Meeting planners today operate in an incredibly competitive environment. And with today’s stressors, having a way to decompress is always welcome. Associations are eager to attract attendees, and planners continue to look for unique ways to give added incentives to attend a meeting, convention or event. Planners are also increasingly recognizing the vital role that adding an element of stress-free fun can play in marketing efforts and how investing in memorable relaxation options can enhance the overall experience of organizers and attendees alike.
When determining potential choices for a meeting or event, Meggie Francisco, event planner and designer at Meggie Francisco Events, always encourages her clients to consider the purpose of the event first. Inevitably, unique ideas that are appropriate for the theme, audience or location of an event emerge. “Needing to push the organization to a new level? Maybe an intense Ninja Warrior course will do the trick,” Francisco says. “Trying to foster a culture of family? Invite attendees to a game show styled after ‘Family Feud’. Hoping to promote a sense of fun and humor? Break attendees into groups for a lip-sync competition.”
Location Plays A Role
The location of an event always inspires creative relaxation ideas. An event in Napa Valley begs for a dose of lively French club jazz during a wine-tasting hour, or maybe even a surprise appearance of can-can dancers. A conference in Mexico can thrill guests with a mariachi performance. A meeting at Walt Disney World Resort would benefit from a lighthearted magician. “Every client tells me, ‘We want something different that our attendees haven’t seen before.’ Nobody wants to host an event that feels stale. For instance, while photo booths were hot for a while, they’ve become a bit passé. Thankfully, entertainment professionals are spicing things up,” Francisco says. Studio Z Photo Booths, for example, has devised a 360-degree photo booth that enables participants to create videos straight out of the movie “The Matrix.” Banga Booth in Toronto has created experiential portrait lounges complete with jaw-dropping background designs and a photographer who coaches attendees to snap the perfect haute couture pose. MirMir photo booth offers a mysterious filtering process that creates a flawless and glamorous look straight out of Vanity Fair magazine.
“Meeting planners become a trusted extension of the hosts of the event,” Francisco says. “Event hosts are under constant pressure to get results, whether that’s in the form of ticket sales, attendee engagement or feedback, or public relations benefits. A ‘same old, same old’ event won’t support any of these goals. Unique and creative relaxation offerings help event hosts attract attendees, keep them interested and gain publicity after the fact.”
Indeed, meeting planners need to entice their attendees to events with some fun and unique ideas to keep them interested. Whether it’s the dynamic concert in the evening or a celebrity speaker during the actual conference, meeting organizers must differentiate their event from all others.
Create An Experience
According to Nicole Coon, CMP, meeting and event manager at Housing First Minnesota, and current Meeting Professionals International (MPI) Minnesota Chapter president, attendees are seeking experiential opportunities at events, along with customization. Event organizers need to be mindful of how an event is being designed by creating memorable experiences for the attendee and opportunity to have the event more personalized for each participant.
“Event attendees want to experience that ‘wow’ factor,” Coon says. “In the age of social media, participants are looking for that post-worthy image or moment to capture and share.” Going unique or creative while designing the event makes it more memorable, hopefully in a way that an event participant would be hooked to come back the next year or try a different offering by the organizer.
For Lainey Morse, founder and president of Original Goat Yoga, incorporating relaxation activities that are all about making people smile, laugh and forget about stress is paramount. Morse began offering goat yoga in 2016 and now has satellite locations across the U.S. They’ve done events for Nike, Google, Facebook and many other organizations. “Teambuilding events seem to be the biggest trend at the moment,” Morse says. We also go to large convention centers and do goat yoga for their participants. Adults tend to take themselves too seriously and it’s a great way to be silly, get out in nature, bond with animals and have fun. It’s also something that people will never forget and they’ll be talking about it at work or posting pictures online.”
As Morse explains, life and work stress are hard and many attendees find goat yoga an activity that is unique, memorable and it makes everyone laugh together. “Even the biggest, burliest of men that walk in with the long face thinking to themselves, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ leave smiling and laughing.”
Celebrity talent producer Rachel Dalton works on securing and producing celebrity talent for various events, be it corporate or charity events, or private parties. Dalton works with top celebrity artists, chefs, comedians, athletes and others. “Attendees get bored of the typical conference — especially with all of the experiential offerings in today’s world. It’s almost expected that events should go over-the-top to cater to their attendees or guests,” Dalton says.
A great way to do that is with celebrity talent or entertainment. Missy Peterson, director, Global Operations, with Meetings & Incentives Worldwide, says incorporating cultural and regional flair to showcase the area where the meeting or event is being held is always welcomed by attendees — especially to open the general session of a meeting. “I have seen an Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas, indigenous musicians in Sydney and bagpipes in Ireland,” Peterson says. “It is all about the attendee experience these days — how we connect on a personal and unique level and leave a lasting impression on the attendee to equate their positive experience with the client.”
One conference that does a fantastic job of establishing purpose and executing it in overall entertainment and relaxation is the Well Conference — “The first major forum to focus solely on the health and well-being of people and how better buildings, communities, organizations, products and technologies help them connect and thrive,” Peterson says. Their agenda includes a hike in a desert preserve, a tour of a mid-century modern hotel, morning yoga and a book signing. They also include happy hours and soirees, but they don’t lean on these parts of the schedule. They light up their attendees with unique diversions throughout the entire conference.
