How to Make Your Next Meetings a Memorable Experience
Why the Most Innovative Meetings Today Look Like Music Festivals
Millennials, they’ve been blamed for a lot of things. The cohort also known as Generation Y has been accused of ruining fast-casual restaurants, department stores, and diamond engagement rings, among many other facets of life that their Baby Boomer parents found perfectly acceptable.
That verdict is clearly a bit harsh. Times change and the Millenials simply represent a new ethos — one that values memory-making experiences over mundane consumerism. One industry after another is learning to adapt to this new reality as Millennials steadily take up a larger and more influential space in society.
The next target for disruption by experience-hungry Millennials is a classic staple of business life: the meeting.
Millennials now make up half of the major meeting attendees.
Traditionally, the fundamental aim of meetings and conferences is rather basic. They serve to connect people so that they can share information and build relationships. In light of changing times, however, everything from committee roundtables, kickoff meetings, town hall discussions, and global conferences are being reexamined with a new goal in mind: increasing engagement
After all, what good is a meeting if no one shows up to it? And with the ubiquity of videoconferencing technology today, everyone needs a compelling reason to leave the comfort of their home base.
Millennials now make up half of the major meeting attendees, and they, in particular, are disinclined to attend stodgy, slow, impersonal, and, frankly, boring meetings. What they do like though, are music festivals.
Globally, music festivals generate more than $20 billion annually, and over 30 million Americans attend at least one each year. In 2018, attendance in the U.S. was up almost 20% over the previous year, according to Nielsen Music, making it the fastest-growing style of live music event.
Millennials are so enamored with multi-day extravaganzas that, according to a 2019 survey by Lending Tree, one-third of Gen Y respondents said they have taken on debt to afford a music festival.
More to See and Do
The hosts of meetings worldwide have taken notice. They are rapidly re-formatting their events to amp up the excitement by adding attention-getting perks like live music, celebrity guests, gourmet eats, comedic performances, unique encounters with emerging technology, and stunningly immersive design.
Even before this trend took hold, several conferences and meetings were known for their loosely interactive and festival-style formats. Events like SXSW, Winter Music Conference, Comic-Con, and Forbes’ Under 30 Summit have long used top-flight entertainment, inspirational speakers, and inventive event design to attract young attendees.
Forbes’ has an all-star speaker lineup slated for its 2020 summit, featuring icons like tennis star Serena Williams, Oculus Rift inventor Palmer Luckey, and NBA pro, Blake Griffin. The headline music acts haven’t been announced yet, but The Chainsmokers and 21 Savage brought down the house last year, and the whole event was a major boon for the city of Detroit, where it was held:
“In bringing together the world’s foremost entrepreneurs and game-changers, our hope is to draw more investment and global attention to the region.”
While headline acts and a carnival atmosphere may be a draw to a broad spectrum of people, the most innovative and engaging meetings tune their focus a little narrower. They craft an experience designed to resonate with their particular audience.
The benefits of doing so are two-fold. Firstly, it puts feet in the arena by presenting a can’t-miss opportunity to learn something valuable and win important connections in a fun and exciting way.
But secondly, by making the event positive and memorable, brands can evangelize attendees. In other words, if you blow someone’s mind in just the right way, not only will they be back again, they’ll tell their friends and their friends’ friends and so on.
More Options, More Personalization
Perhaps the most festival-like change happening to meetings is the new level of personalization being offered. When done properly, thoughtful user journeys enable huge masses and small groups of people to attend the same event while having entirely different experiences that have been custom-tailored for each individual.
Social Tables, an online platform for floor planning, found that 96% of its audience wants and expects more control and personalization at the events they attend. C2 Montréal, an annual 3-day summit in Canada built to stimulate the economy of Quebec, took that lesson to heart in 2019 by offering attendees no less than 11 different ways to spend their time at their event, including:
- Hands-on Workshops
- Collaborative Learning Sessions
- Events Within Events
- Live-broadcast Media Spaces
- Exclusive Immersive Experiences
- Live Performances
- Eye-opening Art Installations
Best of all, there was no set order or time to see most of them.
Who’s Doing It Right?
While SXSW, Winter Music Conference, and other music-focused events were among the earliest to embrace an engaging meeting style, the gaming and e-sports sector has been quick to follow suit. ChinaJoy, for example, the largest annual digital entertainment expo in China, has become a hot ticket for consumers and businesses alike.
Fans of e-sports, online gaming, virtual and augmented reality, wearables, and anime — as well as the representatives of the world’s largest providers of gaming technology and content — mix and mingle through six unique zones at the event, each with its own activities, competitions, shows, and product demos.
While cosplay runways and high-profile e-sports matches are fun and exciting, in terms of raw engagement, there’s nothing quite so literally ‘grabbing’ as being dipped into a pile of stuffed animals in a life-sized claw machine.
If one thing is abundantly clear about this trend in meetings and conferences, it’s that things are just heating up.
Harvard Business Review reports that brands are beginning to view events as not just a place to do business, but as a bonafide marketing channel, on par with traditional and digital outreach. Over half of the respondents of their survey said that event marketing drove more value to their business than other channels.
The reason meetings and events have grown in importance also has a lot to do with the changes that communication technologies have unleashed. Face time (the original, non-digital kind) in 2020 is what’s called a ‘costly signal’ in communications studies.
It takes very little effort to video chat, IM, email, call, or otherwise get a hold of others by digital means. But actually physically going there communicates a much higher level of effort and commitment on the part of the hosts and attendees. Consequently, in-person experiences have become more meaningful than digital interactions, even when the same information is being shared. Simply being there raises the stakes for everyone.
Simultaneously, another trend is promoting growth in this sector. There has been a blurring of the lines between travel for business and pleasure. ‘Bleisure,’ or business leisure travel, is a growing craze in the hospitality industry. If they have to be there, attendees figure they might as well make the most of the experience.
“71% of business travelers surveyed by the Experience Institute said that the location of a meeting was a factor in deciding whether to attend. Almost a third said it was the deciding factor.”
As expectations placed on meetings and conferences continue to evolve, event success will be measured against fulfilling the dual purposes of getting real work done and sharing the latest information while seamlessly incorporating bucket list experiences, local cuisine, world-class entertainment, and groundbreaking design into the mix.
The goal of a meeting or conference is to connect minds, spur creativity, and engage latent powers within us to ideate that are only triggered by collaborating and sharing with others. Yet the setting for this monumental activity is often ill-suited to the mission — with drab surroundings, windowless boxes, dry lectures, and overcrowded meetings that seem to drag on for an eternity.
For your next event, consider incorporating the lessons gleaned from successful music and film festivals. Engaging entertainment, personalized experiences, and live interactions will help you draw a crowd, make your message stick, and create brand evangelists that will spread your message and spur anticipation surrounding your next event.