Extravagant, Budget-Conscious EventsOctober 17, 2023

Creating Memorable and Emotional Experiences By
October 17, 2023

Extravagant, Budget-Conscious Events

Creating Memorable and Emotional Experiences
The Creative Group is known for providing clients personalized or ‘extravagant’ event experiences — from a high-end party to a cooking class with a renowned chef. Courtesy of Amanda Wood

Creative Group is known for providing clients personalized or ‘extravagant’ event experiences — from a high-end party to a cooking class with a renowned chef. Courtesy of Amanda Wood

It’s no secret that extravagant events make a gathering stand out, and stay with attendees long after an event has ended. However, they come with a price tag. Luckily, with some creative strategies, event planners can design memorable, lavish events within or even under budget.

“The term ‘extravagant’ means different things to different people,” said Amanda Wood, director of event solutions strategy at Creative Group in Schamburg, IL. From her experience, “purposeful personalization” is what moves an event into the category of “extravagant” for participants. Creative Group recently helped a client fly 100 of their top-tier achievers on a private jet to their destination in the Caribbean.

“The details were on point; the flight experience included custom-branded headrests and blankets. It was a high-touch, upscale experience,” Wood said. “To another company, it may mean a personalized cooking experience with a renowned chef, or a unique learning opportunity like an on-site master class.”

Wood’s focus always starts with understanding both the clients’ and attendees’ needs and designing the event with extravagant touches in the right places. Some “extravagant” trends include unique entertainment features, such as coordinated drone shows.

So why go to the trouble of creating such a unique experience for attendees? Well, as Wood explained, we know scientifically that for an experience to resonate or cause change, it must evoke emotion. Unique or extravagant elements go a long way in creating memorable and emotional experiences.

“How do you want your audience to feel or what do you want them to do when they leave the event? These are critical elements to understanding how to move your audience to action,” Wood said. “In-person gatherings are fantastic ways to bring people together, share ideas, innovate and celebrate. By designing interactive attendee experiences and brand-focused environments, you impact your audience with emotion, energy and inspiration. Whether your event touchpointed focus on recognition, networking or building brand affinity with customers, the investment in the environment is an investment in your audience.”

As Grace Chow, senior event producer at 15|40 Productions in Hawthorne, CA, explained, attendees are also more likely to associate grandeur with high-quality and exclusive experiences, which can positively influence their perception of the event and the organizers.

“Additionally, extravagant events are more likely to attract media attention, differentiating the organizers from competitors in the industry, which provides increased exposure for the business or individual hosting the event,” Chow said. To that point, these types of events have the ability to perk the ears of sponsors and partners who are eager to get their own brand in front of high-profile, memorable experiences, as well as a distinct group of audience members.

On Budget, Yet Extravagant

While extravagant events certainly “wow” attendees, these types of events also come with a price tag — and often a hefty one at that. So how can meeting and event planners incorporate “extravagant” elements but under budget? And what are extravagant elements that truly don’t cost a lot or that won’t cause the event to exceed budget constraints?

Wood said extravagance can be found in the details in an economical way when you filter for purposeful personalization — find the “blank slates” within your venue and use them for either corporate branding or individualized messaging opportunities.

“Feature your attendees in unique ways, such as oversized signage in the lobby with all your attendees’ individual photos or combined as a mosaic. Creating an authentic connection with attendees helps deliver a memorable, above-and-beyond experience,” Wood said. There are numerous elements that the event planning team at 15|40 Productions likes to include in many of their events to make them extravagant for both the client and attendee. Some timeless elements include unconventional locations that take attendees on an experience of their own, lavish décor set to the event’s theme, gourmet catering and signature cocktails that accommodate all attendees, setting up luxury transportation if it’s within budget, and more.

“It’s important to strike the right balance between impressing the attendees and making sure everything done stays within budget,” said Chow. “Extravagance is a great add to any event, but it needs to align with the theme, target audience and overall objective of the event.”

Chow said although it sounds like an impossible and daunting task, all that’s needed to incorporate “extravagant” elements within a budget is strategic planning and creativity. Think about using elevated lighting with inexpensive LED lights or cost-effective string lights, depending on the theme. Chow suggested creating one-of-a-kind centerpieces with affordable materials like candles, feathers, branches or unconventional items that can also add an element of extravagance to the event.

Features that immerse all the senses, such as inexpensive uplighting, scent infusions or art installations can have an emotional impact on your attendees and feel flashy without the high cost.

“There’s also the option of opting for innovative seating arrangements like lounge areas or unique chair covers,” Chow said. “Should activities for attendees to enjoy at the event be of priority, setting up a DIY photo booth with a backdrop and props can certainly elevate the event and keep the organizers on budget.”

For organizations with a corporate culture of giving back, look for assistance from other corporate budgets, as there may be marketing or community outreach dollars to create impactful corporate social responsibility (CSR) activations to help the community.

“Altruistic activities give attendees a heightened sense of pride and satisfaction. Local artists may be willing to share their work as alternative décor ideas with the tradeoff of exposure,” Wood said.

