. 6 Experiential Event Strategies | Successful Meetings

6 Experiential Event Strategies

Can't figure out how to make your meeting more experiential? Try these ideas.

Experiential Events opener

If you want to keep attendees engaged, entertained, and interested, there's one word to keep in mind: experiential. Experiential meetings and events aren't about creating content for attendees to consume; they're about creating opportunities to participate and engage.

"For meetings to be viable in this modern age there is a required element of experience in order to cut through the noise, keep attendees engaged, and make the outcomes of the meeting sharable for a greater organization," says Scott Dzierzanowski, associate creative director of Mosaic, an experiential agency that teamed up with technology pioneer Oracle to reimagine OpenWorld, the long-standing annual global tech event. Together, the organizations created a groundbreaking, five-day learning experience.

But Dzierzanowski emphasizes that "there are elements of experiential strategy that can be applied to even the simplest meeting." For planners seeking creative ways to put experience at the center of their events, here are some insights from the experts:


1. Tap Into the Power of the Crowd
An experiential approach is at the core of planning for Oracle OpenWorld, and each element is designed to help attendees interact and learn in innovative ways.

"In an age where professional development and training is always at your fingertips thanks to the Internet, we know that the conference must deliver more than what can be found online. And that is experiences," says Dzierzanowski. "So whether it's the environmental design of the conference, the sessions that make up the learning component, or the entertainment that happens after hours, each should create an experience that delivers upon Oracle OpenWorld's promise to help attendees connect, learn, and share. If we have not delivered an experience that fulfills that promise, then we have not done our job."

This year's event drew more than 40,000 people to San Francisco to share ideas, innovation, and experiences that span the full spectrum of cutting-edge technology -- ranging from artificial intelligence to autonomous vehicles. The experts that make up the community are drawn from more than 152 countries, making it a truly global conference. The event's organizers closed down an entire city block on San Francisco's Howard Street to create an organic "gathering hub" and delivered an A/V experience of more than 250 hours of live content programmed throughout the event's five days.

But the subject matter of OpenWorld was not the only aspect the organizers used to keep attendees engaged, interested, and entertained. This year, they reevaluated how this subject matter was delivered, which drove Oracle to partner with Mosaic to redesign the basic idea of a session at a conference. This initiative, called Collective Learning, drew on research from Stanford University to create session tracks aimed at making attendee engagement of equal importance to the content. The sessions had attendees working together to solve problems, and through the process gain a greater understanding of the subject matter being presented.

Dzierzanowski emphasizes that in a time of new technology and growing distractions, an experiential approach is more beneficial than ever.

"Research shows that the human attention span is now less than eight seconds, less than that of a goldfish," he adds. "So when we live in a world with constant distraction and noise, a meeting that is not in some form experiential will not be effective."


2. Offer Immersive Content
Founded in 1987 in Austin, South by Southwest (SXSW) is best known for its conference and festivals that celebrate the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries. Its combination of high-profile speakers, notworthy bands, and memorable experiences has helped it to draw approximately 440,000 attendees from 95 countries last year, injecting $348.6 million into the Austin economy.

SXSW brings together music, film,
and cutting-edge technology for
a smorgasbord of interactivity
and engagement
SXSW brings together music, film, and cutting-edge technology for a smorgasbord of interactivity and engagement

From presidents and pop stars to NASA scientists, SXSW aims to take innovative experiences to the next level. President Barack Obama, Bruce Springsteen, Al Pacino, Lady Gaga, Pete Townsend, Pharrell Williams, Prince, and Little Richard have all spoken at and/or performed at SXSW, but Mike Shea, chief logistics officer and partner of SXSW, is quick to point out that there is much more than just music and big-name speakers here. "It's not the glitz and glamour that people are coming for. They are coming to build valued interpersonal business-to-business experiences," he explains.

Through workshops, conversations, and panels at events, SXSW encourages attendees to participate, learn, and network at one overall conference with 24 tracks. These tracks of highly targeted programming  include subjects that run the gamut from brands and marketing to design, code and programming, government, health and wellness, intelligent future, entertainment influencers, film and TV, music, storytelling, food, social impact, and sports.

"'Experiential' seems to have replaced 'impressions' as the marketing buzzword du jour and it's changed the way SXSW, our attendees, and our sponsors interact," says Shea. "Events are experiential by nature, people attend SXSW to be immersed in live and in-person networking, deal-making, enlightenment, and entertainment. This is one reason our trade shows and expositions are among the centerpieces of SXSWeek."