Karma O’Neill, meeting planner and owner of KO Events, says entertainment options, such as creative visual thinking boards, live painting or creation of a “scene,” liquor/wine tastings/samplings, and even teaching attendees to play steel drums provide opportunities for attendees to get to know one another more than just exchanging business cards. “I also believe in thinking outside the box and daring to be different,” O’Neill says. “You want to create a buzz and make the event, meeting or conference something people look forward to. And, while I do think there are standard options for associations, the goal is to provide a format to attract different audiences. More associations should be looking at how to attract a variety of attendees.”
The Best Approach
Losing sight of the event’s goal and selecting entertainment that doesn’t support those objectives is a big mistake planners make. As Coon explains, sometimes entertainment doesn’t mesh well with the objectives of the event, such as a performer or something selected that feels disjointed for the tone of the rest of the event. “Also, knowing the demographic of the attendees is important — what would they enjoy or what might be too far out there for them, is important to know when orchestrating entertainment,” Coon says.
The more planners can think outside the box of what seems appropriate for an association event and recognize that entertainment can take shape in many forms, the more unique and successful the events will be.
For example, if the association wants to create a stress-free environment for attendees, the best bet is to set up relaxation aligned with that message. Francisco suggests easing the dress code and greeting attendees with a surprising welcome ritual. Scrap the keynote speech and start the day with an interactive, improvisational mindfulness course. Instead of breakout speeches, schedule meditation with live music. Offer attendees the option to select from a few different guided city or nature outings.
“There will be complainers who say these things are too unusual or too big of an investment, but they create loyalty and a lasting impact,” Francisco says.
Experiential food and beverage offerings also are trending as forms of entertainment. Action stations where the attendee can participate in the creation, or delivery, of food or drinks are a fun way to engage the attendee.
“Brainstorming with your caterer would be a great way to source some fun delivery ideas,” Coon says. “Or even bring in atmosphere entertainment, such as a fire breather or contortionist to entertain during social periods, or an aerialist to pour champagne. I think there is a lot of flexibility with the audience and knowing their preferences, but the event itself will play an equal role in selecting the type of entertainment.”
An association could implement an activity of “minute to win it”-type games utilizing industry tools. Integrating a corporate social responsibility (CSR) activity, such as assembling care kits for a cause organization, would be a great way to give back during the event.
“Non-governmental organizations could try attendee-created artwork to display in an office as a unique way for attendees to interact and network on a break while creating a memorable piece for the organization,” Coon suggests. “Give networking a twist by creating a unique entertainment opportunity with teambuilding in the form of a contest or escape room-type challenge.”
If a group is more innovative, try adding in a technology component for entertainment, such as virtual or augmented reality. For an event with a social component, a planner could incorporate atmosphere entertainment where the servers are dressed to match the event theme.
“Entertainment can also be relaxing and stress reducing by integrating a puppy party, or bringing in a meditation lounge as an alternative break for conference-goers,” Coon says.
Experts agree that the event itself will really drive the type of entertainment selected. If you’re providing attendees with a promotion piece, look at an interactive station — like on-demand screen printing, where they can pick the shirt color and choose from a few pre-selected designs.
Dalton says that a meeting planner must keep the attendees in mind to match the entertainment up with the crowd properly. “The planner really has to have a good sense of their audience and demographic to pick the right entertainment for the group,” Dalton says.
And, for an association event, Peterson suggests options that aren’t overpowering. “The sponsors are looking to make connections, not lose their potential customers to watch a show or have to yell over music in the exhibit hall,” Peterson says. Some unique ideas could be a private show with a celebrity musician or comedian; a cooking demo and Q&A with a celebrity chef; a lecture by a top professional coach, professional league commissioner or corporate head; a golf or tennis demo, and a meet and greet with some touring pros or legends.
Dalton says by knowing the audience, planners can rest assured they’re making the right choice. “From there, they can make the best decision on what type of entertainment will be a success.”
Anthony Purzycki, CEO of Trap Door Events, says, from his perspective, entertainment trends really come down to what meeting organizers hope to get out of the offering. At Trap Door, they deliver teambuilding events to companies who will bring together staff from all over the world to have an opportunity to engage with each other face to face for the first time.
“They want uninterrupted team engagement. That requires a unique approach,” Purzycki says. “These are people from all over the world, all different cultures. What does everyone have in common? Our icebreaker is typically the common value of immersive storytelling. People love a good story regardless of where they come from.”
One of the biggest mistakes Purzycki says meeting planners make as it relates to entertainment ideas is concentrating on what they think will give everyone a great time to bond over friendships made that day. “It does not occur. ‘Let’s just do something fun’ is usually a recipe for disaster,” Purzycki says. “Business is high school all over again. The people who know each other simply divide into groups and they do not interact with the others. Our goal is to get as many people in the room collectively interacting with those that they know nothing about, or have never met. They wind up having fun as a result of the collaboration. We see a great many planned events that let the teams divide themselves, and it turns into just a typical day at the office instead of a teambuilding event.”
Bring A Smile
Francisco agrees that it’s a huge mistake to think of entertainment as only the live musicians or performances. Entertainment needs to include anything that brings a smile to the attendees’ faces, and it can start well before the opening event.
“From the way you wordsmith your event materials to the gifts that welcome attendees to their hotel rooms, to the pens and paper you provide for notes, you have many opportunities to surprise and delight your guests,” Francisco says.
Master facilitator and meaning-maker Priya Parker says that the best gatherings have a “specific and disputable purpose.” Francisco agrees with her.
“Since association events can represent very important professions and causes, there may be a temptation to stick with ‘vanilla’ entertainment,” Francisco says. “However, when you try to book entertainment that everyone likes, you dilute the event’s potential to engage and transform the audience.” | AC&F |