Planners Embrace Transformational Experience-First Events

Skift Take

As we look to the future, planning event experiences is not enough. The next iteration of creating events is considering people’s desire for self-improvement and transformation.

Series: Megatrends 2023

Megatrends 2023

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Gains in efficiency were realized during the pandemic when virtual gatherings were the only option. There was no other choice — business had to be conducted online.

Most companies survived with the help of technology. People met, collaborated, and work got done. As a result, online meetings are here to stay.

Today, attendees need a compelling reason to leave the house and get on a plane to meet in person. Why go to the trouble of traveling if you can access the information presented from home?

Meetings Industry Trends to Watch 2023

In this new report from Skift Meetings, we explore seven key trends that will shape the meetings industry in 2023 and beyond. These trends will shape how we plan, design, and execute business events in the coming year. Download the report now to see what the future holds for the meetings industry in 2023.

Get Your Copy

The days of windowless conference rooms serving rubber chicken and soggy potatoes out of rows of stainless-steel chafing dishes are gone. So are talking heads standing behind wooden lecterns spewing words that dissolve into thin air. 

It is now about creating welcoming environments where attendees drive their own experiences. Agendas are fluid, content shorter, breaks more often, start times later, and lunches longer. The future starting in 2023 is all about self-directed event experiences. 

Attendees are demanding to return home inspired and connected. One of the byproducts of the pandemic is how time is valued more than ever. “Attendees are now more intentional with their time and more empowered about how they spend it. More priority is focused on wellbeing, both physical and mental, and making space for the things and people that enrich us,” said Greg Bogue, chief experience architect at Maritz Global Events.

“We used to be able to embrace the idea that if we build it, they will come. Now, as event designers, we have to think of this with a different lens, with attendees now feeling, ‘If they build it for me, I will come.”

 Greg Bogue, chief experience architect at Maritz Global Events.

Events will continue to focus on connection, community, and content. If the last two years taught the industry anything, it is the fact that connecting face-to-face is powerful. “We see the fallout of what happened to us when that was removed for several years — the toll it took on mental health as individuals as well as the impact on workforce culture,” said Bogue.

Spontaneous conversation during breaks, enjoying a meal together, eye contact, and body language is hard to replicate online. Therefore, meetings and events that encourage connection and meaning are well-positioned for success in the future.

Valuing the Depth of the Experience 

Anick Beaulieu, vice president of growth and partnerships for C2 International, the company behind C2 Montreal, stresses that the depth of the experience is most important. “Creating wow just for wow isn’t enough,” said Beaulieu. “Storytelling must be part of it. Must also leverage the senses, bringing the experience to the next level.”

In-person meetings and events came to a screeching Covid halt. Now that they are back, their design has been reimagined. “It’s about designing for the human and not the corporate function and creating the context for deep connections and collaboration,” adds Beaulieu. 

Planning Experiences Is Not Enough

The experience economy is a multi-billion industry that meetings and events can borrow from to offer attendees an experience they will soon not forget. But according to Bogue, as we look to 2023 and further, planning experiences is not enough. “The next iteration of creating events will take into account people’s desire for self-improvement. How can we design events that are truly transformational? How can we help them become their best? How can we align our events with our attendees’ values? The data collected from our guests about their goals and priorities can be a great tool to help answer these questions,” said Bogue.

With this in mind, Bogue recommends that meeting professionals consider planning less and letting their attendees take more control of the experience. “As event designers, our primary role in this new environment is to create a welcoming and comfortable environment to let attendees drive more of their own experience,” he said. Other recommendations focus on sessions that put the attendees in control. Events that do this well have fluid agendas, shorter content, frequent breaks, late start times, long lunches, and more networking opportunities to allow for self-directed event experiences. 

Experience Should Be Accessible to All

Now and in the future, making the experience accessible for all is a priority. As a result, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) have been a continued focus in the meetings and events industry. Still, there has been one group that has been overlooked, those who are neurodivergent. As a result, a sea of change is underway with Megan Henshall, the strategic solution lead for global events at Google, at the helm.

“If we are not thinking about these individuals when it comes to events and talent acquisition, we are not only doing them a disservice, but also selling ourselves short. By including all, we are creating robust, diverse, effective talent pools for the future,” said Henshall. “To get it right, we must amplify their voices instead of speaking on their behalf.”

Henshall is the force behind The Neu Project, powered by the Google Xi (short for Experience Institute), focused on creating space for every mind to shine. The Neu Project is a diverse, global community working together to make the world more welcoming and productive for neurodivergent communities. Events spaces are just the start, with partnerships in other areas of hospitality, workplace, and beyond on the horizon.

Content Creates an Experience of Understanding

Richard Saul Wurman significantly impacted the industry by reimagining conferences when he created the TED conferences. An architect, author, and graphic designer, Wurman says content is at the core of a successful conference.

“It’s about the conversation, the experience. Not a matter of bells and whistles, how good the food is, or how expensive the decorations are. It can be very simple, minimalistic; it’s offering the experience of understanding,” said Wurman. 

Wurman eliminated teleprompters as well as lecterns. “When one’s crotch is exposed to the audience, they are more vulnerable, and when you are more vulnerable, you are more likely to tell the truth,” he said.

The locations he chose for his conferences were deliberate. For example, Monterey, Calif., was the site of the first TED conference because it wasn’t a major city, and he felt it would help him have a captive audience. The conference has since relocated to Vancouver, a relatively large city with inspiring natural surroundings.

The conversations were the draw of Wurman’s TED conference. Building on these mind-bending chats, he made sure to give them ample time between sessions for digesting what was said, networking, and just letting the air out. As the world of work evolves, this is also important as people are no longer “out of the office” and need time to answer emails.

Creating a fear of missing out (FOMO) will continue to draw people to events. Experience-first events provide participants with connections, community, insights, and knowledge that help them transform and evolve. The best events combine these elements in a way that participants cannot get anywhere else.

Meetings Industry Trends to Watch 2023

In this new report from Skift Meetings, we explore seven key trends that will shape the meetings industry in 2023 and beyond. These trends will shape how we plan, design, and execute business events in the coming year. Download the report now to see what the future holds for the meetings industry in 2023.

Get Your Copy

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Tags: event planners, megatrends 2023

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