It might be every meeting or event planner’s dream to take a meeting to the next level. That would mean designing a happening or series of happenings that ensure attendees will be talking about this experience for years. But outdoing the competition, if not outdoing yourself, can be a tall order on anyone’s menu. There are hundreds of moving parts and not all of them will work, especially if you are trying to create an event theme that will not only wow but make a difference.
“There are plenty of details and parameters to consider around all the elements, but engagement seems to get the most attention.”
“We like to have fun when we are planning for a conference or an event and we will spend hours brainstorming on all the phases,” says Karen Watson, Sr. Director Strategic Events, Maritz Global Events Design Studio. “There are plenty of details and parameters to consider around all the elements, but engagement seems to get the most attention. We also have to ask ourselves that within an event, say an off-site dinner, does it mirror the conference—that is the theme of the event and the goals of the conference.”
How Do You Explore Beyond the Box? Ask Questions
Considerations can be endless: What advantages may already be in play simply by taking stock of amenities at the hotel or location? What themes worked well to bowl over attendees in the past? Can they be reworked for the new theme at hand? Where are the predictable glitches? Where are the hidden surprises? How could a theme be improved by some extreme brainstorming?
Planning an event or meeting can be as exciting as starting with a blank page and building a dream house. There is room to imagine and create a stunning piece of work. But the design must fit an organic concept and work within the space, purpose and environment it is given. And in the end, the meeting ends, the masterpiece is dismantled and relegated to memories, what some philosophers have called the highest form of art.
Creating a strong theme for a meeting or event is a collaborative process that is as exhausting as it is thrilling. It usually starts with a core team that throws out ideas according to what wants the client may have and it can ascend through a number of levels. Those may include the design team that provides art to match the ideas as a curation process takes place. The lasting one or two ideas will go up the ladder to the client company executive team for approval before changes are made, ideas are tweaked and a final plan is passed around. But the end product will likely be a closed circle that starts with attendees’ landing experience at the airport, and works all the way through arrival at the hotel, check-in, registration, all panels, plenaries, meals, events and activities and back to the airport for departure. Even the corridor walk to the event registration desk can be wrangled into the theme.
For those planners who do not mind giving up some of that control, planning a meeting or an event inside a theme park, such as Disney World or Universal Studios, can take some of the “what if we’s” off planners’ shoulders and return dazzling experiences that cannot be duplicated anywhere else. These media entertainment companies often bring in licensed characters and props from hit films like “Frozen,” “Toy Story,” and “Harry Potter.” And, of course, when it comes to telling a story for a special event, the pros don’t disappoint.
For instance, a ‘50s Flashback event can be replicated at any Disney convention hotel with black and white floor tiling, red Naugahyde diner booths, jukeboxes playing classics between performances by big-haired bands in tight pants and Keds. There might be a beach scene area with surf boards and a tiki hut for cocktails.
Planner Gayle Gilberto, president of Art of the Event in Wilmington, Mass., describes doubling down on the popularity of “Downton Abby” as well as “The Crown” and “Victoria” series by throwing a dinner that might have been a royal event in earlier times with all the details and staff in character.
She suggests planners look for a Victorian mansion that may bill itself out for such use with all the period décor in place. Add ambient details, such as long tables illuminated by candelabras. Fill the room with period antiques and even consider hiring Victoria and Albert look-alike actors to host the event. Attendees will want to brush up on their era etiquette to make the most of this experience.
“Studies show experiences make people happier than objects or money,” says Gilberto. “I love taking a concept and making it real through creative program design. They say the devil is in the details but those details all come together to make a successful event design. But if you are not particularly creative yourself, consult with a professional creative event designer. It’s well worth the money.”
Virtual Venues; New Tools
When it comes to unearthing the possibilities that a destination can bring to a meeting’s purpose and pizzazz, many CVBs are bringing it on with virtual reality. Planners can check out sites, venues, attractions and activities without the headache of crosstown traffic and wasted time.
Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board (L.A. Tourism) launched Meet L.A. last summer. The free mobile app allows users to easily browse the regions and neighborhoods of Los Angeles through an interactive software that offers up-to-date destination content, along with venue capacities with square footages, insightful videos and a calendar of major citywide special events.
“We’ve taken detailed measures to elevate the destination’s meeting planning process with an easy-to-use experience that requires minimal storage space on any mobile device,” says Darren K. Green, senior vice president of sales for L.A. Tourism. “Meeting and event professionals can activate the Meet L.A. app to access dynamic content and explore L.A.’s premier venues and attractions from the palm of their hand, anywhere and anytime.”
Planners are able to see into many of L.A.’s iconic sites such as L.A. LIVE, Walt Disney Concert Hall, The Getty and Warner Brothers Studio, and use dozens of VR/360 videos to take virtual walk-throughs of many of the function spaces, including those inside the L.A. Convention Center.
“We see technology as a big answer to a lot of the work we do,” says Tim Taylor, CEO of Denver-based Avant-Garde Events and Productions. “We are looking at new applications coming down the pike that vet vendors so you have all your information in one place and don’t have to worry as much about things going awry at the last minute.”
Given the things that can go wrong, Taylor says that’s what keeps him excited and piqued about dreaming up noteworthy themes for his clients and then executing them. Things can go wrong but not so much if you look at the potential problem areas and come up with the solutions, he says.
“I’ve been in the industry 25 years and have seen a lot, but I love the chaos,” says Taylor. “When we are providing a level of service that is beyond the expectations of the guests and gets the attention of our clients, it’s creating solutions for all the challenges and providing an experience that people have never had before. When they walk away with a “Yeah!” – it makes it all worth it.”
Have you designed an event where your theme really wowed or made a difference? Share some details below!