. Multi-sensory Meetings | Successful Meetings

Multi-sensory Meetings

Events that appeal to all five senses are more memorable for attendees

Meeting groups rustic barn

There's more to an effective meeting than meets the eye. There's also what meets the ears, nose, fingers, and tongue.

A meeting makes a much stronger impression when it stimulates several of attendees' senses. That was the finding of a recent survey from London & Partners and CWT Meetings & Events, released in October. Seventy-eight percent of the 600 event organizers interviewed expressed the belief that multisensory events offer more memorable and creative experiences for attendees. Additionally, 42 percent of event planners maintained that such sensory activations help meetings and events distinguish themselves from competitors.

"Aside from the actual psychology -- for example, sense of smell is closely linked to memory -- we know the simple fact that more sensory touch points leads to a more emotive experience," says Thierry Duguet, CWT Meetings & Events' global marketing director. "That emotional engagement leads to better brand recognition, which is what we can measure and ultimately what can drive sales and behavioral change in the future."

He adds that CWT Meetings & Events works to consider the attendee's entire journey from pre- to post-event, and how best to enhance every element. Engaging the senses is one of the most direct ways to do that. It might be the feel of a carpet as they step into an event space or much bigger sensory experiences such as the food they're served, music they hear, and interactive activities that can stimulate multiple senses at the same time.

But despite these strong endorsements for sensory-focused events, event professionals admit that they could be doing more. According to the survey, just 27 percent of planners say they believe the events industry effectively engages all five senses.

When respondents were asked what keeps them from delivering sensory-led experiences, the top three responses were: not having the budgets (43 percent), lack of time (26 percent), and inability to find sensory content (24 percent).

"I believe this is where we need a rally cry to our industry and those using events," says Duguet. "We're not just creating moments, but memories that will last a lifetime. Let's not forgot the unique position we're in as an industry and celebrate the fact we are able to create those sensory experiences."

Still, a significant number of planners are embracing the benefits of multisensory meetings. Changing technology is allowing for more engaging (and affordable) sensory experiences. And venues are also adding design elements and undergoing complete renovations to enhance their sensory impact.


Sensory Success 
"Event planners understand that they need to stay one step ahead of the curve in order to captivate delegates, and by appealing to sight, sound, taste, and touch they can create far more effective and engaging experiences," says Chris Lynn, vice president of North America and emerging markets for business tourism at London & Partners, which co-sponsored the research with CWT.

He adds that planners new to this trend can easily employ any number of strategies, from "mood lighting to high-impact projections and visual illusions," to doing more with sound. For example, at an event staged for Dolby Europe in London, the space was slowly darkened until it was pitch black, then a spotlight shone on a speaker who told the story of the history of sound.

"Throughout the speech came these vivid sounds generated by a Dolby audio system, including sounds of shifting tectonic plates as well as sounds of the evolution of fish, birds, and mammals, which filled the room and really brought the event to life," says Lynn.

Of those professionals who have succeeded in incorporating sensory activities into their events, 42 percent said they have used light activations -- including projections and visual illusions -- while about one third used culinary experiences to stimulate taste. Three-quarters of respondents said that sight was the sense most effectively integrated into meetings, while smell and touch were felt to be the least effectively incorporated.

Bryan Mattimore, cofounder and "Chief Idea Guy" for Growth Engine, an event and innovation consulting company based in Norwalk, CT, has seen firsthand how enhancing the sensory experiences of an event can stoke creativity. The firm was recently asked by L'Oreal to do a multi-city tour, leading meetings with more than 100 salon owners at each stop to help the attendees generate ideas for new hairstyles as well as devise creative ways to promote their businesses.

"We knew that sitting and listening to speakers was not going to cut it with these action-oriented, kinesthetic people who like to use their hands," says Mattimore, who is also the author of 21 Days to a Big Idea, published by Diversion Books last month. "So we designed a multisensory experience to get their creative juices flowing."

Mattimore and his team facilitated a "triggered brainwalk," setting up "ideation stations" around the room where teams of three would go to a station, write down an idea, then move to the next station and build on their neighbors' ideas. To activate their visual, aesthetic senses, Growth Engine posted a range of evocative visuals above each station -- photos and drawings of expensive jewelry, designer fashions, and beautifully designed rooms and furniture -- to trigger their thinking and get them generating new looks and hairstyles. The firm also provided modeling clay to allow the owners to sculpt their creations and try them out.

"Getting them up and moving and involving them kinesthetically was critical to the meeting's objectives of sharing ideas, building teams, and having fun," says Mattimore. "I had so many of the salon owners come up to me at dinner saying how much fun it was, how they loved being able to be creative immediately with strangers. They also said that standing gave them more energy for the exercise."

