message about how your audience belongs in the space that you are creating, so they become a part of it.”

Experiential design “creates multisensory, immersive experiences that engage, educate or entertain audiences to bring about cultural, emotional or intellectual transformation,” explained Meigs.

To create a successful experiential event, embrace these five tactics:

1. Audience-centered

It’s not effective to brainstorm a list of trendy, interactive ideas if they don’t appeal to your particular attendees. Everything must be focused and centered around your unique audience, as well as their interests and personalities.

One great example of this is the effort put forth by the National Recreation and Parks Association in planning their upcoming Annual Conference. Set to take place in Indianapolis this September, the Annual Conference will feature an Adventure Outing in the local Eagle Creek Park, as well as a paddle boat ride along the Central Canal in downtown Indy’s White River State Park. Such programming would certainly not appeal to all meeting attendees, but for those involved with the National Recreation and Parks Association, it’s a perfect match. Using surveys and member feedback can help zero in on the type of interactivity your attendees will like.

2. Transformative

What do you want your attendees to gain from your conference and what do you want them to do afterward? How can you provide an experience that transforms the way they think and act in their industry? “You want to bring about some kind of transformation in the way people behave, in the way people think—new knowledge that they’re gaining in seeing themselves in a different role,” Meigs said.

3. Multi-sensory

Consider ways you can engage as many of the five senses—sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch—as possible. A simple first step is to incorporate music throughout your event, perhaps starting with strolling musicians at registration. Play with lighting to create new visual experiences at sessions instead of the typical glaring conference room lighting. Virtual reality and augmented reality are being used to create fun and interesting experiences, too.

“One of the things that I think is important is that you always have something that’s unexpected,” Meigs said. “Whimsical. Playful, if that’s appropriate, that catapults your audience into a different environment.”

The National FFA is taking advantage of this tactic by launching a new experience for attendees in October in Indy called Blue 365. One of the ballrooms of the Indiana Convention Center will transform into a special exhibitor space highlighting innovation in agriculture technology to prepare students for jobs of the future. The experience will be available to the 65,000 attendees at the National Convention & Expo, and the content will become available to all 650,000 members nationwide.

4. Interactive

Today’s attendees don’t want to sit through a 60-minute lecture. Evaluate your session formats. How can you create sessions that get attendees involved and create more of an interactive back-and-forth? Hackathons are collaborative learning processes. Participants work in small groups to brainstorm a new mobile app that solves an established problem in the industry. Create a session made up of several TED-style talks: short, memorized talks on a new industry trend or provocative idea.

5. Exclusivity

Throughout your planning, always strive for creating an experience and an atmosphere that your attendees can’t get anywhere else. Consider offers that only members or early registrants can take advantage of.

Beachbody held its Coach Summit in Indianapolis in June with 25,000 coaches. The event included the popular Super Workout on Monument Circle featuring celebrity Beachbody trainers and filling a main corridor of the downtown. This created an exclusive event attendees couldn’t get anywhere else.

Align attendee desires and your organization’s goals in a way to create an exclusive, special and intimate environment that they will be talking about for months to come.

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