He adds that companies at SXSW are increasingly seeking out "experiential activations that not only promote their brand but really add value to the SXSW attendee experience."


5. Challenge Convention
Global Evento, a luxury corporate event and gift company, was founded on the idea that events and gifting should be an experience -- not just an afterthought or an amenity at turndown in a hotel room. When done well, gifting events are woven into the event experience itself. That was the belief held by Patrick Corley, a managing partner of Global Evento, when he started the Bose Event Experience five years ago.

"Like gifting events, meetings must be experiential to be memorable," he says. To demonstrate that philosophy to clients and industry partners, Corley and fellow managing partner Nathan Boyd headed out on a 10,000-mile road trip around the United States. Starting in St. Louis, its corporate home, the team drove across the country, stopping at cities including New York and Los Angeles, Atlanta and Chicago, and everywhere in between.

Instead of typical meetings and presentations in conference rooms, clients were invited to visit the Global Evento Airstream Travel Trailer, a vintage luxury mobile home from the 1950s. The Airstream was fitted with products and services Global Evento offers every day.

"What an incredible experience. It was the first time we had ever done anything like this before, and we were excited to see that surprise and delighted look on the faces of our clients," says Boyd.

Corley adds that it was, "Like parking an Airstream in Manhattan, approaching meetings, events, and gifting from a new angle is not without its challenges. But if you are doing anything that is too easy, it probably isn't worth doing."

The inaugural road trip was more successful than anticipated. "The industry has become so reliant on emails that sometimes it's easy to forget that nothing can replace time spent face-to-face," explains Corley. "Nothing compares to that direct connection with a client when you are looking to build rapport and trust as you take on partnership in their important events." Global Evento demonstrated that creating an experience produces results. Clients enjoyed leaving their offices and stepping into the Airstream showroom where they got to experiment with a wide array of products. "We don't just source gifts, we will weave them into the experience of your next event," says Corley.


6. Create Exclusivity
Founded in 2015, Synergy Global Forum was created to revolutionize the thinking of entrepreneurs and managers by gathering internationally recognized speakers together to provide a unique learning experience. Since then, Synergy has expanded to New York, London, and Dubai, and attracts upward of 6,000 attendees at each one. Every event provides an environment aimed at providing participants with ways to think differently in how they assess problems, measure success, and reach new heights. With the desire to make it experiential, host cities play an integral role in the Synergy symposium, by providing immersive cultural local tours and entertainment.

Instead of featuring one, two, or maybe three headline speakers for knowledge-hungry entrepreneurs, CEOs, and networkers to learn from, Synergy Global Forum has a stage-full of iconic speakers. This October, the Synergy Global Forum in New York City featured trailblazers that included Sir Richard Branson, Malcolm Gladwell, Gary Vaynerchuk, Jack Welch, Ray Kurzweil, Jimmy Wales, Simon Sinek, Daniel Goleman, Jordan Belfort, Nassim Taleb, Robin Wright, Guy Kawasaki, and Naveen Jain.

"With our lineup of speakers, attendees can lay claim to seeing, hearing, and learning from 13 world-renowned businesspeople, tech visionaries, writers, actors, professors, investors, and activists. Few, if any, conferences offer a similarly prolific lineup," says Synergy Global Forum NYC Director Augusto Carrizo.

Besides the 13 speakers, Synergy Global Forum in New York had three panel sessions filled with luminaries from the worlds of venture capital, media, publishing, entertainment, wearable technology, and nutritional science.

Through the Shapr app, attendees discovered like-minded people, potential clients, partners, and colleagues; scheduled appointments; and shared their experience within their network. An after-party was held at the legendary Hammerstein Ballroom, hosted by DJ Paris Hilton.



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the November 2017 issue of Successful Meetings.


3. Appeal to the Senses
With all eyes on Toronto during the city's annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts staged a surprise four-day experience highlighted by a one-night "celebration of artistry and imagination in the heart of the city."

The event marked the launch of Four Seasons Pop Down, a series of immersive experiences that promised to bring the Four Seasons brand to unexpected settings all over the world, transforming unusual spaces and creating one-of-a-kind events and experiences.

Taking over a vacant retail space in downtown Toronto, the company's first Pop Down brought together a team of Four Seasons artisans from four continents, each presenting an interactive expression of their craft. Mixologists, chefs, and creative masters transformed a raw, concrete space into an unexpected journey through the world of Four Seasons.

