When we ask clients about their event challenges, we frequently hear: “Every year it becomes harder and harder to top last year’s event.” At Maritz Global Events, we face the same challenge. Particularly for e4, our annual invite-only educational event for customers and prospective customers. Every year we raise the bar for industry education through interactive learning and collaboration. This year, our experience in the beautiful harbor city of Baltimore was no exception!
Graciously hosted by the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront, we enjoyed the hotel’s prime location and recently renovated guest rooms, as well as local culinary specialties like fresh Maryland crab and Baltimore “pit beef.” And because we don’t like to stay in one place too long, we were able to escape off-site to unique spots throughout the city for evening functions and activities. By engaging with our peers, we discussed how to reinvent the event experience for our organizations, our guests, and the industry. I certainly encountered new ideas and made new friends along the way.
There is also an unofficial 5th “e” we like to incorporate every year, experimenting. Science is in our DNA as a company, and this year we experimented with new learning environments. We took all 500+ guests to nine different off-site venues for educational sessions on Monday afternoon. What could have been a transportation nightmare turned into intimate group experiences across the city. Supported by our industry partners, and enabled by our clients’ willingness to experiment and contribute in peer-to-peer content, we were able to learn from each other and experience everything the “Charm City” has to offer.
And because there’s nothing more enjoyable for #eventprofs than a list, here are my top five takeaways from e4:
1. Understand Your Event Objectives and Design for Them
Maritz Global Events launched our first-ever Event Impact Report at e4, which highlights the latest trends in creating more impactful events. We analyzed data from 400+ client business objectives to understand what companies really need their events to do. In our session with Maritz Global Events’ Chief Experience Architect, Greg Bogue, we uncovered that most organizations are primarily focused on the business impact of their events. This makes sense because events are expensive to produce and organizations are always striving to show ROI to leadership. But we also found that some organizations are measuring attendee impact (objectives such as improving loyalty and retention, driving better engagement, and furthering professional development). You can download a copy of the report, which details the six major event objectives and ideas to achieve them here.
2. Incorporate the Aesthetics of Joy
Have you ever considered the difference between happiness and joy? Our first keynote speaker, Ingrid Fetell Lee, author of Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, explained that joy happens instantly in small moments, while happiness is a more broad equation that evaluates many factors. Through #joyspotting, she shared ideas to incorporate joy into our events. Here are just a few:
- In design: Curves set us at ease – use them when possible. Sharp points activate our defenses.
- Peak moments become memories. Example: A balloon drop from the ceiling at the end of your event.
- You can inspire awe in your attendees by directing their vision upwards – Think about using venues with tall ceilings or up-lighting on tall trees when outdoors.
- Use circles, spheres, and bubbly-form designs to express joy. You can also utilize “pops of color” in space that contains mostly neutral tones.
3. Beyond “Wellness” – Think About Guests’ “Well-Being”
We had amazing fitness classes at e4, but we explored the idea of “wellness” beyond fitness and into the idea of “well-being.” Progressive organizations are weaving well-being into the fabric of their events. These are just a few of the different dimensions of well-being and questions to ask when planning your events:
- Intellectual Well-Being: How are you allowing for creativity? What new knowledge or skills can your guests acquire?
- Physical Well-being: What physical activities can you offer? Are there healthy menu options? Are there reasonable amounts of sleep and downtime each day?
- Social Well-being: Are you offering any sort of CSR (corporate social responsibility) elements to your event? Do attendees know whom to reach out to if they have an issue or concern?
- Environmental Well-being: How are you making your event more sustainable?
- Career Well-being: Are you offering any opportunities for professional or personal growth?
4. Consider Space Design
In a session about future trends in events, Doug Melinn of Steelcase Event Experiences shared some of his tips on how event space design can encourage deeper learning, collaboration, and focus. Guests also need a place to charge their devices and check email, rather than leave your event and retreat to their room. We learned to consider different zones within the same meeting room or event space. For example:
- Welcome Zone: An inviting space that sets the tone for the event.
- Learning Zone: Intended for guests to learn and/or collaborate. Consider table seating or swivel chairs if you intend to collaborate. Put “high-boy” tables in the back for a clear line of sight. Set comfortable seats in the front of the room to encourage guests to sit there. Always keep comfort and viewpoints in mind.
- Connect Zone: Created with intentional and impromptu encounters in mind. Side-to-side seating is more collaborative than directly face to face.
- Explore Zone: Allow guests to interact with the environment or items being displayed. We see this a lot in product launches and demo areas.
- Focus Zone: Guests need a place to focus, check email, or make a phone call. Create a focus zone with charging outlets so guests don’t completely leave your meeting. We had a ton of people using our focus zones at e4!
5. Human Connection and “Surprise & Delight”
Our closing keynote speaker, Johnny Earle, founder of Johnny Cupcakes, was a master storyteller who explained the lessons he has learned in business through his own life experiences. His keynote covered topics from building brand loyalty to creating memorable experiences. But I thought the two biggest highlights of Johnny’s presentation weren’t actually bullet points he made — they were the connections he made with his audience and his use of novelty.
In the event world, we always aim to surprise and delight our guests when we can. Johnny surprised our entire closing general session with a small gift beneath each chair. It was a nice unexpected touch that took our brains out of autopilot. But the gift wasn’t the end of our experience…
Johnny told the audience that if they wrote a personal note on their business card and gave it to him after his speech, he would follow up personally with each individual. It sounded like a lofty aspiration, but less than a week after e4, I received a Johnny Cupcakes t-shirt sitting on my desk in custom packaging signed by Johnny himself!
Johnny not only surprised me again, he extended my e4 experience. My takeaway – besides the shirt? – don’t underestimate the power of surprise and human connection.
Looking Ahead to 2020
Next year, we are taking e4 to Portland. The destination and our event team have some pretty big shoes to fill. Luckily we are always up for a challenge and I hear there’s a shoe company there that is also pretty creative.
See you next year!