3 Key Lessons for Designing Multi-Sensory Meetings

Author: David McMillin       

PCMA Partner Freeman

As attendees spend more time glued to their smartphones and tablets, event professionals recognize that the on-site environment needs to create a hands-on, out-of-sight, so-good-you-can-almost-taste-it, turn-up-the-volume type of experience. Translation: Meetings must be multi-sensory. But what can organizers do to help attendees do more than see the stage and hear the speakers? I caught up with members of the Freeman production team that helped bring Convening Leaders 2017 to life for some helpful tips.

1. Make attendees feel like more than a passive audience.

Stacey Thorp, senior executive producer at Freeman, said that one of Freeman’s goals for Convening Leaders 2017 in Austin was “to create a space where the audience was part of the general sessions.” So, rather than setting up the exhibit hall at the Austin Convention Center with the typical staging — a stark division between a lit-up stage and darkened seating — Freeman extended the lighting truss from the stage to the back of the room to create a unified space. “The room was set at an angle allowing for more seating closer to the stage, and LED stage lighting created more visual interest,” Thorp said.

For organizers looking to expand on the set from Convening Leaders, Jim Clark, learning technology director at Freeman, recommended thinking about ways to integrate the back of the room, too. “You can take it a step up and use projection on the side and back walls to create an entirely immersive environment and then paint images with media to totally transform the space,” Clark said. “It can link the audience to the stage in an incredible way that allows you to reinforce and enhance the message you want to convey. The key is to make audiences feel like they are part of the space and not a passive listener.”

2. Awaken the senses in another world.

Adrian Sanchez, production manager at FreemanXP, said that trade-show professionals are finding new ways to use virtual reality and augmented reality to engage attendees’ senses. “Both AR and VR can be used to showcase large, complex projects like a manufacturing plant or research laboratory that are not easy to recreate in an exhibit space,” Sanchez said.

AR and VR are two of the most talked-about acronyms in event technology, but Sanchez added that holograms are also offering new possibilities for attendees. “We are seeing the next generation in hologram technology, three-dimensional images infused by lighting,” Sanchez said. “Holograph technology has advanced using lasers, VR, and movement to create new ways to engage the senses for trade-show attendees.”

3. Avoid sensory overload.

While plenty of event professionals are excited to experiment with new technologies and explore new on-site opportunities for seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, and touching, it’s easy to max out a multi-sensory experience. “There is always a balancing act to engage the senses but not detract from the purpose of the program,” Clark said.

“There are risks to overwhelming attendees,” Thorp agreed. “For example, at a casual networking evening reception, event planners might hire a DJ and use dim lighting or even host the event at a local bar. While that can absolutely be a fun night, if the goal is networking, attendees want to be able to read a person’s name tag and talk without yelling over loud music.”

Instead of simply turning up the volume or turning down the lights, Thorp believes that organizers can use simple touches to achieve that delicate balance. “There are ways to create fun social settings such as a group photo booth so attendees can share images on social media,” he said. “A theme-based location like a museum or an airplane hangar can also be a great option. Food and beverages based on the city’s history can also help engage the senses without creating a feeling of sensory overload.”

This article was brought to you by Freeman, the company behind the Convening Leaders experience and an Uber partner of PCMA. Click here to learn more about enhancing your next experience with insights from Freeman.

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