Digital mapping, large floral installations, and a floor-to-ceiling herb garden were among the highlights. Eschewing the red carpet, guests -- including celebrities, business leaders, members of the media, filmgoers, and world travelers -- entered through an archway of draping orchids. Once inside, guests were treated to a global tour of tastes and aromas.

The Toronto Pop Down aims to set the stage for further unique transformations, one-of-a-kind experiences, and surprise locations where Four Seasons will "Pop Down" next.


4. Provoke the Attendees
Each year, in spaces specially designed to get attendees thinking, C2 Montréal inspires 5,000 decision makers from around the world to rethink the way they've been doing business. Created by branding agency Sid Lee and Cirque du Soleil, these three days of talks, workshops, brainstorming sessions, meetups, performances, and festivities have been described as "challenging conventions," by The Economist, and "a business conference unlike any other," by Harvard Business Review.

Clowns perform between sessions. Brainstorming is held in chairs 30 feet in the air. "Most of the event business, by design, is stuck in the 20th century. They operate on the principle of a monologue. They put someone on stage and hope to evangelize a crowd. That doesn't work anymore," says Richard St-Pierre, president of C2 Montréal. "Attendees are not visitors. They have a voice. They want to express themselves. They are participants."

C2 is just that: a dialogue among thousands of participants. "We build a platform by which participants express themselves and create their own path forward. C2 is experiential, it is immersive, it is a connection between humans. C2 is the 21st century of doing things," adds St-Pierre.

Best Practices When Creating Experiential Meetings and Events
Experiential meetings "are not passive," says meeting architect Adrian Segar, founder of Conferences That Work, a company that designs and facilitates participation-rich and participant-driven events, and author of Conferences that Work: Creating Events that People Love. "They encourage people to connect and learn through interaction." Here are five simple practices that can lead to more experiential, and thus more effective meetings.
 

Make It Interactive
Meeting participants want to do just that -- participate. They want to be able to take what they heard from speakers and peers and apply it to their work and life.
 

Play Games

By including a few simple games in your meetings, attendees will apply creativity and ingenuity, making the entire experience more engaging.
 

Keep It Flexible
Have your attendees move about and have conversations, and not sit in long rows listening to a lecture-style speaker. Today's successful experiential meetings are social and stimulating and lead to participation. Segar finds that learning is much more effective when it is done in small groups.
 

Allow Attendees Time to Digest What They've Learned
Packed agendas with only 15-minute breaks and 30-minute lunches are not ideal.

Consider sending your attendees information before the meeting starts to make the time they are together more interactive.


Include a Sense of Place

Compelling experiences provide a synergy between location and property. Incorporate the location the group is meeting in to create an experiential occasion with either cuisine, speakers, or pillow gifts that reflect the customs and culture of the area.


3. Appeal to the Senses
With all eyes on Toronto during the city's annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts staged a surprise four-day experience highlighted by a one-night "celebration of artistry and imagination in the heart of the city."

The event marked the launch of Four Seasons Pop Down, a series of immersive experiences that promised to bring the Four Seasons brand to unexpected settings all over the world, transforming unusual spaces and creating one-of-a-kind events and experiences.

For the launch of the Four
Seasons Pop Down, the hospitality
brand recruited chefs, mixologists,
and more to create a multisensory
experience
For the launch of the Four Seasons Pop Down, the hospitality brand recruited chefs, mixologists, and more to create a multisensory experience

Taking over a vacant retail space in downtown Toronto, the company's first Pop Down brought together a team of Four Seasons artisans from four continents, each presenting an interactive expression of their craft. Mixologists, chefs, and creative masters transformed a raw, concrete space into an unexpected journey through the world of Four Seasons.

Digital mapping, large floral installations, and a floor-to-ceiling herb garden were among the highlights. Eschewing the red carpet, guests -- including celebrities, business leaders, members of the media, filmgoers, and world travelers -- entered through an archway of draping orchids. Once inside, guests were treated to a global tour of tastes and aromas.

The Toronto Pop Down aims to set the stage for further unique transformations, one-of-a-kind experiences, and surprise locations where Four Seasons will "Pop Down" next.


4. Provoke the Attendees
Each year, in spaces specially designed to get attendees thinking, C2 Montréal inspires 5,000 decision makers from around the world to rethink the way they've been doing business. Created by branding agency Sid Lee and Cirque du Soleil, these three days of talks, workshops, brainstorming sessions, meetups, performances, and festivities have been described as "challenging conventions," by The Economist, and "a business conference unlike any other," by Harvard Business Review.

