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Events and Conferences Focus on Experience

Dan Gingiss stands in front of a colorful flowered wall pointing to a neon sign that reads BOLD. Event experience has become a core focus for planners.

People who attend events and conferences have long expected a memorable experience, featuring smart speeches and presentations, some nourishment, and networking opportunities with colleagues that could land them the next great idea.

All of which makes customer experience in the events and conferences industry – what industry pros may call event experience or attendee experience – especially important for an audience that knows how to judge it.

But now, what some call “virtual fatigue” in the post-COVID era has unleashed a pent-up demand for in-person events that feature more of everything – more technology, more varied food and, if possible, a more fun and immersive experience.

Panel discussions and PowerPoints followed by coffee and donuts, experts say, aren’t enough anymore.

“A significant driving force behind the sector’s rapid growth is the increasing demand for unique and immersive experiences,” noted a recent marketing research report.

The Events and Conference Industry Is Rapidly Growing

With the basic human need to congregate, it is perhaps little surprise that “gatherings, meetings, events, and conventions (of sorts) have been a part of people’s lives since the earliest recorded history.”

In the modern era, the first convention and visitor bureau, designed to attract convention business, was established in 1896 in Detroit, while the first professional association for the meetings industry began in 1928.

The spread of the Internet in the 1990s supercharged event planning, and the U.S. conferences, concert and event industry is now valued at $340 billion – and is expected to grow to $660 billion by 2030.

Driving the rapid expansion of the industry – which ranges from conferences and business seminars to festivals, trade exhibitions, and product launches – is the increasing focus on unique experience, with event organizers striving “to innovate and exceed boundaries to provide fascinating interactions for attendees.”

Details Upon Details In Event Planning

While research shows that events can be important to corporate bottom lines, creating new customers and reinforcing positive brand images, they are also major productions that pose significant organizational challenges.

From finding a speaker to inviting attendees and coordinating logistics, it can take weeks or even months to put together an event. And memorable experiences are important not just for attendees, but also speakers, vendors, and production and AV teams.

Then there are the contingency plans for power outages, weather problems, or travel delays.

Even the meals have grown more complicated. “With emerging eating trends, diet restrictions, and healthier food preferences on the rise,” writes speaker manager Michelle Joyce, event planners need to “accommodate everyone’s needs.”

Not to mention, she added, offering “plenty of energy breaks, water, and snacks to keep your attendees refreshed and refueled throughout the day.”

Immersive Event Experiences To The Rescue

Another challenge, in the emerging post-COVID era, is financial. Companies got used to the cost savings of no conference or event registrations for two years, so planners today face the hurdle of convincing executives that event budgets are well spent.

Reducing ticket prices or other cost reductions can hamper the experience. One way to avoid that fate – and provide extra value – is to offer a more immersive experience.

Indeed, Immersive is a key component of my WISER methodology for creating remarkable experiences (along with Witty, Shareable, Extraordinary, and Responsive), and it directly applies to the events industry.

Immersive experiences can take many forms. Some that I’ve recently observed first-hand:

  • A “glow” theme party with light-up necklaces, bracelets, and even centerpieces
  • A pickleball “rave,” featuring indoor courts with black lights and glow-in-the-dark balls
  • Retro arcade games, skeeball, and pinball machines
  • Interactive tours of unique locations
  • A New Orleans-themed event (not in New Orleans) featuring a Bourbon Street band, bead necklaces, and Cajun cuisine

Experience Examples In The Events and Conference Industry

Social Media Marketing World has focused on immersive experiences for many years. The event begins with a networking experience where each attendee, armed with a bingo card, searches for other attendees with certain characteristics. Attendees who complete their whole bingo card are eligible for prizes.

Event director Phil Mershon once injected a dose of Witty by telling the crowd that he was starting a new hashtag called #BGS, or Bald Guy Selfie – and inviting everyone in the audience to find a bald person and take a selfie with them.

I was immediately bombarded!

According to Meeting News Northwest in its “2024 Meeting Conference & Event Annual Planning Guide,” there are several trends that meeting professionals are most focused on today:

Wellness: “We believe planning an event with the guests’ wellbeing at the heart of the experience is key to attracting guests and keep them coming back year over year,” Rachel Riggs, General Manager of Environmental Strategy at Maritz Global Events, told the magazine.

Sustainability: Jonathan Martin, principal designer at ShowTec, told The Experience Maker: “It is critical as planners and suppliers that we align with the goals and values of our clients and their customer-facing commitments. The vast majority of US corporations have green initiatives that are core to their metrics and messaging.”

Marissa Jablonski, CEO of EcoSystem Strategies, added that “a majority of people will pay more for eco-friendly options.”

Other trends include technology, diversity & inclusion, and cost control.

What You Can Do

Some tips for creating memorable events:

  • Hire a professional emcee. The heightened energy level, creativity, and performance expertise is well worth the cost.
  • Pay up for professional speakers. There is a big experiential difference for the audience between a professional speaker and an unpaid industry speaker. (Contact me to discuss your event!)
  • Make sure people can plug in. This is beyond essential in today’s digital world.
  • Engage with attendees. Greet them warmly, get to know them personally, and be responsive to their needs.
  • Get feedback and follow up. Send a thank-you note and a feedback survey to learn what you can do better the next time.

For more: 10 Ways To Turn Your Next Event Into A Remarkable Experience

A wall of donuts is a more immersive event experience than just serving them on a plate.

Why serve donuts on a plate when you can have an entire donut wall?!

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