Music and sound is also an effective gateway into bolstering creativity. For a pair of packaged-goods companies, as well as a pair of pharmaceutical companies, Growth Engine led meetings of 75-150 attendees where teams would collaborate on writing a song for a new product they were about to launch, a brand they were working on, or the company's annual sales goals. At one event, attendees created a tune titled "The Billion-Dollar Brand," and at another, they created a song set to the tune of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction."

"Creating and performing these songs was, of course, a lot of fun and made for wonderful teambuilding," says Mattimore. "But as importantly, [the activity] reinforced the message of the brand, and/or the financial goals for the division, in a memorable way."

It also provided a way for the message to stick. As a follow-up to the event, Growth Engine professionally recorded the songs the attendees had devised, in musical styles such as rock and roll, country western, jazz, reggae, and even polka. Each participant received a CD -- a funny, memorable souvenir that reinforced the brand's positioning or quarterly sales goal in a way far more powerfully than any PowerPoint presentation could have.


Conveying a Theme 
Multisensory elements can help emphasize an event's theme in ways that a speech or presentation never could. For example, when Toyota celebrated the 10th anniversary of the introduction of its eco-friendly Prius, it sought to promote the car's sustainability in other aspects of the gathering. Event planning company Outstanding in the Field, which specializes in outdoor culinary experiences, put together a gathering for 150 guests (including executives, customers, and members of the press) at the Wright Organic Resource Center in Malibu, CA.

Overlooking the Pacific Ocean and coastal mountains, the attendees took part in environmental workshops, a presentation from Eric Lloyd Wright (architect and grandson of the famed Frank Lloyd Wright), and could enjoy a tactile experience of eco-design at a "gadget lab" hosted by Wired magazine.

 

Outstanding in the Field handled the meal -- a family-style, "farm-to-table" experience, composed of locally sourced dishes, presented on a long, linen-clad table around a wizened tree growing out of a boulder.

"Our focus on sustainable, locally sourced food was the perfect match for Toyota's eco-themed event, and the natural, open-air setting was a huge contribution to its success," says Danielle De Marco, Outstanding in the Field's director of private events. "A dinner, set between the soil and sky, is a visceral experience from every sensual aspect. Being outside while dining is in itself stimulating, and the visual of a simple, clean, white table in the midst of such a grand location is a key factor in the power of these events."


Venues Evolve 
While just over one quarter of planners feel that they plan events that effectively engage all the senses, helping to move that number up are new venues and those undergoing renovations to make sounds, smells, tastes, and touch a bigger part of their offerings.

"I think hotels and venues have really embraced the power of sensory experiences, and this will only continue to grow," says CWT's Duguet. "I see many examples of hotels and venue owners really pushing the boundaries of sensory experiences both pre- and during an event, but also post-event through social media -- so the event experience is extended long after the live event has finished."

He adds that he has seen a wider adoption of innovative technology, such as holograms, 3D videography, and "scent zones" such as an area where a warm cookie is presented at arrival at reception (such as DoubleTree by Hilton's Cookie Care Packages). For example, every Starwood brand has introduced its own signature scent to help create a strong connection to each property. Westin features "White Tea," Element's is "Sparkling Green Tea and Tonic," and Sheraton offers "Open Skies." An attendee to an event at the Westin Orlando Universal Boulevard would be left with a sense impression distinct from that given an attendee at an event at the Sheraton Orlando North Hotel.

 

The Hilton Waikoloa Village on Hawaii Island is offering an even more explicit focus on the senses when it opens its Hale Ike "House of Senses" this month. The concept enhances each of the property's 369 guest rooms with elements aimed at exciting the senses, from fragrances of local flowers to soothing sounds of nature in the hotel lobby and torchlit paths to guests' rooms.

"We wanted to create a true sense of arrival in Hawaii for all of our guests," says Rick Nagaoka, director of group sales for Hilton Waikoloa Village. "By giving the property a unique sensory experience within Palace Tower, we have created a more intimate experience for groups at the resort, which is important, given the large size of the property."

The Adolphus - a Rockridge Portfolio property, located in Dallas, recently completed a million-dollar makeover, including a new carpet, wall coverings, leather chairs, updated window treatments, accent sconces, modern artwork, lighting, and A/V technology, all designed to connect with the senses. Another Dallas property, the Hilton Anatole, has enhanced the guest experience with one of the largest collections of art and artifacts held by any U.S. hotel. Works on display include an 18th-century reclining Buddha cast in gilt-bronze, as well as 12-foot segments of the Berlin Wall painted by Jurgen Grosse. Visitors can take part in a curated "art dine-around" that pairs 15 of the hotel's pieces with food and beverage items from their country of origin -- a truly multisensory experience.

Kimpton's Hotel Vintage Portland completed a top-to-bottom renovation and rebrand aimed at making Oregon wine a more central motif of the property. Every one of the 117 guest rooms was given the name of a local winery, with a pair of its wines placed in each respective room, and each winery hosting the Vintage's wine hour in the hotel lobby.

