RULE #1: Make it Personal — If an event is going to be engaging its content must be personally relevant to the people in attendance. Studies have shown that we are better able to remember information when it is presented in a personally meaningful way (Rogers, Kuiper, & Kirker, 1977). Why? When content is relevant, we spend more time mentally processing and organizing it (Symons & Johnson, 1997).
HOW TO DO IT: Want to get to know what your audience really needs? There are various techniques, including focus groups, pulse surveys, and pre-event phone interviews with attendees. Ask what they want in an event. Then, if you measure correctly, insights gathered throughout the event can be compared year-over-year to assess progress. This work should be done by a team that knows how to avoid bias, ask the right questions, and collect data in a way that is secure and efficient.
RULE #2: Make it Emotional — Events are not engaging without emotion. Emotionally charged information is remembered far better than information that is not emotional (Hourihan, Fraundorf & Benjamin, 2017). Emotion provokes us to pay attention to content and process it more deeply.
HOW TO DO IT: Use design in a way that creates meaning and evokes an emotional response. Just as we use physical landmarks to give someone directions, we use temporal landmarks (i.e., significant points in time) to give our lives direction. Your event can be that landmark. An internal event can signal to employees an innovative leap forward for them and their company. Similarly, an event run for company stakeholders can signal the beginning of a deeper business relationship between them and your company. A landmark event can be a launchpad for creating a change in perspective or communicating the evolution and transformation of a business to key stakeholders.
RULE #3: Make it Fresh — When working on a repeat event, it’s easy to take last year’s agenda, change the dates and repopulate the cells with new topics, activities, speakers etc. But to reduce mind wandering, you need to challenge the audience’s expectations. Revamping the agenda is a great place to start. When people know what to expect, they go into cruise control. Disruption catches people by surprise and forces them out of their comfort zones.
HOW TO DO IT: Consider changing the format of sessions, removing all the chairs, taking the audience out of traditional meeting spaces, or finding creative ways to deliver information. Pique audience interest by alluding to an upcoming surprise, announcement, or special event. Leave them wanting more and wondering what’s next. Consider posing thought-provoking questions through polls. Bring in speakers who will challenge them to think differently about a key topic or give them a problem to solve that gives them a new perspective.
RULE #4: Make it Immersive — Approach each event like a museum approaches a new collection— curating individual pieces and establishing a flow that will capture the audience’s attention. Moments should build upon each other like chapters in a story. After engaging with a narrative like this, we are more likely to believe in the arguments and information embedded within it (Braddock & Dillard, 2016).
HOW TO DO IT: Create intrigue by beginning the story before the event – like a movie trailer designed to get people excited about opening day. Weave the story throughout the event, and continue it after the event to ensure the right actions are being taken. Engage the senses. Curate a soundtrack to create a positive mood. Offer noise-cancelling headphones to give attendees a chance to zone out during breaks. Even the scent of a room can produce positive mood—so why not introduce a scent (e.g., flowers, plants, food) to enhance the audience experience? The next time they hear the music you used or catch a whiff of the scent you selected can trigger a cascade of thoughts and feelings that bring them back to your event – and your brand.