by Tahira Endean
Who remembers that moment in time with no meetings or events, no air travel, no need to wear pants to work? For at least one full year, we met people online, learned how to work remotely and either fell in love with this or were desperate to return to the office, at least some of the time. We wore masks if we left the house, and we didn’t go to any events. There were no events to go to. There was no standing in line for registration, waiting for mediocre coffee, wondering who we might see, hoping someone would talk to us. Our entire industry waited, learned, and planned for the return and we all said, “we can come back stronger. We can do events differently”. Let’s check and see how we are doing.
Having been back into designing and attending many live events over the past year, I would argue the majority did not come back stronger. The lines are as long, the coffee about the same and our opportunities to connect with others did not radically improve for most participants. I vividly recall an event early in the return to live events, with 100 participants, spread out with 10 feet between chairs, each of us a learning island. Until the coffee break, when we all swarmed the one coffee station, passed the cream to one another, edged close to the gifting tables and – gasp – hugged people we knew. As we moved further into the return of events, the chairs got closer, the hugs longer and for the majority, masks were left behind.
Now the tough questions. What elements are we including that create a memorable experience, one that participants enjoy in the moment, and remember in the future? What are we doing to ensure participants are comfortable, learning is applicable, connections deeper and opportunities for individual growth are created? How are event designers carrying through the messages from an organization’s leaders and purposefully bringing together teams, in some cases teams that are now working remotely and starved for face-to-face connection?
Each of you will have had your own experience, and I encourage you to take a few moments and consider the questions. How do you feel about the last event you attended? Designed? What would you improve on next?
I believe in the power of live events to connect people, to be a catalyst for change, and to be memorable.
To achieve this, event designers and those that support every aspect of experience delivery must understand human nature and its evolution through the pandemic. We all shifted. There is information all around us about designing for inclusion, creating equity in our organization’s cultures and events, building safe spaces for people to feel welcomed, heard and appreciated and we can tap into this body of knowledge and create events that bring meaning and joy. We do this with intention. We design spaces that allow for serendipity, quiet time and reflection, points of connection over hospitality and experiences that offer surprise and delight moments that wake up our minds and open us to learning and connecting. We deliver program formats that allow for information delivery, application and discussion with content that provokes new thinking and ideas to be generated.
Wellbeing must be an active part of the design, literally. Consider movement of participants including walking (or rolling) meetings, times and spaces where you can include nature in the event, and water available for hydration. When designing your food program, it is about health, allergies and preferences, and the easiest way to manage these is two-fold. First ask your participants what they need, and what they might like. Then use the technology you have and either send out or put into the app the menus, whether being provided or available for purchase on site. Over inform on what the experience will be from the time of arrival to a destination through the event. Information gives every participant power and time to plan for taking care of themselves.
Welcome people. It sounds so simple, but when was the last time you were greeted by name or had a board member (association) or leader introduce you to someone you might have something in common with, starting the collaboration that is a highlight of why we attend face-to-face events and how we build more creative and even innovative cultures over time. It requires people to be actively engaged with each other, and live events are the greatest opportunity available to do this.
Let’s remember the magic in what we do with live events, especially on the tough days at work. Let’s support each other as we forge memorable and meaningful events and build and nurture the bonds that grow our organizations. Let’s create spaces where we all feel a sense of belonging.
Tahira Endean is the head of programme for IMEX, where in 2023 Human Nature is the focus of the education and experiences being created. The author of Intentional Event Design, Our Professional Opportunity, and one project away from receiving her Masters of Science in Creativity and Change Leadership, she has a deep passion for all that is possible when we design live experiences.