 

While visiting winemakers help guests appreciate the scent and taste of the wine, the visuals throughout the property convey the same essence: an entryway that references the interior of an oak barrel, light fixtures inspired by grape clusters, and a mural at the hotel's Bacchus Bar that serves as an artsy chart of how Oregon grapes become wine.

"From arrival to departure, a visit to the Hotel Vintage really is an experience for the senses," says Sandy Burkett, general manager of the Hotel Vintage Portland. "It really is an experience like no other, as the Hotel Vintage brings the Oregon wine story to life."

Making music a central theme of a hotel also serves this aim. The new Hotel Van Zandt in Austin, TX -- also a Kimpton property -- makes the local music heritage a motif throughout its 319 rooms, 41 suites, and rooftop pool. With vinyl records playing in the hotel's "living room" and specially selected background music, the property also incorporates musically oriented design details.

While these properties showcase their urban surroundings, a much different sensory experience can be found at the Big Cedar Lodge. Located in Missouri's Ozark Mountains, the property offers cottage suites and no shortage of outdoor activities (paddleboarding, biking, fishing) that help attendees to clear their minds and improve their focus. Last summer it opened the 18,000-square-foot Cedar Creek Spa, offering nature-inspired treatments to further engage the senses. It also opened the nearby Top of the Rock, a separate "lifestyle outpost" with restaurants, natural history museum, and nature trail.

"Our location influences every aspect of the meeting agenda," says Alison Petit, senior catering and sales manager for Big Cedar Lodge. "Short and effective breaks are relatively easy to work into group schedules -- to allow participants to breathe in some fresh air and enjoy outdoor activities."

The success of the property has led to the build of Big Cypress Lodge, a sister property opened in April of this year in Memphis, TN. The 25-story, 105-room rustic retreat housed in the half-million-square-foot Memphis Pyramid offers meeting spaces that provide visitors with a sense of the great outdoors. These include a banquet room that can accommodate up to 160 guests, breakout spaces, and a boardroom.

London & Partners' Lynn has seen this trend in his destination, pointing to the May Fair Hotel, with its specially created signature fragrance of freshly cut grass, mingled with lemongrass incense sticks. As guests enter the hotel, the fragrance aims to give them a feeling of calm that sets the tone for the event.

"Sensory activations are a growing trend for the industry, and event professionals clearly see the value in integrating these experiences," says Lynn. "As demand increases, hotels and venues need to respond and build their suite of sensory offerings to clients."



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the December 2015 issue of Successful Meetings.


Conveying a Theme 
Multisensory elements can help emphasize an event's theme in ways that a speech or presentation never could. For example, when Toyota celebrated the 10th anniversary of the introduction of its eco-friendly Prius, it sought to promote the car's sustainability in other aspects of the gathering. Event planning company Outstanding in the Field, which specializes in outdoor culinary experiences, put together a gathering for 150 guests (including executives, customers, and members of the press) at the Wright Organic Resource Center in Malibu, CA.

Overlooking the Pacific Ocean and coastal mountains, the attendees took part in environmental workshops, a presentation from Eric Lloyd Wright (architect and grandson of the famed Frank Lloyd Wright), and could enjoy a tactile experience of eco-design at a "gadget lab" hosted by Wired magazine.

 

What was once a horse stable
is now a setting for an
intriguing meal function
What was once a horse stable is now a setting for an intriguing meal function

Outstanding in the Field handled the meal -- a family-style, "farm-to-table" experience, composed of locally sourced dishes, presented on a long, linen-clad table around a wizened tree growing out of a boulder.

"Our focus on sustainable, locally sourced food was the perfect match for Toyota's eco-themed event, and the natural, open-air setting was a huge contribution to its success," says Danielle De Marco, Outstanding in the Field's director of private events. "A dinner, set between the soil and sky, is a visceral experience from every sensual aspect. Being outside while dining is in itself stimulating, and the visual of a simple, clean, white table in the midst of such a grand location is a key factor in the power of these events."


Venues Evolve 
While just over one quarter of planners feel that they plan events that effectively engage all the senses, helping to move that number up are new venues and those undergoing renovations to make sounds, smells, tastes, and touch a bigger part of their offerings.

"I think hotels and venues have really embraced the power of sensory experiences, and this will only continue to grow," says CWT's Duguet. "I see many examples of hotels and venue owners really pushing the boundaries of sensory experiences both pre- and during an event, but also post-event through social media -- so the event experience is extended long after the live event has finished."

