Event experience is everything at conferences and conventions. Impactful venue space design can create the right atmosphere and bring an event to life. Even prior to COVID-19’s impact on the meetings industry, the event experience was very important to conference attendees. With so much material available online, the in-person event experience is an opportunity to meet and network with new and existing colleagues and is one of the main reasons people attend events.
According to Brian Tennyson, principal at LMN Architects, event spaces need to be designed to encourage both formal and often most importantly, informal opportunities to meet. Designated informal areas off the main circulation path with comfortable furniture, quality materials, access to daylight and outdoor spaces all help to encourage these gatherings.
“Attendees are looking for an authentic experience of the destination. If they are traveling to San Diego, Nashville, or Vancouver B.C., they want to experience the destination’s unique qualities and character,” says Tennyson, a well known expert in convention centre design. “The venue design needs to reflect this. We often refer to turning convention centres ‘inside out’ – letting the activity and character of the destination blend into the building while having the event activity in the centre be expressed to the outside neighbourhood or district.”
Convention centres have changed significantly and how the centre interacts with the city is important for the attendee experience.
“Good venue design is a reflection of the destination and will be a catalyst for community growth and increased economic impact. If the building is achieving these goals, it will be a successful venue design,” says Tennyson.
Tennyson identifies some key design elements and trends which include:
Flexibility and Nimbleness. Event spaces need to be designed to support multiple activities. Ballrooms, meeting rooms, exhibit halls and pre-function spaces need to be designed to be flexible to accommodate all activities to varying levels of intensity. These same spaces need to also be nimble so the set up and breakdown between the different event activities is quick and not labour intensive.
Open space learning. This is a buzz word for having smaller group demonstrations/presentations in open areas such as pre-function spaces or other large event spaces. They are designed to be brief and allow attendees to come and go based on interest without disrupting the event.
Meeting evolution. It’s not just the location of meetings that is changing, it’s the format and structure. Attendees want to interact more with the presenter and material. While the old model of a speaker at a podium with slides presenting to an audience hasn’t completely vanished, more and more meeting events are designed to engage attendees with the subject matter. Seating furniture is more varied, and the meeting layout is less formal to encourage more audience engagement.
High quality finishes, lighting, and furniture. A variety of flexible furniture options in public spaces, comfortable with charging capabilities. Focus on attendee experience with more hotel style concierge service desks rather than just the old information desks.
Variety of quality food service options. Informal grab and goes, healthy alternatives, local brands preferred to national chains. Local breweries, specialty coffee shops and retailers are being incorporated into venue design to connect attendees to the place.
Art incorporation. Showcasing local artists within the spaces is another way of connecting the venue with the local community.
Walkable districts. Attendees want the convention centre to be part of a walkable event district. Having hotels, bars, restaurants, coffee shops and local attractions within walking district is highly desired. Attendees want to feel like the district is safe and accessible without having to drive or take an uber.
Outdoor event spaces. more and more popular, especially post COVID. People want a variety of meeting environments, outdoor spaces for both formal and informal activities are a must.
Health and Wellness. Offering morning yoga sessions, incorporating biophilia in spaces, healthy food choices, daylighted spaces and access to the outside help provide a healthy meeting venue. Providing highly filtered air systems and spaces that are well ventilated will be important to attendees.
Theatricalization and customization. Creating memorable events requires incorporating the proper infrastructure in the venue to produce unique event experiences including; adequate rigging, robust electrical and network systems, and colour changeable lighting systems.
Tennyson believes many of the trends in place pre-COVID will continue to thrive post COVID. Meeting formats, informal meeting areas and outdoor event spaces will remain critical.
“The virtual component of some events is not going to disappear; those that choose to attend in person will want that informal face to face meeting opportunity and want to experience the destination,” he says. “Being able to get the material online or virtually may provide increased attendance for those that are not able to travel to an event. Hybrid events are more costly to produce, so the experience of attending virtually may be limited to watching the event and having access to recorded events. I think the next 12 to 18 months will show whether or not hybrid events will grow or fade as part of the meeting experience.”