In fact, one of the biggest mistakes meeting planners tend to make is assuming that you need everything for the event to be considered extravagant, resulting in costs spread too thin across all experiences.

As Wood pointed out, two or three signature moments in the experience can create memories of a special, upscale experience: personalized blankets, a surprise performer on the final night, or an unexpected visit to a private local historical venue that the public can’t access.

“Thinking through the lens of your organization’s and your event’s purpose, determine the one to three places where you can double down and create a more luxurious, personalized experience,” Wood said. “The closer these are to the very beginning or the end of the event, the more likely they are to be remembered by participants.”

Technology Enhances Extravagance

Jason Cohen, executive producer at Production Solved, plans extravagant events by incorporating technology at every turn. For Cohen, making a standard event truly extravagant can mean making an event that is rich in decor, or highly dynamic in delivery and engagement.

“When it comes to modern event production – and through our lens of extravagance – adding hybrid and live streaming to event productions can have a huge impact to reach global audiences,” Cohen said. “This is significant because it can open the world to organizations that may not be able to afford to travel, or to individuals that may have disabilities, which means these new technologies are changing the game for diversity, equity and inclusion. So, when we think about using these tools to enhance events and create extravagant experiences, we’re not only changing the dynamic of the event but we’re opening up the conversations to many parties who may have been previously neglected, and that in and of itself is really priceless.”

It’s important to be strategic and not just use technology or other tools in the event planner’s war chest to make an event extravagant just to do so. It needs to be done with purpose and intentionality. To that end, Cohen said it’s important to think about using things like image mapping, live streaming and hybrid events in a manner that makes sense for the event at hand and to make sure you have the right production solution in place to ensure success.

“When producing an extravagant event, success is of the utmost concern and you need to make sure that the right infrastructure is in place so that the technology is fully tested and correctly deployed to meet the initial vision,” Cohen said. “When producing an extravagant event that is infused with technology, make sure you properly plan and have the right staff. Don’t think of these tools as last-minute add-ons; but rather, strategic pieces of the puzzle that need to be identified and developed in the course of the pre-production process for your event.”

There are no two events that are done in the same fashion, so it’s important to think about the event at hand and what strings to pull to make it truly stand out. The biggest trend in making events extravagant in the post-pandemic world is making it a hybrid event.

However, even with hybrid event productions, there are many different paths to take — but core to all of them is the fact that events should engage attendees regardless of the way in which they are participating.

Through the lens of hybrid events, extravagant events and meetings can open up new pathways to create global dialogues, but how you execute can vary the budget.

“When budget isn’t an issue, maybe it’s a truly dynamic two-way global dialogue where two-way video plays a role and “in real life” (IRL) attendees can see and hear those on the far side and interact with them,” Cohen said.

When budget is an issue it’s best to open that dialogue in a one-way fashion that live streams a stage show and avails the content globally but at a lower price point. This option may not have all of the bells and whistles but still extends the conversation and reach of the event at hand.

“Technology makes for an engaging event, whether that’s with projection mapping for IRL events or opening up an industry dialogue to the global audience through the power of hybrid events,” Cohen said.

As hybrid events continue to be defined and the meetings and events industry sees new technologies hit the market, there are going to be increased opportunities for extravagant events. For IRL events, there are tools such as augmented reality (AR) and drone technologies that will lead to extraordinary experiences.

“On the digital side, when it comes to virtual events and hybrid event productions, there are new opportunities both with digital platforms and tools such as virtual reality (VR) through which audiences can be engaged and enriching extravagant events can be produced,” Cohen said. “It’s an exciting time for event producers as there are new ways to produce over-the-top events that are engaging, dynamic, and leave a lasting impression on attendees.”

New Trends

Today’s meeting and events trends are all about intentional event design and prudent spending, especially as event categories, including air, hotel, food & beverage (F&B), have increased significantly in cost, post-pandemic. Organizations are moving away from frivolous spending on items that cannot be extended.

The 15|40 team is seeing more and more events that hark back to sustainability and social responsibility. As Chow pointed out, as the idea of moving toward a sustainable world grows more popular than ever before, there’s been an increase in events with eco-friendly practices. These include using locally sourced or organic food, eco-conscious decor and reducing waste through recycling throughout the event planning process — all of which can be done while also exuding an extravagant feel to the gathering.

“Trends are ever evolving and changing; you see that heavily in fashion. Looking at trends in events is something which ebbs and flows as a design revolves around what the scope and goals are,” Chow said.

“Trends don’t always come into play as planners are looking to create an experience which is unique and leaves an impression.”

Wood advises fellow planners to ditch the surf-and-turf menus or long, sit-down dinners. Give your audience interactive experiences that imprint on them, making your event more memorable.

“If you’re going to invest in meetings, tradeshows, incentives, or customer events, your investment should take you beyond one singular event. Maybe you can extend the signage or scenic elements that were created. Maybe your event theme has an evergreen concept to extend well to any future destination,” Wood said. “If you have a gifting budget, allow your audience to hand-select the gift that is most meaningful to them. Personalization, connection and authenticity are key ways to create memorable, over-the-top moments within the event experience.”   I&FMM

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