Event experiences for the modern attendee

Merely functional events aren’t enough any more; event planners need to evaluate what will make their events memorable and deliver experiences that have a lasting impact on attendees.

Millennials will enjoy unusual venues such as the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier in San Diego.

Millennials will enjoy unusual venues such as the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier in San Diego.

By Stephanie Harris

With the multitude of external and internal distractions, it has never been more challenging to engage with attendees at events. As a result, the meeting planner’s role is shifting well beyond logistics to focus on delivering the quality experience that will entice attendees and achieve the event’s key objectives. Attendees today are increasingly sophisticated and technologically savvy. Merely functional events aren’t enough anymore; event planners need to step back from the basic logistics they become tangled in and evaluate what will make their events memorable and deliver experiences that have a lasting impact on the attendees.

Choose a unique location

Get creative when it comes to choosing your next meeting location. As highlighted in the 2019 Global Meetings and Events Forecast by American Express Meetings & Events, a division of American Express Global Business Travel, the younger workforce is becoming increasingly dissatisfied with “typical” event spaces, like hotels. Instead, they are responding more to venues that break conventions and add flavour to their meetings. Next time you’re tasked with booking a meeting, consider a nightclub that the public never gets to see by day, an aquarium after hours or an airport hangar usually reserved for private jet use. As long as the idea is feasible from a budgetary standpoint and supports the event’s goals, let your imagination go wild. 

The experience matters

Meetings attendees valuethe holistic experience. As a result, think about ditching the swag they may leave behind and instead focus your energy on creating unforgettable experiences. This doesn’t necessarily mean big-ticket spectacles that require budget increases. It allows for the infusion of more creative thinking into the event details to make it memorable for your audience – whether that’s increasing the audiovisual and lighting effects or kicking off the event in a more interactive way. 

Think outside the three-course meal

Thinking outside the three-course meal, Victor Restaurant in Downtown Toronto offers retro food, like Grandma used to make.

Thinking outside the three-course meal, Victor Restaurant in Downtown Toronto offers retro food, like Grandma used to make.

Dietary restrictions and preferences like gluten-free, keto, vegan and more are challenging the set menu paradigm, which can be restrictive to your attendees. Instead of a basic three-course menu, consider an option with more variety, like food stations. 

Integrating a “build your own” station also allows attendees to express their individuality by picking and choosing the ingredients to customize their dish. Displaying nutritional or anecdotal information about the food adds to your attendees’ sense of autonomy and choice. You can take it even further by connecting your menu with a local vendor, sharing their story and offering additional insight about the event’s location. 

Stray from the traditional format

The average attention span is now only eight seconds long. As a result, it can be difficult for anyone to give their undivided attention to a 60-minute lecture, no matter how interested they are in the topic or engaging the moderator is. To keep your attendees from losing focus, break the itinerary into 20-30-minute increments and insert interactive discussions in between. Also, avoid packing the itinerary too tight, especially if you’re sticking to just one venue. Vary the event structure and leave the opportunity for your attendees to take quick breaks and refresh.

Delivering social media moments

Don't forget about social media moments. JW Marriott The Rosseau Resort in Muskoka, Ont. has a highly instagrammable lobby.

Don't forget about social media moments. JW Marriott The Rosseau Resort in Muskoka, Ont. has a highly instagrammable lobby.

Don’t skip the opportunity to make your event social media-worthy. Meetings attendees are eager to share their day-to-day lives on social platforms – and that includes their event experiences. Whether that means beautifully presented food or selfie opportunities with the keynote speaker, the event should offer moments worth sharing on social media. Make it even easier for them to do so by providing complimentary Wi-Fi access, as well as a fun hashtag they can use to promote the event. 

Embrace technology

It’s unavoidable: event attendees will likely check their phones during an event. Rather than banning smartphones – a popular meeting trend – embrace them by creating a conference-specific app that attendees can focus their attention on. Within the app, you might offer a private platform where they can connect with each other, and a searchable directory with attendee bios. You also might integrate augmented reality or gamification elements, where they earn points when they check in at certain stations. But don’t forget, if you offer an app you should also offer charging stations so attendees can power up their devices. After all, if a phone dies and there’s no place to bring it back to life, they may be tempted to head back to their hotel room.

As senior director, Event Services & Marketing for American Express Meetings & Events, Stephanie Harris is responsible for driving growth in the Custom Event Services business, and developing and managing all aspects of marketing strategy and execution.

American Express Global Business Travel (GBT) is the world’s leading business partner for managed travel.