If you haven’t been to a conference in a few years you’re in for a big surprise. These once stiff, white-collared, corporate events are changing, and have seriously raised the bar on everything from styling to attendee engagement.
‘Engagement’ has been the buzz word for event planners and marketers for some time now. It has permeated every communication channel as companies look to create new and exciting experiences. Events have become the perfect playing field to really engage audiences and give companies a direct connection with their consumers.
Those companies that invest, pave the way for a more enriching and memorable experience for their customers and are likely to turn them into lifelong advocates. The next question then becomes, how are companies turning their conference into an invigorating and unique experience?
Read on to learn more about six of the hottest corporate event trends this year.
1. 2 Venues, 1 Location
One of the most costly expenses in event planning is venue hire. Over the past few decades we've seen conference venue trends do a full circle. In the 80's and 90's it was all about hosting your conference in big hotel ballrooms, followed by some polite small talk and canapés at the post event drinks in some non-descript location just outside the conference room. Coming into the new millennium, conference planners were getting creative and hosting conferences in unique venues or utilising multiple venues to suit each section of the day. These 'hybrid' events would typically host the information-rich agenda in a hotel meeting space after which attendees were then directed to a unique venue for the informal networking part of the event. Whilst this 'hybrid' event is still very popular and provides attendees with a great experience, it isn't the most cost-effective way to host a corporate event. We're now experiencing a convergence of these two trends, where event planners choose a hotel venue that has enough variety in its meeting spaces to mimic the split locations whilst remaining in the one venue. Instead of relying on a new venue to inject interest, event planners are turning to new immersive-themed rooms and styling to do the heavy lifting.
Why this works: It goes without saying hiring one venue instead of two is a massive cost-saving already. Using two spaces within the one hotel and investing in theming and styling is a great way to ensure you’re giving guests the best environment for each agenda whilst maximising your budget. Hotel meeting spaces give you the AV support and space needed to deliver your key messages and support your speakers. Once the formalities are over, your guests can move to another space within the venue for the next section of the conference whether that be a sit-down gala dinner or styled cocktail event. Staging Connections recently delivered the annual conference for one of Australia's largest professional services organisation. Part of the brief was to deliver an exceptional formal conference experience for 300 employees as well as a unique and spectacular gala dinner post conference. To maximise the budget, Staging Connections used Hilton Sydney's ballroom to host the main conference agenda. Once the conference conclude, guests were ushered out into a beautifully styled holding room for cocktails and canapés while the Staging Connections team transformed the conference room into a fully immersive 'Vintage Carnival' themed gala dinner complete with live circus acts and interactive carnival booths.
Immersive, 'Vintage Carnival' themed conference delivered by Staging Connections at Hilton Sydney.
This is a win-win both the brand and the guests. It creates a lasting impression on attendees, which is key to continuous attendance and conference longevity.
We recommend using Venue Locator to source your ideal conference venue.
2. Design Immersive Conferences
Gone are the days of a stuffy ballroom, lined with endless rows of chairs and a small stage. Corporate conferences are turning to styled, immersive themes to ramp up the atmosphere, provide talking points and truly immerse guests in their brand. After all, events are one of the only occasions a brand has an uninterrupted interaction with their target market. So they’d better make the most of it.
We’ve mentioned Immersive Events in previous styling trend reports and they’re fiercely becoming the norm for corporate events. If you’re not adopting this new event planning mindset, you’re in danger of being left behind. Immersive Events are where styling, audio visual, digital, staging and design services merge into one harmonious environment. It’s about using these services in combination to truly transform your event into a branded experience.
Why this works: A conference is the ultimate marketing event for a company. Whether it’s a corporate, training, education, or a sales conference, organisations need planners to design events that build brand loyalty and drive advocacy. Effectively branding an event builds attendee engagement that translates into increased connection. In addition, aligning your message with a theme provides a tangible vehicle to carry your message across all touch points. From the invites, to the entrance, room decor, multimedia content and post event communications. For example, we recently worked with Capital S.M.A.R.T. for their annual sales conference. The objective of the conference was to recognise the company’s achievements of doubling their revenue celebrate their 7th anniversary and set the direction for 2017. Therefore, it was very fitting for the conference theme to be 007 Bond. This theme was integrated into every aspect and became the creative ‘glue’ that tied everything into one cohesive message.
Staging Connections delivered an immersive '007' event theme for Capital S.M.A.R.T.'s annual sales conference.
