Webinar recap: Intentional event design with Tahira Endean

Event producer and industry speaker Tahira Endean is the author of Intentional Event Design. An inductee to the Meetings Canada Hall of Fame and one of the Convention Industry Council’s #CMP30 Influencers, she spoke with FMAV’s Alissa Hurley about the positive effects of intentional meeting design.

Intentional event design means shaping the event experience mindfully, instead of going ahead with uninspired or standard practices, simply out of a feeling of obligation. An intentional design starts with the big picture, and every detail of the event serves the needs of exhibitors and attendees alike.

Focus on wellness

The meeting and conference experience can be tiring for everyone involved. With “beige” foods and limited room for resting and napping, people aren’t generally well cared for. Endean believes leaders should take a holistic approach to wellness, and it has to start from the top.

Big, noisy rooms with concrete floors, no food or lunch time available, and a lack of places for people to meet and talk. These are some of the hallmarks of non-intentional event design, for conferences that are just surviving instead of thriving. When attendees get tired and just have to walk past dozens of booths, they won’t want to stop and interact. Then, exhibitors will have fewer good conversations, leading to weak lead generation.

People-centric design means understanding what state people will be in, and what they’re going through. What are their needs? Endean recommends empathy mapping, determining what needs to happen for people to leave an event feeling upbeat and optimistic. This process demands energy, but is worth it.

Make purpose-driven design decisions

Organizers should create events with clear goals and objectives in mind, and create trust in all their connections. Sponsors, planners and suppliers all need to understand and trust one another’s thinking. This, in turn, will gain the trust of attendees, and hopefully bring them back year after year.

Endean noted that close partnerships between planners and suppliers, with a strong undercurrent of trust, can have amazing results. When suppliers feel like partners in the event’s success, they can put their planning acumen to work and get organizers the effects and experiences they’re after. Endean described her success organizing amazing acrobatic setpieces for two conferences, work that required trust from the supplier of tech and personnel.

Design of space should be “people-centric,” working to calm attendees’ anxieties and provide a variety of experiences. There should be a natural flow from doorways to registration, into the hall and on to meeting and sessions rooms. Restrooms and food areas should also be strategically placed.

When it comes to seating arrangements that will get people to interact, Endean is vehemently opposed to five- and six-foot tables. Smaller, round tables that seat six or fewer are better for encouraging conversation among four to five people.

Budgets are limited, but fortunately, people-centric design can be carried out affordably. In fact, venues often have alternative assets available, from linens to seating. It pays for planners to ask venue managers about lesser-used items, which could shake up staid floor plans and encourage spontaneous conversation and networking between guests.

Embrace technology for the digital age

Webinar attendees were polled on their feelings on technology, and made it clear that they are more comfortable than not: 5 percent find tech overwhelming, and 34 percent are totally at ease with it. That leaves 61 percent in the middle, somewhat comfortable with tech. It’s clear that IT can have a positive effect on event performance and experience, and has plenty to contribute to intentional design.

Endean discussed a few tech trends currently determining how events are set up and planned:

Customer data can improve relationships with exhibitors. Before buying booth space, companies want to know if their ideal customers will be attending the event. Planners are now equipped to discern and shape audience interest more than ever.

Heat mapping means organizers can scramble to redesign their floor plans on day two if a particular area of the hall was overlooked on day one. Furthermore, tracking the flow of foot traffic allows organizers to push back when exhibitors claim their booths didn’t see enough visitors.

Photography is ubiquitous. Planners must cover up any areas that would look bad in photos, and create visually arresting experiences that attendees will take pictures of and post online, raising the event’s profile.

Lighting has strong psychological effects. For instance, blue fuels creative thinking. Working closely with trusted lightning designers lets organizers shape their environment with lights.

Virtual connections can link speakers and contributors from around the world. Since planners already have video projection recording setups in many cases, adding remote presenters via Skype adds virtually no cost.

With the right combination of design smarts and technology deployment, planners can create events that will draw exhibitors and attendees back year after year.

Click here, to watch the webinar replay.