We recently returned from the 25th Annual IRF Education Invitational, where speaker Tahira Endean shared the philosophy behind her book, Intentional Event Design. Many of her points rang true to us and fell in line with the way we think about — and design —meetings and events. Endean explains that events need to be intentional, mindful, purposeful, worthwhile and transformative. And businesses that rinse and repeat their meetings will continue to get the same results — or lack thereof. Unintentional events are a waste of money, resources and time.
Intentional event design starts by engaging meeting stakeholders to truly understand the participants and business purpose. According to Endean; there are two people-centric principles to recognize:
- Businesses invest in events because they provide a catalyst for behavior change leading to business growth.
- Participants attend events because they crave face-to-face opportunities for learning and intelligent conversations with like-minded individuals.
Purpose-Driven Meetings Produce Business Results
It all starts with the why. Many businesses invest a lot of money (millions, even) into meetings and events because they are effective in helping them reach goals and solve challenges. A training meeting should lead to more efficiency at work, a celebration should make customers feel appreciated (and in turn, make them want to buy more), and a sales meeting should motivate your team to sell. Really digging into that “why” and crafting a story, or event thematic, around it will inspire participants and help you reach your business goals.
In Creative Group’s i|xperience® approach, we design experiences that achieve the objective of the event and encourage the audience to engage in the messaging and the brand at every touchpoint. These experiences change behavior by educating and motivating action.
Understanding Participants: Empathy Mapping
Once you’ve established the inspiration, understanding the participants and tailoring the experience to their wants and needs will make it inherently personal to them. What is their motivation for attending? What do they hope to learn? Who do they hope to meet? What are they giving up by being there? Using tools like empathy mapping will help to define the entry and exit behaviors.
Once you know what’s important to the participants and what you’d like them to walk away with, you can design the event. While each audience is unique and will require specific planning and consideration, a few general rules were gleaned from Endean’s presentation: create spaces for connection, think “people-first,” and impart feelings at every touchpoint.
Create Spaces for Connection
One of the main reasons people attend meetings and events is to connect with others on a similar topic and learn from each other as much as from the presenters. Create spaces to encourage chance encounters and comfortable conversations. Think cocktail rounds versus 6-foot tables. Fully utilize the venue too – is there an ideal seating area in the hotel lobby to accommodate your workshop?
Use a People-first Approach
We all have a desire to shape our own experiences and make them personal to us. And technology has enabled this in many aspects of our lives with mobile apps. Really get to know your audience. You’ll want to make them feel safe and comfortable enough in your environment for them to share and learn. When you make people feel like they can manage their life within the meeting, it will be more relaxing and enjoyable for them.
Every Touchpoint Emits a Feeling
Whether you realize it or not, participants judge your brand on every aspect of your event: from the initial invitation to the registration process to the entire onsite vibe. Every touchpoint with a participant will evoke a feeling (good, bad, or indifferent) that will eventually shape and define their feelings about your brand and nudge them to act one way or another.
Meeting Design Ideas
There are many other ways to be intentional, mindful, and purposeful about your meeting design too. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Use merchandise or SWAG (Stuff We All Get) to increase brand awareness, incite action, educate, communicate and personalize the experience.
- Utilize color and music to set the right tone.
- Apply data and technology to enhance the participant experience and prove ROI to stakeholders.
- Incorporate wellness and keep a brain-friendly agenda.
- Work with a professional team – the overall value will be well worth it in the end.
When you put the participant at the center of all the planning decisions you make, it makes a huge difference. And it will truly be noticed as the experience unfolds; making the business investment worth every penny.
For more insight into creating experiences that drive business growth, download our free paper: Creating the Ultimate Experience.