This month, I’d like to highlight an occupational hazard. As event planner/producers, we are designers of moments – of EVERY moment. Take a look at our production schedules – every detail of every minute is listed from before we arrive onsite to well after the guests have left. By the time an event comes along, we will have thought through every angle, every motion, every emotion, and every contingency plan needed for attendees to get the most out of the time they are participating in the event.
We have trained ourselves to look at each moment as an opportunity to design an optimal outcome. Typically, we look at the structure of the event as a means to an end for the client. “How do we capitalize on the time people are with us to get a message across and increase the stakeholder’s Return on Investment?” At the same time, we are also focused on how the participants will feel after they have left the event. “How do we create an experience that is likely to drive the attendee to fill out the post-event survey providing us quantifiable data to prove the positive ROI to the stakeholders?”
In this past year, it has become abundantly clear through both post-event surveys, as well as simply talking with people about their experiences at events, time and again we hear that they are looking for authenticity in their experience – longing for a (real) moment with other participants. You could say we are seeing a shift toward needing to increase our focus toward planning for participant’s ROEx (Return on Experience), in addition to balancing the client’s ROI.
In order to shift our approach on the front end, I think we need to look at what is going on in the world around us to fully understand why our attendee’s needs have shifted. Two major contributors come to mind when thinking of societal influencers: a constant Headline News cycle and online Social Networking platforms.
We cannot ignore the emotional state of society and how our attendees are responding to it. Sadly, we are in a place of constant fear and anticipation of the next “breaking news” headline graphically defining another human tragedy followed with an aggressive, negative and divisive political campaign filling the few gaps in between. We hardly have the opportunity to comprehend the depth of the headline, let alone have a conversation with a fellow human being, before another new headline takes over. It’s a very heavy one-sided conversation in which we are all simply the recipients of the information.
To add to that, as a society, we have successfully integrated social media into our lives both personally and professionally. It’s a fantastic forum for expressing thoughts and ideas from the safe distance of your own device. However, seldom do we actually engage in dialogue on this platform; we state our opinions/thoughts and move on, resulting in a false sense of connection.
Considering our collective state of information overload and empty connections with large electronic social networks, it’s not surprising there’s a basic need for more time to connect with peers when the opportunity presents itself. The days of just simply offering a few “networking” coffee breaks or a cocktail hour are over. These are not providing enough of a (real) connection amongst our attendees.
So, how do those of us who spend our days scripting, designing, manipulating and creating moments of ROI for our clients step back enough to empower our attendees to have a (real) moment and a (real) conversation to increase their ROEx? We must provide them with what we are all scrambling for in our personal lives; a few moments to catch a breath, open our eyes, look around, understand how we fit where we are, appreciate what we have to contribute to that moment, in that location, at that very moment in time, and feel appreciated for being there to do so.
How can we foster participant ROEx on-site?
For larger events, find some quieter corners for lounge settings where guests can sit down and have conversations without yelling over the entertainment. Have some fun with it and name it something along the lines of a “Real Talk Lounge” or “The No Phone Zone.”
When designing the aesthetic of a networking environment, make it comfortable and familiar. The more familiar an environment, the more comfortable attendees will be to be themselves.
Let naturally social environments be just that, social. Allow guests to chat with each other during meals and resist the urge to fill every moment with content. The sharing of ideas at a meal may foster better and more developed conversations throughout the day.
Remember that conversations generally happen around a circle. When designing your event environments, providing seating conducive to conversation will provide better results. Theater and classroom styled seating are great for the delivery of information from the stage, but crescent and full rounds or lounge seating naturally encourages engagement amongst attendees.
The above ideas are not new, fresh or overly inventive; however, they are often the first things to change for the sake of logistical ease or being “creative and new” in event design. Our event participants have noticed this shift and are now asking for their return in some form or fashion. So, we need to be having this conversation!
Now, for a second, back to that occupational hazard… I’m finding myself seeing the summer quickly slip away as we plan and script the many moments of our upcoming busy fall season. In respect to the needs of the attendees, I need to take a bit of my own advice to stop feeling the weight of the heavy headlines, open my eyes to what is happening right in front of me instead of what others are doing on social media, engage with the people around me and simply enjoy an unscripted, unscheduled, unposted (real) moment in my beautifully simple little corner of this big complicated world.
If you are interested in and need a (real) moment as well, I’d love for you to join me. I’d love to hear some inventive and creative ways you have experienced (real) connections or found yourself taking in a (real) moment at an event, perhaps on a patio while enjoying a beverage.