Welcome Attendees Back With the Immersive Experience They’re Longing For
A Phoenix-based event expert shares what it takes to entice in-person attendance in today’s meeting landscape.
Zoom fatigue is real. Searches for the COVID-era phrase have increased a whopping 3,400 percent in the past year. And, unsurprisingly, 68 percent of professionals believe networking is more difficult in the virtual world. These staggering stats underscore the importance of physical gatherings to drive business outcomes—as well as to satisfy a basic human need.
With expert insights from Phoenix-based Walter Productions’ vice president of creative development Jeremy Watson, we’ll take a deeper dive into what those face-to-face interactions look like today and where they’re headed in the future.
Spontaneous and Effective
It’s no secret that face-to-face interactions offer a more effective form of communication with a straight line to a resolution, instead of a meandering digital back-and-forth that can be rife with delays. They also offer an opportunity for spontaneous—sometimes surprising—connections that may not be possible at all in a virtual format.
“We have all these digital tools that are helping us to connect and correspond with one another, but there’s no substitute for being present in a room with your team or with your colleagues if you’re trying to figure something out,” says the Phoenix-based event mastermind. “There’s a spontaneity and a camaraderie that happens when you’re able to be there together. It flows more effortlessly.”
Arts and Immersive Interactions
To that end, many of the experiences that Walter Productions was built on involve music and dancing. Through those experiences Watson sees “a lot of spontaneous connections happening that are only able to happen in physical space,” he says. “You see someone across the room and they smile at you and you smile back and you start a conversation. People are so grateful and joyful to be back out around other people. Smiling is a universal language, and I think that translates much more impactfully in person versus through digital technology.”
Watson’s group—which includes Where?House, a 24,000+ square-foot event venue that can host from 250 to 4,500 attendees, just over 2 miles from the Phoenix Convention Center—leans heavily into immersive art for its experiences and this, he says, allows for a creative exploration that can translate to inspired ideas and connections that drive business outcomes.
“People are ready to experience new and exciting things,” he says. “We’ve cultivated a safe space that is full of nice people and fun, and provides the opportunity for those in attendance to be welcomed, accepted, and express themselves freely. We see a lot of interactions happening around that spontaneity. It’s driving thought, giving them something to question.”
Gathering with Intention and Purpose
In-person events in this new era must offer something that makes people want to physically attend, and deliver something unavailable to them in the virtual space. And it must provide an opportunity for human connection that satisfies pent-up demand. In addition to immersive experiences, this might look like volunteering opportunities or unique local and cultural experiences.
Also under Watson’s purview is The Walter Show, a fleet of interactive art cars that have become highly recognizable at festivals from Bonnaroo to EDC, immersive settings equally known for celebrating creative expression and connection.
In Phoenix, planners not only have access to Watson, his team of event aficionados and the installations they’ve become widely known for, but also the Where?House space, which can be outfitted for group activities ranging from dining and yoga to team-building activities and evening entertainment.
“There’s no question we all missed being around people. We missed being around our friends and sharing space and sharing joy and letting loose and dancing,” Watson says. “People want to be as safe as possible, and there may be a bit of intimidation around being in the giant crowds, so we’re seeing a trend in people being more selective with the quality of their experiences. They’re being more intentional and only attending ones they’re really excited about and that’s going to continue to drive attendance patterns as we move forward.”
Watson continues to see face-to-face events flourish, even as they develop and evolve under current and future circumstances. “We’re social creatures and there’s another level of connection when you meet face to face, when you share space, when you share food and drinks [and even] dance to music together,” he says. “For me, there is no technology that exists that would make me want to trade that in order to stay at home, away from real people.”
The Ultimate Itinerary for Immersive Venues in Phoenix
Greater Phoenix offers an eclectic mix of immersive venues for engaging, entertaining and inspiring your clients. Here are a few worth checking out:
- Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and studio which earned UNESCO World Heritage Site designation, includes terraces, buildings and a music pavilion.
- Desert Botanical Garden, an outdoor oasis that routinely hosts art installations among the flora-dotted trails.
- Wrigley Mansion, a 1932 landmark that offers distinguished event and dining spaces overlooking the city.
- Musical Instrument Museum, home to more than 6,800 musical instruments and objects from every corner of the globe, also houses a 300-seat theatre.
- Heard Museum, dedicated to the advancement of American Indian art, offers 11 exhibit galleries and outdoor courtyards.
- Margaret T. Hance Park is a downtown Phoenix’s canvas that regularly plays host to festivals and community events.
- Corona Ranch & Rodeo Grounds, a venue with an option to add a Mexican Rodeo demonstration.
- Heritage Square, part of the original townsite of Phoenix, pairs an open-air pavilion with a collection of preserved 19th- and 20th-century homes.
To find out how Visit Phoenix can help you plan your next immersive event, visit visitphoenix.com/meetings.