What’s that theme? Seven ideas for designing event experiences in increasingly demanding environments

Like many of you, this week we had an exploratory meeting with a new client, and as we moved from who we are and how we fit together, the conversation naturally led into their event and what they were hoping to achieve along with possible meeting themes.
Designing event themes and experiencesThemes provide a base platform from which to launch an event, and we recognize their importance. There is definitely such a thing as a tired theme, and for this event, the client said “no decades please”. From guest attire to the music to the food and beverage, the client just felt that they had “been there and done that”. How often do we run into this with our groups?

In our industry we are always looking for inspiration, and there is an endless list of themes or ideas as we look for the next best thing for our events. The question is how many are new and inspiring both to us as planners and to our clients and their guests? With ever-changing pop culture, new marketing mediums and the fantastic technology available from the largest 3D (a la Coachella) application to live streaming content to our mobile devices, the possibilities become limited by imagination and budget/ability to deliver. If it is ultimately our responsibility to excite our guests about their experience, what are we integrating into these events to make them more current, more relevant and more engaging? We have always been under scrutiny from stakeholders, media, sponsors and guests, but the advent of social media has now put even more pressure on what is being created.

Now, knowing much of what we create will be instantly shared (and publicly lauded or criticized) means we need to consider every theme, entrance, colour scheme, linen, speaker/entertainer, costume, lighting effect, stage, meal, service style, CSR initiative and more with the same pre-scrutiny that our guests will give them on site. We used to be able to control the images that went to media, your sponsors, your saved archives of the event, determining the people, lighting and emotions that would be shared. Now we need to make sure that every angle offers an image we can proudly look at knowing we had considered what was behind every angle, and there is consistency and brand appropriateness no matter where a guest finds themselves within their events.

What are some ways we can respond to this demanding environment? Assuming we cannot make everyone check their devices at the door, here are a few

  • Review your event with a full schematic, walking literally through what happens at every step of the event and what every area looks like – the guest view – general and focal points.
  • Determine how you will use lighting to your advantage.
  • Locate your key opportunities – speaker, performance, connection and networking points – and decide how you will guide guests there.
  • Map out your photo opportunities/magic moments and how will people find them.
  • Bring your key stakeholders into the “circle of knowing”, and they will become your onsite ambassadors helping guests seek out highlights.
  • Assign an experienced social media host who can both feed information out and filter and share what your guests are posting.
  • Allow time for everyone to be fully immersed in the key experiences, and allow space and time between for those hallway conversations – these are often the best part of an event.

Themes matter, and they help us create cohesion and a way to gain forward momentum in planning, but don’t be afraid to consider the experience about the theme as you go forward.

About the author:

Tahira Endean, CMP, DES, CED, is a curious event producer, passionate about intentional event design and the integration of now-ubiquitous technology to enhance the human experience at events and everyday. Tahira is committed to the industry and has been recognized for a range of contributions. In 2016, she was named a MeetingsNet Changemaker, and nominated in Vancouver for Global Meetings Industry Day Influencer and MPI BC Chapter Mentor of the Year. In 2015 she was named one of the “Top 5 Women in Event Technology”, was inducted into the Meetings Canada Hall of Fame in the Big Idea category, and most recently was one of Canada’s 20 most Fascinating Women in events from Canadian Special Event magazine. Driven by a fascination with what we are learning about neuroscience and the power of the five senses to enhance memory, knowledge retention and improve connections, she is continually seeking appropriate ways to design the most relevant meeting and event environments. An instructor at BCIT, the British Columbia Institute of Technology, she instructs both Special Event Planning and Sustainable Event Management. She contributed to the 9th CIC Manual which provides the framework for the CMP studies. She is the author of Intentional Event Design: Our Professional Opportunity. Tahira also loves cooking, time with her family, and anything with bubbles!

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