Create meeting agendas that ‘breathe’ and environments that force delegates out of their comfort zones and bring like-minded individuals together.
Ask any delegate what they’re most looking forward to getting out of a conference and there’s a high chance that meeting new people and expanding their network will be high on their list. However, drop a delegate into a room full of strangers, armed with only a lanyard, a cup of burnt coffee and a stale biscuit, and watch how quickly they pull out their phones, while frantically searching for a familiar face.
Networking is what live events are all about, but for years event organizers have failed to make connecting with others easy for their attendees. It wasn’t until event planners took a peek over the fence to see what was going on in the land of “experiential” that they understood how influential creative meeting design can be.
“There has been a major shift to experiential events, where we are able to provide more design-led experiences and thinking,” said Sarah Williamson, VP creative director at Jack Morton Hong Kong. “We partner more and more with clients to strategise and design their agenda, as well as plan and design the space. For maximum effect and ROI, agendas need to breathe, content has to be compelling, breaks need to be engaging, and the environment needs to be conducive to face-to-face conversation and networking.”
Networking flourishes when delegates are inspired and engaged, and the design of a venue can act as a springboard for elevating conversation to the next level. Championing this idea is C2 International. Founded in 2012 by Cirque du Soleil and creative agency Sid Lee, C2 aims to transform the way people think about imagination and creativity in business through a growing portfolio of live events, which includes the newly launched C2 Melbourne, set to take place this October. Coming up with unexpected ways to boost networking is the company’s bread and butter and Martin Enault, C2 International’s chief operating officer, believes one of the keys to opening up conversation is to create moments of surprise.
“Networking is hard during events,” Enault said. “There are so many people around and finding someone that is relevant to you is often frustrating. [C2] creates activities that naturally bring like-minded individuals together. We also create an environment in which people are forced to bump into each other and work together to tackle challenges.”
C2 events swap the convention-centre setting for a completely new design dynamic — from seating participants in areas suspended 10 metres in the air above a safety net, to having them converse in a room filled with dense fog, creating a zero-visibility environment. “It pushes participants to outcomes they never expected,” Enault said, “and creates memories they never forget.”
For Jack Morton, partnering with international legacy brands like Marriott International doesn’t stop the agency from transforming traditional venues into something far more innovative.
Jack Morton recently partnered with Marriott on its Asia Pacific Operations Conference, held at Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park, Bangkok. Williamson used the event “to showcase and inspire with some truly creative environments.”
The agency decorated the ballroom in a white decor, with food and beverages served on stainless- steel shelves, while a series of wellness spaces hosted tai chi classes, yoga, and massage treatments. And a completely unexpected space was used to further enhance participants’ experience, when delegates were led out into an empty car park. Soon, the sound of drumming emerged from the distance and traditional Thai snacks and drinks, arranged on bikes and baskets, were wheeled out.
“The value of experiences that connect brands and their audiences; that create emotion, smiles and sharing; that allow for interactions; that create memories,” Williamson said, “are golden.”