Industry Content & Media

Have You Heard of the ‘Un-conference’?


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Unique event formats and innovative design forge crucial connections with attendees.

From monks teaching mindfulness and meditation at Dreamforce — an annual conference held by CRM company Salesforce — to festival-style I/O — Google’s developer conference in an outdoor amphitheatre in California — business events are looking to inspire as well as inform.

Vincent Ota

When designing an event that is inspiring and exciting, Vincent Ota, regional executive creative director at Pico Singapore, said the most important consideration always is to know your client’s brand and your audience, and build engagement based on real data-driven insights. Good insights provide a creative agency with the right tools to craft an effective idea that can forge what’s been called an “ethereal” connection.

When considering conference formats, one of the most inspirational approaches is the “un-conference,” he said.

WPP Stream [a three-day conference from agency WPP, usually held on a beach] is a great example of this in practice,” he added. “Un-conferences are based on the supposition that there is always more collective expertise in the audience than what can be put on a stage. They use an open format for collaborative discussions and sessions built around whatever subjects the audience wishes to discuss.”

Ota said micro-formats such as PechaKucha 20×20 — where 20 slides are shown for 20 seconds each — help create dynamic and informative presentations to engage audiences and push speakers to hone their message.

With regards to event design and engagement tactics, one of the more innovative conferences, experts say, is C2 Montréal, which continues to push boundaries by combining quirky, technology-enabled engagements — such as a meeting table and chairs suspended above the floor — with group engagements that demand participation.

“The conference utilises tracking-enabled badges and data to understand how the audience participates and how to speak to them after the event, providing organisers with insights for the next conference,” Ota said.

A strong sense of story is also needed to underpin inspirational event formats and innovative design. A favourite industry buzzword is “authenticity,” which experts say can be achieved only by engagement tactics that forge a real connection to both brand and audience.

“In creating inspirational events, gadgets and tech come and go, but purpose and story are where inspired event experiences begin and end,” Ota said.

While technology is being increasingly used within events to encourage attendees to participate and share their thoughts in real-time, meeting planners recognise that simply giving the audience a mobile app is not enough to increase engagement. It’s equally important to have interesting and insightful content, they say, and to create an atmosphere where attendees feel comfortable and inspired to participate.

Nelson Khoo

To this end, Nelson Khoo, event manager at CWT Meetings & Events, believes TED-style talks that are more thought-provoking than “salesy” are becoming the norm at corporate events. At the same time, the look and feel of many events is evolving from the traditional “classroom” format with tables and chairs to a more immersive lounge or café style setting that promote creativity and conversation.

“Immersive and experiential events such as festival-themed conferences are also becoming prevalent to provide a more open environment for idea exchange,” he said.

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