South by Southwest is just one high-profile example of a wider creative renaissance in the events space. The industry is changing rapidly to meet the changing needs of business and consumers. Today’s audience value surprising interactions that are as much about forming real-world connections as they are about consuming content.
With this in mind, here are five ways brands can design creative events that will attract and deeply engage their target audience.
1 Embrace the power of entertainment
In an ever-more digital world, face-to-face experiences have a special kind of magic. Your audiences are willing you to do something wonderful and they’re more likely to engage when they have a smile on their face.
One example is Google's theme-park-style ride to bring to life Google Assistant at the Consumer Electronics Show – an entertaining reimagining of a product demonstration at a technology conference.
2 Have empathy for your audience
We are all becoming increasingly aware of how to perform at our best in the workplace, whether that’s about exercise, diet or how we segment our day. Yet, all too often, events sit people in dark rooms and subject them to hours and hours of soul-crushing presentations.
By making your content experiential, choosing enlivening venues and building in movement, you can help people get more value from the experience. Brands are increasingly incorporating yoga and "sweat-working" exercise sessions into their events.
3 The creative opportunity of digital
The merging of live and digital channels presents amazing creative opportunities and adds new dimensions to a live experience. Augmented reality is especially interesting to event designers. If a brand has a product that’s too big to bring to an event, AR allows people to still engage with it.
At MWC, Samsung created an AR-enabled press pass in the shape of its soon-to-be-launched phone, letting people experience the functionality of the device without it physically being there.
4 Make it tactile
Brands are finding new ways to get people engaging with and influencing the physical space. This might be 3D infographics, such as data strings that see audiences responding to surveys by threading their own data path. In other instances, colouring walls or gesture-controlled screen content is enabling people to influence the event environment.
5 Don't leave networking to chance
If in the past the people you met at an event was largely down to serendipity, today we can be much more precise about sparking the most valuable connections. Networking apps allow you to self-profile and be intelligently matched with others. The world’s largest tech event, Web Summit, attributes its takeoff to the algorithms that connected start-ups and investors.
At the same time, more distributed and discursive content helps people connect in a way that traditional conference formats fail to do. Visa’s flagship European event (pictured) has switched to a campus-style model to give people the choice and stimulus to form relationships.
Face-to-face experiences have powers beyond other media, but in a world where attention is at a premium, event designers need to deliver incredibly powerful experiences to attract audiences. The good news is that there’s amazing creativity coming into the event world and no shortage of inspiration to build on.
Jez Paxman is content director at Live Union