Think about events you have attended; any event-a wedding, a conference, a birthday party-which one stands out the most to you? Why? Did you love the food? Was the DJ great? Did you get to take home the centerpiece that was filled with your favorite flowers? Why was it memorable? Believe it or not, there is a science behind event design and management and TMG happens to have experts that know all about the elements that will make a lasting impression on your attendees.
There are three stages to memory: encoding, storage and recall. If a memory makes it to the storage and recall stages, it indicates that they have meaning. In scientific speak, this is referred to as “semantic encoding.” In summary, it means that people remember things better and retain them longer when there is meaning (or knowledge if it’s a learning event) that goes with them.
In my professional experience, I believe that interactive, experiential event design can result in attendee experiences that absolutely have a long-term impact on whomever attends, whether it’s members, board members, presenters or exhibitors. Each group walks away having had had some kind of experience, an “ah-ha moment,” the key is to make it one that sticks with them.
When planning, sometimes it’s better to start at the end and work backwards, although that’s not how we typically plan. What do you want them to remember? What are your goals for the event? What impact do you want them to have? Then start planning. Take the time to research and select various interactive experience options that will resonate with your attendees first and then start thinking about things like a theme and how to incorporate them. Before committing to interactive experiences, there are a variety of areas to think about.
Consider your Audience – Who is attending? Who do you want to attend? Have you had a low millennial attendance? Identifying your target audience as your general membership isn’t enough, you need to hone in on who exactly you want to attend your event.
What’s Trending? – Research the current event trends, including what your competitors, like-minded associations and vendor partners are doing at their events. Have a favorite charity or nonprofit? Find out how they are engaging their attendees. When researching however, make sure not to duplicate another event, especially if it will target and attract the same audiences.
Create a Story – This applies to before, during and after the meeting. Write content that engages your audiences and distribute it through the outlets that they will want to receive it from. Notice I said, “want to” not “will.” Your members will obviously see information related to your event through your member newsletter but will they read it? Use various engaging outlets and don’t limit them to social media and your member communications. Create a fun hashtag and start using it before the event. Add personality to it, using the names of your attendees, featuring their Tweets or posts live at the event-people love to feel as though they are being addressed directly, not as one of 1,000. Ask some of your members (and not the “usuals”) to capture their experience throughout the event. Whether they use Snap Chat, a blog, an article in your event daily or membership newsletter-ask them to take both attendees and those who did not attend along with them through their experience. The more members you have do this and the more outlets they use, the more audiences will be reached and the better story that will be written.
Engaging the Senses – For large events, you often have little to no choice other than to hold the event in a large expo hall or conference center. However, not every element needs to be held there. Engage local businesses-a brewery perhaps-that can host a cocktail/networking event, allowing attendees to be present in the actual brewery or outside in the vineyard of a winery. Smelling, seeing an environment other than walls and smelling things other than the concession pizza and overcooked pasta can make an event worth remembering.
Shock and awe – Having that “wow factor” isn’t a surprise when it comes to event planning or making it memorable. You’re more likely to remember the event that had the Cirque De Soleil flying above your head at the award’s dinner rather than the meeting that had the extra-large dessert display. Tailor your event to your attendees. Add things that they will relate to and feel were done specifically for them.
Making Attendees “Appy” – This one is rather self-explanatory. Having an app for your event is a hugely popular trend and a great tool. Updates can be made in real-time, push notifications can be sent to those who opt-in and the schedule can be right at the fingertips of attendees. Want to really get crazy? Add the element of gamification in the app with a trivia game around the association or even exhibitors that attendees can play during their downtime. Allow exhibitors to offer a prize for those who answer the questions correctly. Everyone wins! Literally.
Effective experiential event design is directly related to impressions and event ROI or return on investment. The better the event, the more attendees/sponsors/exhibitors will talk about it, the more exposure you will gain for the association which turns into more sponsors, exhibitors and attendees, and the more “buzz” will lead to more attendees at your future events; some attendees who could even turn into members.