He adds that he has seen a wider adoption of innovative technology, such as holograms, 3D videography, and "scent zones" such as an area where a warm cookie is presented at arrival at reception (such as DoubleTree by Hilton's Cookie Care Packages). For example, every Starwood brand has introduced its own signature scent to help create a strong connection to each property. Westin features "White Tea," Element's is "Sparkling Green Tea and Tonic," and Sheraton offers "Open Skies." An attendee to an event at the Westin Orlando Universal Boulevard would be left with a sense impression distinct from that given an attendee at an event at the Sheraton Orlando North Hotel.

 

The newly opened Hale Ike
(House of Senses)
at the Hilton Waikoloa Village
The newly opened Hale Ike (House of Senses) at the Hilton Waikoloa Village

The Hilton Waikoloa Village on Hawaii Island is offering an even more explicit focus on the senses when it opens its Hale Ike "House of Senses" this month. The concept enhances each of the property's 369 guest rooms with elements aimed at exciting the senses, from fragrances of local flowers to soothing sounds of nature in the hotel lobby and torchlit paths to guests' rooms.

"We wanted to create a true sense of arrival in Hawaii for all of our guests," says Rick Nagaoka, director of group sales for Hilton Waikoloa Village. "By giving the property a unique sensory experience within Palace Tower, we have created a more intimate experience for groups at the resort, which is important, given the large size of the property."

The Adolphus - a Rockridge Portfolio property, located in Dallas, recently completed a million-dollar makeover, including a new carpet, wall coverings, leather chairs, updated window treatments, accent sconces, modern artwork, lighting, and A/V technology, all designed to connect with the senses. Another Dallas property, the Hilton Anatole, has enhanced the guest experience with one of the largest collections of art and artifacts held by any U.S. hotel. Works on display include an 18th-century reclining Buddha cast in gilt-bronze, as well as 12-foot segments of the Berlin Wall painted by Jurgen Grosse. Visitors can take part in a curated "art dine-around" that pairs 15 of the hotel's pieces with food and beverage items from their country of origin -- a truly multisensory experience.

Kimpton's Hotel Vintage Portland completed a top-to-bottom renovation and rebrand aimed at making Oregon wine a more central motif of the property. Every one of the 117 guest rooms was given the name of a local winery, with a pair of its wines placed in each respective room, and each winery hosting the Vintage's wine hour in the hotel lobby.

 

BarBacchus
Bacchus Bar at Hotel Vintage Portland features an artsy chart that details how Oregon grapes are processed into wine

While visiting winemakers help guests appreciate the scent and taste of the wine, the visuals throughout the property convey the same essence: an entryway that references the interior of an oak barrel, light fixtures inspired by grape clusters, and a mural at the hotel's Bacchus Bar that serves as an artsy chart of how Oregon grapes become wine.

"From arrival to departure, a visit to the Hotel Vintage really is an experience for the senses," says Sandy Burkett, general manager of the Hotel Vintage Portland. "It really is an experience like no other, as the Hotel Vintage brings the Oregon wine story to life."

Making music a central theme of a hotel also serves this aim. The new Hotel Van Zandt in Austin, TX -- also a Kimpton property -- makes the local music heritage a motif throughout its 319 rooms, 41 suites, and rooftop pool. With vinyl records playing in the hotel's "living room" and specially selected background music, the property also incorporates musically oriented design details.

While these properties showcase their urban surroundings, a much different sensory experience can be found at the Big Cedar Lodge. Located in Missouri's Ozark Mountains, the property offers cottage suites and no shortage of outdoor activities (paddleboarding, biking, fishing) that help attendees to clear their minds and improve their focus. Last summer it opened the 18,000-square-foot Cedar Creek Spa, offering nature-inspired treatments to further engage the senses. It also opened the nearby Top of the Rock, a separate "lifestyle outpost" with restaurants, natural history museum, and nature trail.

"Our location influences every aspect of the meeting agenda," says Alison Petit, senior catering and sales manager for Big Cedar Lodge. "Short and effective breaks are relatively easy to work into group schedules -- to allow participants to breathe in some fresh air and enjoy outdoor activities."

The success of the property has led to the build of Big Cypress Lodge, a sister property opened in April of this year in Memphis, TN. The 25-story, 105-room rustic retreat housed in the half-million-square-foot Memphis Pyramid offers meeting spaces that provide visitors with a sense of the great outdoors. These include a banquet room that can accommodate up to 160 guests, breakout spaces, and a boardroom.

London & Partners' Lynn has seen this trend in his destination, pointing to the May Fair Hotel, with its specially created signature fragrance of freshly cut grass, mingled with lemongrass incense sticks. As guests enter the hotel, the fragrance aims to give them a feeling of calm that sets the tone for the event.

"Sensory activations are a growing trend for the industry, and event professionals clearly see the value in integrating these experiences," says Lynn. "As demand increases, hotels and venues need to respond and build their suite of sensory offerings to clients."



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the December 2015 issue of Successful Meetings.