Attendee experience is “the holy grail of meeting planning,” according to CWT’s “2019 Meetings & Events Trends Report.” “For true success, the experience must generate the strongest audience engagement,” Vincent Schlegel, CWT’s marketing and strategy director for France, says in the report.
To achieve that, the CWT report says, planners should be open to innovative event formats. And a recent IACC report showed that 45 percent of planners are offering more themed/specialty events than ever. The reason? The rise of experience creation. Many attendees share their event experiences on social media just as actively as they would their own vacation, with themes helping to drive buzz about (and attendance for) upcoming conferences.
One recent event that emphasized experience creation was the annual London QEII Centre showcase for event planners. At the February event, whose theme was “Bloom,” 150 attendees walked through a floral-lined walkway aglow with fairy lights. When they reached the centre’s fifth-floor Cambridge Room, they were greeted by a flower-draped setting, courtesy of event partner Event-Trees. Instead of traditional emcees, the evening was led by three hosts that fit the “Bloom” theme: Mr. Badger, Ms. Rabbit, and Specs, a mole.
Inspiration for the characters, supplied by Event-Trees’ sister company Area 51 and familiar in the English countryside, came partly from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wind in the Willows, said Joshua Lloyd-Hall, who is on the QEII Centre marketing team and worked on the showcase concept with QEII Centre Marketing Manager Roopi Woodall.
“The theme was ‘Bloom’ — flourishing and growing — just like the centre has in transitioning from a traditional conference centre into a flexible events space over the past few years, and really this was the main focus,” Lloyd-Hall said.
As soon as guests entered the “showcase of enchantment, imagination, and discovery,” they were offered a cocktail that reflected each of the hosts: Ms. Rabbit’s was gin, sugar snap pea, lime and mint; Mr. Badger’s was vodka with vanilla and chai; and Specs’ was Negroni-style tequila, mezcal, Aperol and rosé vermouth.
Each host also had his or her own “burrow,” or room, in the event space. Mr. Badger entertained the crowd from his theatre stage, while Specs held court at a swinging jazz club, and Ms. Rabbit dominated the black-and-white-tiled hipster café. On the sixth floor, guests admired panoramic views of the London skyline — as well as a blooming “daffodil,” whose petals crawled up the sides of the room as a soundtrack of bees was heard buzzing around the “flower.”
The theme continued at dinner with a starter called “The Vegetable Patch,” an asparagus, broccoli, and rainbow radish salad, garnished with edible flowers. Sparkling wine with dessert, meanwhile, was an English pinot noir rosé, a nod to the country’s trending “British bubbles” sparkling wine scene. The floral backdrops formed picturesque Instagram settings, while digital touch points and branding helped immerse guests in the theme.
According to EventMB, a theme that has a universal appeal, such as the whimsical flower setting at QEII Centre, helps to bring visual appeal to a client’s message and should influence everything from logos to catering and décor. “Attendees will get excited about a well-chosen theme. If you take the time to select something with mass appeal to your constituency, one that resonates with them, they will help you with the marketing of the event,” Christina R. Green wrote for a recent EventMB blog post. “The excitement will build with each piece of shared content and their posts may elicit questions from others who see it in their streams. Themes are interesting. Themes draw a crowd.”