Creating Experiences

With experiential events on the rise, planners need to get creative.

By Boardroom editors

Experiential events, which today are inspired by everything from music to mindfulness, are on the rise. In a 2018 IACC report, 75 percent of meeting planners responded that they are involved in “experience creation” more now than they were just two years ago. And they expect the demand for “experience creation” to rise in the next five years.

Some of that can be linked to the “Instagram Effect,” which is driving social media envy. In the travel industry, for example, people are turning to experiential trips to immerse themselves in local cultures. As they seek out winemakers in Italy or cheesemongers in France, the theme of their trip revolves around an experience — and the same is said to now go for meetings of all sizes and formats.

In the IACC report, Sarah Weller of Steelcase Event Experiences is quoted as saying that “meeting planners have typically lumped experiences in with services, but they are distinctly different. Learning from B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore in their Experience Economy Certification Course, we know that ‘An experience occurs when a company intentionally uses services as the stage, and goods as props, to engage individual customers in a way that creates a memorable event.’ Understanding how to design and create experiences will become a highly coveted skill in the future. The core of experience design is putting the human first.”

For planners — and associations — who must create a memorable experience, deciding on a relevant theme is key. Play it too safe, it is said, and your conference may seem generic. Go overboard, and it may feel off-brand. Maritz Global Events, for example, looks to five E’s — escape, experience, encounter, engage, and experiment — when planning its annual conference.

Planners can also weave a theme around the venue location (touching on the city itself or an aspect of regional culture like cuisine).

For example, Sustainable Brands, a community of more than 348,000 sustainable-business leaders, selects brand-appropriate locations such as Copenhagen (which calls itself the “capital of sustainable meetings”) or Vancouver (which says it plans to be the greenest city in the world by 2020) for its conferences. The destinations serve as a backdrop to inspire attendees to join in the conversation as well as be part of the cities’ sustainability legacies, putting environmentally friendly concepts into practice, from using coffee grounds from that morning’s brew to grow oyster mushrooms, as is done in Copenhagen, to testing out creative solutions in Vancouver’s Innovation Labs.

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