Conference Design

Enhance Your Events With Experiential Design

22nd March 2024

Experiential design blends art and science to shape an individual’s experience. Learn how this technique can enhance value for conference attendees and sponsors, boost an association’s financial performance at events, and help improve member learning outcomes.

Words Chris Hamade

If you want someone to take a particular action, you can ask, incentivize, or possibly coerce them. But what if you could design conditions that naturally led to the desired behavior?

Crafting an experience that leads to a desired emotional or behavioral response extends beyond conventional linguistic or visual methods of communication. It can bridge the gap between your organization’s core objectives and limitations, such as budget constraints, staffing issues, or resource scarcity.

Well-crafted experiences can influence culture, brand storytelling, and enhance the success of social impact initiatives. Let’s delve into how experiential design can be effective and how associations can implement these ideas in their practices.

Attendee & Sponsor Value

Several years ago, we organized a conference with three principal sponsors: a bank, a law firm, and an accounting firm. Instead of offering predefined sponsorship packages, we spoke with each sponsor about what they envisioned for a successful sponsorship post-event.

All three core sponsors agreed that the most crucial element was having abundant opportunities to engage with attendees. With this insight, we considered every facet of the conference experience, from the perspective of the attendees and the sponsors.

For the bank sponsor, we proposed creating a branded coffee bar and cabana experience for attendees. This encompassed an area designed as a central networking hub, where attendees could enjoy coffee and pastries and relax in cabana-style seating arrangements.

The bank’s branding was seamlessly integrated into the design, and they enjoyed exclusive rights to coffee distribution—attendees couldn’t get coffee anywhere else in the conference.

Coffee is like gravity; even if you don’t like it, chances are the people you want to connect with do. It brings people together in a defined space, providing the bank’s account managers with opportunities to engage attendees and attendees with an innovative, relaxing space to network and engage with peers.

If we’d organized a basic coffee station with a sign that read “Sponsored by ABC Bank,” it’s doubtful the bank would have derived tangible value beyond brand awareness. By unlocking the inherent value of coffee in this manner, the sponsor gained value through enhanced branding and engagement opportunities.

Financial Impact on Associations

Because we offered this sponsor exclusivity over coffee (and morning food offerings), the bank was willing to cover the expenses associated with their activation.

These food and beverage expenses were in addition to the sponsorship fee. Coffee was an expense we, as organizers, would have incurred regardless.

Following a similar strategy, we linked lunch to the accounting firm’s sponsorship and canapes and wine to the law firm’s sponsorship, effectively converting all our food and beverage expenses into valued sponsorship activations. Consequently, all our food and beverage costs were covered by the sponsors, going beyond their sponsorship fees.

Shaping an experience through thoughtful design can help organizations achieve specific behavioral outcomes. The objective is to elevate value by communicating beyond the limitations of pure language, leveraging both emotional and tactile experiences.

Improve Member Learning

Experiential design can be used as an effective teaching method. If your association is involved in education and knowledge sharing, consider moving beyond traditional textbooks and webinars by designing an immersive learning experience.

At the Real Estate Institute of British Columbia, we noticed publications comparing BC’s real estate market to New Zealand’s. We share market similarities, so observing their outcomes and methods could lend wisdom to our challenges, including Indigenous relations, climate-friendly approaches, and land-use policy. 

We launched a webinar to gauge member interest. There were compelling conversations to unpack, but we didn’t want to give members a 500-page white paper. To deliver a higher level of education, we needed a more immersive experience. 

We contacted a New Zealand real estate institute and proposed an “exchange program.” Our idea was to travel to New Zealand with members and enjoy a few days of shared knowledge and ideas. 

The program will include tours of both industrial and downtown sectors. We’d also discuss politics, zoning bylaws, the expectations of the public and business communities, and observe how life works. Over lunch, members can ask questions to gain new insights, and vice versa. This trip is in the planning stages; we’re aiming for fall 2024.

Reading about market similarities is one thing. Understanding the idiosyncrasies of culture and context when attempting to geo-clone a policy or action is another. Being immersed in an experience can help members distinguish between what sounds like a good idea and what practically makes sense.

Teaching through experience is more than an information exchange. The experience floods into the subconscious, provides richness that language can restrict, and brings our emotional and empathetic ears to a depth beyond what words alone could fathom.

Experiential design can unlock benefits, efficiencies, and powerful influence.

Chris Hamade is a serial entrepreneur and principal of Alchemy Agency and executive director of the Real Estate Institute of British Columbia. This article originally appeared on Rerun with permission. Copyright ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership (October 2023), Washington, DC. 

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