Nothing has driven the events industry in recent years more than delegates’ craving for memorable experiences. Business leaders and scholars have put a label on this social force – the Experience Economy – economy that is fuelled by demand for live experiences, not physical goods.
Eventbrite recently ran research that revealed 78% of millennials would rather spend money on live experiences than material things. And with millennials becoming the most populous part of society, and obviously of audiences too, this represents an optimistic outlook for event planners.
But it’s not that easy. Audiences are getting more and more demanding.
For this reason, event planners are in constant search of new ideas that will awe clients and create powerful experiences for delegates.
With this in mind, I’ve scoured the internet to find the event concepts that have succeeded in orchestrating meaningful experiences. I’ll stop rambling here. You’ve come for inspiration, not theorizing. Enjoy.
These events are based on two things; the secrecy of impenetrable societies that elicit curiosity, and the unique location where they take place. The location is kept top secret and often revealed only a couple of hours before the event kicks off, to heighten expectation.
The Lost Lectures is the underground series that hosts enchanting talks in secret locations. The organizers re-imagine the lecture concept, pushing its boundaries by creating immersive worlds and unforgettable experiences with world-class speakers.
The Lost Lectures planners take attendees from ordinary corporate and academic environments and bring them into secret hideouts where an engaging program line and mind-altering experiences await them.
The previous secret locations ranged from the historic ‘StummfilmKino Delphi’ in Berlin to an abandoned theater in London that was closed to the public for over 65 years.
The Czech-based project, Cinema Royal, works with a similar concept. Film projections take place in locations that have often laid abandoned for years.
The venue is designed to bring the film atmosphere to life. To enforce the experience, actors stage live acts that pull the attendees in and allow them to live the storyline.
Everything is kept top secret up to the very last moment. The attendees who have signed up receive only cues about the film and instructions for the dress code. The organizers gather attendees at a meeting point and then transport them to the actual event site.
I’m sure you have heard about silent discos by now – the parties at which participants equipped with wireless headphones dance silently to one of the playing DJs. Motivated by positive audience acceptance, conference organizers started incorporating wireless headphone technology at their conferences.
Sounds weird? Well maybe at first, but using headphones solves some of the most common problems including:
Lack of break-out rooms – wireless headphone systems enable a room full of delegates to break off into smaller groups, each hearing a different presentation, all in one room at the same time.
Lack of attention – in the noisy exhibition halls, you can broadcast your content straight to your attendees without getting your message lost.
Still can’t imagine how it works in practice? Watch this video.
At every conference, there is a time to learn, but there is also a time to have fun. Implementing the following party concepts can help you boost your delegates’ experience outside the learning sessions.
Instead of having lunch in the bistro, people gather to dance and rave during their lunch break. The organizer of Lunch Beat Stockholm, Daniel Odelstad, explains that the one-hour event is all about getting in as much dancing as possible given the time constraints.
Adopting the Fight Club narrative, the Lunch Beat organizers stress the importance of participation through dancing; If it’s your first lunch at Lunch Beat, you have to dance.
This type of event is a great bonding experience for delegates as the common activity of dancing brings people together. There is no alcohol, just the entrance fee that will get you a sandwich.
Many conferences realize the overload of vague online content and emphasize the importance of actionable tips. The two events below truly walk the talk and bring practical knowledge that is tailored for their audiences.
“Death by PowerPoint” can be highly infectious. The SaaStr Annual Conference, the largest gathering of SaaStr founders, found the cure. They ditched the presentations altogether and conducted onstage interviews with their guests instead.
SaaStr organizers noted on their website: “No endless slide shows. Instead, hands-on sessions that teach you how to do it. How to go from $0 to $100m in ARR. Faster, better, with less stress, and more success.”
This conference prides itself on offering delegates concrete takeaways and lively discussions with industry leaders.
Each session starts with content-rich presentations from CMOs, CEOs and other thought leaders in the space.
After the presentations, delegates get to vote on the topic they’ll discuss as a panel and shape the discussion for maximum relevance.
Delegates have unprecedented access to speakers, with live Q&A to ensure they get the most value.
Invented by the Silicon Valley techies as an alternative to conventional conferences, unconferences are participant-driven meetings that put the reins into the hands of participants.
These conferences are built on the premise that “there is much more expertise in the audience than there possibly could be onstage,” as BarCamp co-founder Ryan King said.
No other event revolutionized active participation as much as Burning Man did. The radical inclusion of participants is deeply embedded in its DNA; there are no passive observers, only active participants. Festival goers co-create their experience by participating in constructing gigantic art statues and engaging in live acts.
It’s exciting to see the events industry building some of these principles into its design. One of the examples is the FRESH conference dedicated to meeting designers. It’s a lab, an incubator where participants can take a dive into new formats, co-create art, test the latest technology and co-design sessions in real time.
Devised in Tokyo in 2003 by local creatives, PechaKucha is a simple presentation format where speakers show 20 images, each for 20 seconds. The images advance automatically and speakers talk along to the images.
These two events work on a very similar basis: Ignite Talks, Lightning Talks
The tech scene doesn’t bring innovation only in its own field; project-orientated software engineers like to get things done, and they inject this mantra into their events too.
Startup Weekends are 54-hour long events where developers, designers, marketers and product managers come together to share ideas, form teams, build prototypes and ultimately launch startups.
During this weekend-long event, attendees have a chance to learn through the act of creation; they come up with a strategy, build a prototype and test it on the go.
Startup Weekends attract the local tech and entrepreneurial companies. By working in teams, attendees can start building strong relationships with potential co-workers or investors.Sebastian ter Burg]
These coding, brainstorming, editing marathons bring together people from the same field or internal teams to work collaboratively on a specific project.
They last from one day to a whole week.
They have a tangible goal that they strive to achieve, such as to develop a usable software, brainstorm a list of innovative ideas, or edit a specific topic or type of content.
Hackathons are gradually penetrating the events industry too. The FRESH conference in Barcelona concluded with the first hackathon on the sea where participants brainstormed how to implement innovative, creative and artistic solutions to pharma meetings on a boat.
A Knowledge Café or World Café is a type of business meeting or organizational workshop that taps into the collective knowledge of participants and helps them share ideas and gain a deeper understanding of the subject and issues involved.
One of the pioneers, David Gurteen, explains how it works:
Knowledge Cafe usually kicks off with a facilitator spending 10-15 minutes outlining the subject or theme of the Café and then poses a single open-ended question.
The group then breaks up into small groups of about five each and discusses the questions for about 45 minutes. Then everyone comes back together for the final 45 minutes where each group shares its thoughts.
Optionally in the small group sessions, people change tables every 15 minutes to increase the number of people they get to interact with and thus gain knowledge of the differing perspectives of groups.
This is not an event in itself, but rather a super-engaging meeting concept that deserves to be listed here nonetheless. Fishbowl conversations are usually used in participatory events like Unconferences and Open Space Technology (see point 5)
A fishbowl panel discussion is derived from a popular open fishbowl conversation format. In a fishbowl panel, two-three chairs are filled with guest panelists and one chair is left empty for audience members. The moderator introduces the topic, and the panelists start discussing it.
Any member of the audience can, at any time, occupy the empty chair and join the fishbowl panel. When this happens, an existing member of the fishbowl must voluntarily leave the fishbowl and free a chair.
The discussion continues with participants frequently entering and leaving the fishbowl panel until the time is up. Then the moderator summarizes the discussion.
Which other innovative event concepts do you know? As always, please share in the comments below.