Three Trends for Better Events

Author: Beth Surmont       

(Photo by Adobe Stock)

In the July issue, I wrote about how several trends identified in the PCMA Foundation and Marriott “Future of Meetings & Events” report — namely, emotional intelligence and orchestrated serendipity — resonated with me. Here’s my take on three other trends.

Beth Surmont

Multimodal design — designing for adaptation and iteration is a trend from the report that focuses on space. It’s about having the ability to adapt event settings to programming, to create immersive experiences, and to generate different customized journeys within the same space. I love the idea of 3D-printed stages, flexible room sets, and multi-sensory engagement, but I struggle with how to make it affordable and attainable. What elements can we introduce today that allow for quick changes and reflect the event personality we want to convey, without adding to the bottom line? It just might be encouraging the full use of whatever venue you have booked.

Event organizers have started using their venue’s hallways and lobbies for activities or conversation areas, but many don’t take advantage of what lies beyond the building itself. Provide a map of areas within walking distance and challenge participants to find a spot that engages all of their five senses at once. Ask them to capture what they found in a photo — either via Instagram or to print pictures and post them on a big board in a communal space.

Having people contribute to a shared space lets them see how they are part of the larger event. And the trend of bigger than oneself — acting on a meaningful message picks up on this. While this most directly speaks to consumers wanting the products they buy to have a point of view and their willingness to spend money on things that reflect their own motivations, it’s a huge missed opportunity for most events. So often, the event purpose does not go beyond “this is the annual gathering of the such and such community.” But there is so much more to our events.

Every event should serve to further the goals of the host organization. If it is a for-profit organization, and the goal is to make money, then the event should maximize revenue opportunities. But if it is a not-for-profit organization that is mission-driven, the event may be an important revenue driver, but that isn’t the purpose of the event. The event is the gathering of the people who will solve the problem that the organization wishes to address in the world. Medical advances, better lives through technology, empowering small business owners — whatever the mission of your organization is, that is the lens through which you should view all the components of your event. For example, if you serve lunch, do you intentionally create a framework at that meal to drive the conversations that will impact your mission?

The final trend is a clear sense of place — leveraging geography for deeper enrichment. Airbnb has done a great job of this by adding local experiences — from tours to home-cooked dinners, to burlesque crab bakes — as an option when you book your place. It’s a differentiator, showcasing authentic experiences in a destination.

And so it should be for events. Aside from the usual office tours or local volunteering experiences, we should work with our members and constituents to offer a range of experiences, like sign-ups for a small group dinner hosted at a member’s home, or meeting some young professionals at the insider local bar. If there is a way to create a self-service platform, the logistics would be minor to manage, but the experiences would be significant.

Beth Surmont is the director of experience design at marketing, strategy, and experience agency 360 Live Media (

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