Large-scale corporate events rely on a lot of moving parts.
When you fail to impress at even one stage of the event, it can come back to bite. Hard. However, when you design your event with intention, and put the guests’ perspective at the heart of every decision, you orchestrate a gathering that boldly attacks disengagement at every front.
Refreshing your events and breaking out of “plan and repeat” is no easy task. But there are tools and field-tested methods for taking a step back and aligning your business goals with your guests’ wants and needs. It’s called: Experience Design.
What is experience design and how does it apply to events?
Let’s first define experience design. Experience design is a practice that uses people-centered insights and leading science-based principles to design transformational experiences.
- “People-centered” means you are putting your guests’ experience into focus.
- “Science-based” means using human behavioral science and academic behavioral research to inform your decisions.
- “Design transformational experiences” means you intentionally lay out your purpose and plan with a goal of taking an experience from old to new.
In the context of events, experience design can apply to your entire event, or simply a certain element. Maybe your final night party needs work, but the rest of the conference is killer. Perhaps the purpose of your event has changed over time. New stakeholders have come in and want to make their mark. Or could it be that your entire conference feels tired and needs a complete reboot? No matter the scope of your needs, experience design provides a blueprint for determining what works, what doesn’t work, and what you want your event to look like.
Rather than taking a top-down approach to event management and production, experience design invites a variety of event stakeholders and partners into the discussion. If you hear someone saying, “We’ve always done it this way” during the planning process, it might be time to rethink your approach.
While some revelations may raise difficult questions about your event, answering them will take your event from good to great. Here are four techniques to help you get started:
1. Guide event decisions with an organizing principle, not just a theme or tagline.
Themes are great for look and feel, but they focus on how an event is staged and played out. Taglines are typically an an expression of your theme or three words strung together with periods in an unproductive attempt to inspire. An organizing principle, however, is different. It gets to the essence of your event.
Director Francis Ford Coppola once said when he is making a movie, he distills the essence of the story into one word. “(When making a movie) you have to answer so many questions everyday” he says. “But every now and then you don’t know the answer…when I make a movie, I always have to have a theme…preferably in one word.” (NPR Interview reference)
The way Coppola thinks about a theme can be explained by his work on The Godfather. His “theme” is not the 1940’s, or organized crime or New York City. Rather, his theme is “succession” and those are simply elements of the setting.
Just like shooting a movie, a large conference has many players that influence decisions. Leading the cast and crew towards a common vision is no easy task. An organizing principle creates a shared vision that can be referenced by each group (your executive stakeholders, event team, brand agencies and event partners) to help unify the action plans around your event.
2. Always consider the guest perspective.
Your event should not feel like an infomercial for your brand. And when it comes to your guests, they are more than an attendee track, a geographical region, or a demographic. Considering the guests’ perspective is about putting yourself in their shoes and identifying what they want to get out of your event.
Effectively building different guest perspectives means asking for feedback (in surveys or anecdotally), identifying common personas, and using your own historical knowledge of the audience. Please keep in mind that reviewing guest surveys is pointless if you do nothing with the feedback.
Once you have a handle on your guests’ perspectives, inject your own humanity. Ask yourself: What would make this experience better if you were the one leaving the kids for four days to go on a business conference in another state? If you hate “networking,” what kind of scenarios would help you meet new people? How can your breakouts address the guests’ concerns instead of simply serving up your company’s latest products or services for sale? If you can get your audience involved in content decisions through co-creation, or user generated content, you are on the road to engagement.
Once you’ve identified some guest challenges, it’s time to tackle them.
3. Map out the entire guest journey.
Now for the fun stuff: Mapping out the guest journey. Engagement with your audience should be the number one goal and your north star. You’re going to turn passive observers into active guests.
Consider every step your guests take in the event life-cycle. This is more than “before, during and after” an event. For the planners out there, this is the time when your attention to detail is going to shine!
Think about the steps in your guests’ journey. How do they hear about the event? How do you announce it and attract them? Once they’ve registered, what do they need to know before-hand, and what happens when they finally get there? Onsite, how do you engage them and excite them? How do you say good-bye? And days, weeks and even months later, how do you make the most of all your hard work and extend those positive memories of your event and your brand?
Your guests’ journey can be mapped by using the “Eight Phases of a Successful Event.” It maps out the key interaction points in the event life-cycle and helps you generate tactics to serve your message at each turn.
4. Design your event’s production and logistics together.
Large-scale events take a village to design, and achieving maximum effectiveness is impossible if everyone is working in their own silos. Too many times, different vendors, marketing agencies, production partners, and event companies are on their own islands and not communicating with each other. There’s no common thread bringing your corporate event team and your event partners together. That’s why alignment can feel off and everyone is calling and emailing you for every answer. If ALL your partners are involved in the same brainstorming discussions, there’s no need to get certain teams “up to speed” on your ideas or have one vendor “sell their idea” to another.
A holistic event solution designs every aspect of event management and production from the same table. Complex event challenges are met head-on by opening the lines of communication between you, your key stakeholders, your event team, and your event partners. By sharing ideas and tying them to your event’s purpose, these teams can design from the same playbook and build upon your event narrative in their own creative ways.
Learn more about how Maritz Travel and CPG Agency can bring an experience design approach to your next event. Contact us today for a free consultation or proposal.