Clowns perform between sessions. Brainstorming is held in chairs 30 feet in the air. "Most of the event business, by design, is stuck in the 20th century. They operate on the principle of a monologue. They put someone on stage and hope to evangelize a crowd. That doesn't work anymore," says Richard St-Pierre, president of C2 Montréal. "Attendees are not visitors. They have a voice. They want to express themselves. They are participants."

At C2 Montreal, attendees
are active participants.
At C2 Montreal, attendees are active participants.

C2 is just that: a dialogue among thousands of participants. "We build a platform by which participants express themselves and create their own path forward. C2 is experiential, it is immersive, it is a connection between humans. C2 is the 21st century of doing things," adds St-Pierre.


5. Challenge Convention
Global Evento, a luxury corporate event and gift company, was founded on the idea that events and gifting should be an experience -- not just an afterthought or an amenity at turndown in a hotel room. When done well, gifting events are woven into the event experience itself. That was the belief held by Patrick Corley, a managing partner of Global Evento, when he started the Bose Event Experience five years ago.

"Like gifting events, meetings must be experiential to be memorable," he says. To demonstrate that philosophy to clients and industry partners, Corley and fellow managing partner Nathan Boyd headed out on a 10,000-mile road trip around the United States. Starting in St. Louis, its corporate home, the team drove across the country, stopping at cities including New York and Los Angeles, Atlanta and Chicago, and everywhere in between.

Globo Evento created a mobile
showroom with the Global Evento
Airstream Travel Trailer
Globo Evento created a mobile showroom with the Global Evento Airstream Travel Trailer

Instead of typical meetings and presentations in conference rooms, clients were invited to visit the Global Evento Airstream Travel Trailer, a vintage luxury mobile home from the 1950s. The Airstream was fitted with products and services Global Evento offers every day.

"What an incredible experience. It was the first time we had ever done anything like this before, and we were excited to see that surprise and delighted look on the faces of our clients," says Boyd.

Corley adds that it was, "Like parking an Airstream in Manhattan, approaching meetings, events, and gifting from a new angle is not without its challenges. But if you are doing anything that is too easy, it probably isn't worth doing."

The inaugural road trip was more successful than anticipated. "The industry has become so reliant on emails that sometimes it's easy to forget that nothing can replace time spent face-to-face," explains Corley. "Nothing compares to that direct connection with a client when you are looking to build rapport and trust as you take on partnership in their important events." Global Evento demonstrated that creating an experience produces results. Clients enjoyed leaving their offices and stepping into the Airstream showroom where they got to experiment with a wide array of products. "We don't just source gifts, we will weave them into the experience of your next event," says Corley.


6. Create Exclusivity
Founded in 2015, Synergy Global Forum was created to revolutionize the thinking of entrepreneurs and managers by gathering internationally recognized speakers together to provide a unique learning experience. Since then, Synergy has expanded to New York, London, and Dubai, and attracts upward of 6,000 attendees at each one. Every event provides an environment aimed at providing participants with ways to think differently in how they assess problems, measure success, and reach new heights. With the desire to make it experiential, host cities play an integral role in the Synergy symposium, by providing immersive cultural local tours and entertainment.

Marketer and Apple evangelist
Guy Kawasaki spoke at the
Synergy Global Forum
Marketer and Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki spoke at the Synergy Global Forum

Instead of featuring one, two, or maybe three headline speakers for knowledge-hungry entrepreneurs, CEOs, and networkers to learn from, Synergy Global Forum has a stage-full of iconic speakers. This October, the Synergy Global Forum in New York City featured trailblazers that included Sir Richard Branson, Malcolm Gladwell, Gary Vaynerchuk, Jack Welch, Ray Kurzweil, Jimmy Wales, Simon Sinek, Daniel Goleman, Jordan Belfort, Nassim Taleb, Robin Wright, Guy Kawasaki, and Naveen Jain.

"With our lineup of speakers, attendees can lay claim to seeing, hearing, and learning from 13 world-renowned businesspeople, tech visionaries, writers, actors, professors, investors, and activists. Few, if any, conferences offer a similarly prolific lineup," says Synergy Global Forum NYC Director Augusto Carrizo.

Besides the 13 speakers, Synergy Global Forum in New York had three panel sessions filled with luminaries from the worlds of venture capital, media, publishing, entertainment, wearable technology, and nutritional science.

Through the Shapr app, attendees discovered like-minded people, potential clients, partners, and colleagues; scheduled appointments; and shared their experience within their network. An after-party was held at the legendary Hammerstein Ballroom, hosted by DJ Paris Hilton.



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the November 2017 issue of Successful Meetings.