Back in the days, people would choose to attend events as a small reprieve from their work-home routine (and also to gain knowledge, make contacts, and eat great food). The extraordinary (read as out of the ordinary) experience would motivate people to leave their comfort zone and open themselves to the novelty.
However, with time, in most cases, attending events became an extremely predictable and even boring experience. Just think about it: Whether it’s an annual or one-time event, most guests will register, check in, grab their badge and goodies bag, attend the opening session, go to workshops or panel discussions, have coffee breaks and maybe lunch, interact with a few people, maybe exchange some business cards (which, eventually, will be forgotten in a drawer or tossed in the trash), attend the closing session, maybe ask some questions, and then go home.
Nothing memorable will happen. Instead of a remarkable experience, attendees get the same old boring sequence of dynamics, which will probably make them think twice before attending the next event and go only if it’s mandatory (meaning because the boss said so). What can we, as event professionals, do to keep this from happening?
The answer is right in front of us: We should consciously introduce surprise moments at our events. This will keep the attendees’ attention connected to what’s happening around and make them actually enjoy a different, exciting experience.
Here’s how you can do it:
Tip 1. Make unexpected use of storytelling
Get your attendees to feel part of something big. Connect the activities through a storyline that will add some gamification elements to your event. According to author Lisa Cron, stories are powerful in rising curiosity and keeping people’s attention engaged for a longer period of time.
You could ask your speakers to build their speeches around an interesting story. Or perhaps you could add entertainment breaks (without mentioning them in the event agenda) that have a clear story that unfolds in front of the attendees’ eyes. Incorporating storytelling will improve your guests’ experience and make them enjoy the event more.
Tip 2. Foster creative environments and activities
Obviously, sitting all day long and listening to speakers won’t excite the attendees. That’s why it’s important to have some creative and fun dynamics. From table games to enjoyable social programs, you have a wide variety of choices to pick from.
For example, you could schedule a DIY activity. How about asking your attendees to build a Lego tower together? Or give them a crafting experience such as creating an origami panel or even gardening.
Tip 3. Get the attendees out of their 'habitat'
Everyone expects to go to a conference or convention and sit inside all day in a windowless event venue. Change that. Take your attendees to a different location: An outdoor garden, a warehouse, a historical landmark or location, a contemporary building, etc.
Apart from that, think about setting up your venue space a bit differently. Instead of traditional chairs and seating setups, use different formats (like the fishbowl seating format, for example) and different furniture (such as beanbags or even comfortable floor seating, using different cushions or comfortable rugs). All these surprising elements will strengthen the extraordinary vibe that all events should have.
Tip 4. Deliver inspiration and motivation
Another surprise your attendees will enjoy experiencing is hearing an inspirational speech. This will fire up their spirits and put them into the necessary state of mind to get the most out of the event.
To achieve these results, look for motivational speakers or for people who have something valuable to share with your attendees. Make sure your speaker has the real power to get everyone enthusiastic and ready to rock.
Tip 5. Invite special guests
One of the most powerful surprise elements is inviting an important speaker without including him or her in the event agenda. Think about someone who has industry notoriety and is known worldwide.
Or maybe you want to combine this aspect with the previous tip and invite a famous person (not necessarily from the industry) who’d deliver an inspirational speech. The options are endless!
Apart from flawless preparation and a good marketing campaign, to plan a successful event nowadays requires carefully designing the attendee experience. And since we live in a world where producing astonishment is getting harder and harder (people aren’t so easily surprised anymore), it’s crucial to find ways in which you could surprise your attendees. As a first step, start paying attention to above tips and experiment with what works best for your event and your guests. Good luck!