3. Encourage Attendee Engagement
Our third corporate event trend we’re seeing in 2015 and which will definitely become common place in 2016 is attendee engagement – that ‘engagement’ buzzword again. This means event planners are actively seeking new strategies and technologies to encourage two-way conversations with attendees, driving participation and building a positive brand experience rather than asking them to sit and listen for hours on end.
Increasing engagement can come in a variety of forms. Today’s event planners are ditching PowerPoint slides for total engagement activities such as live social feeds, video conferencing, audience polling, on-site bloggers, event-specific apps, event hashtags and much more.
Why this works: Encouraging your attendees to participate and share ideas results in a much richer experience for your guests and allows event hosts to unearth insights and gain valuable feedback that mightn't have been possible without the audience participation. Increasing engagement translates into better overall experiences. By becoming active participants, attendees are more likely to gain knowledge and skills than by simply being spectators.
Staging Connections' audience live-polling platform, Event Poll.
4. WOW with High-Tech
Events are the perfect playground for showing off your brand and wow-ing guests with the latest technology. When it comes to creating truly unique and personalised experiences, technology is your best friend. Having free Wi-Fi is no longer a nice add-on, it’s an expectation. So what are conference organisers turning to surprise and delight their attendees:
- Event apps featuring presentation and workshop schedules
- Real-time social media integration on-screen
- In-app scheduling and communication capabilities
- GPS event locator and navigation assistance
- On-demand video feeds and special keynote webcasts
- Live audience polling and contests
- Personalised push notifications (think meeting agenda or announcements)
- Real-time language translations
Even projection mapping was used at recent Aussie Home Loans Sales Conference we produced to add a huge wow-factor to their event.
Why this works: Technology bridges the gap between the event and the individual guest experience. Utilising event apps and social media allows you to effectively communicate to your guests and provide instant updates. Technology and innovative audio-visual solutions provide a cost-effective solution for engaging and create last impressions.
5. Build an Event Community
Brands invest huge amounts of their marketing budget into growing and nurturing a solid community of brand advocates. It therefore makes perfect sense to treat events as a sub-brand which has its own community where people with common interests and likes come together. Building this fan-base takes a lot of time and effort and has changed the life-cycle of the traditional event. It’s no longer just the event day itself, event planners need to consider the journey months before the event, the event itself, and then post-event follow ups and content. The overarching objective? Keeping their audience engaged and coming back year after year.
Your event hype plan usually starts with creating the necessary channels and touch points where your community can grow and interact. The heavy weights here are an event Facebook page, YouTube / Vimeo channel for your video content, Instagram and Twitter account and a dedicated branded event hashtag. Utilising these channels to house engaging content provides you with a cohesive platform to keep your event community engaged throughout the event life-cycle.
A great strategy for growing your event community is to use a social media integration platform. We’ve included Event Tweet as part of our digital portfolio for this exact reason – it captures your event’s entire social conversation across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter via a dedicated hashtag and displays them instantly on screen for all to see.
Why this works: Positive word-of-mouth is the holy grail of marketing. If you can create and sustain a dedicated community of enthusiasts for your event, you are tapping into a rich source of insights, free advertising and invaluable instant feedback. In the past, event planners would rely on paid advertising to promote the event and would only be able to review all event happenings weeks after the event ended to learn what was successful and what wouldn't be used next year.
Event Tweet used at this years Tourism Australia, Destination Australia Conference.
6. Embrace Green Events
Going ‘green’ isn't just a phenomenon we’re experiencing in the food and beverage industry. Companies that demonstrate they’re environmentally conscious are also reaping the benefits of positive brand operations. This year we’re seeing a lot of corporate events taking on a ‘local, organic and sustainable’ approach to their event planning. This mindset is being adopted across every possible facet of the event, from environmentally conscious AV and staging processes, down to local and organic catering, as well as using recycled and sustainable materials to design, communicate and run the event.
Why this works: In some cases, going ‘green’ can be very profitable as people are generally happy to forgo higher quality / luxuries for the sake of being environmentally conscious – think recycled paper, more efficient energy and recycling processes, cardboard chairs etc. Aside from the obvious benefits of a demonstrating corporate social responsibility, it allows companies to build relationships with new audiences via this common interest and strengthen ties with existing customers.
The corporate event scene is experiencing a huge overhaul. Audiences demand interaction, immersion and innovation. The great thing is, it’s being driven by a common need to discover and improve ways to engage audiences and communicate the event message effectively. This means, it’s a landscape that is forever changing. When organising your next event, make sure you consider these 6 trends to ensure you’re conference is hitting the mark and ensuring the longevity of your event.