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Let’s go outside!

Denise Capello
Monday, 20 February 2017

Making your event an experience that touches and transforms people is the only long-term solution for beating online and other alternatives. And physical locations are more important than you might think in this respect. Here are some inspiring examples of how to turn your event into an impressive experience.

As Head of Business Development I closely follow the latest developments in the event sector. Although contacts are increasingly made online, face-to-face events have remained as popular as ever. After all, physical exhibitions and conferences have a major asset that the virtual world cannot offer: genuine human contact. This on its own is not enough, however – we need to realise that demands are becoming more rigorous, visitors more critical and exhibitors expect to receive great value for money. If exhibition organisers are to succeed in the battle against online communication and other events, we cannot base our behaviour entirely on what has worked in the past. It's time to boldly go where no one has gone before.

Something new
Make sure that visitors and exhibitors experience something, surprise them, make them part of a story. This facilitates the information transfer, multiplies the effectiveness of networking and allows the best use of face-to-face contacts. Moreover, people are stimulated to truly start doing things differently once they return home.

Exceed the rational
Take a critical look at your own event and ask yourself: what do we hope to achieve? Make sure that everything you do contributes to that goal. In this process there is much one can learn from developments in the convention industry. As the authors of In the Heart of Meetings stated, “in order to be effective, the programme must be an experience that goes beyond the mere logical and cerebral.” How do we do that? And how do we use the physical space in an optimal manner at the same time?

Use different spaces & use spaces differently
One obvious option is to look for a distinctive location: a train, a zoo or even a desert island... Anything is possible nowadays. Smart project developers recognise the need for original exhibition venues. For instance, look at this parking garage in Miami. People come to it as though it were a museum. The upper floor can be hired for events. The price is US$15,000 per night, and worth every penny.

That said, an original location offers no value in itself. Everything depends on what you do with it. Each location has potential but you do have to have the courage to exploit that potential. Think about this together with your exhibitors. They want to make as many effective contacts as possible during the exhibition. How can you use the location in a way that best helps them? Look at ceiling heights, colours or light: anything that can influence people’s mood or attitude can contribute to achieving the desired goal.

Last year saw a renowned fashion exhibition freshen up its format by choosing a circular structure with fewer walls and paths, ensuring that the products received more attention. At the same time, an outdoor networking garden with live music and DJs provided opportunities for relaxed encounters. Meanwhile, the 2017 edition of the largest food and beverage exhibition in the Netherlands, the Horecava, focused on ‘experience features’ such as a wine theatre, fiery barbecues, a coffee greenhouse and even hotel rooms with a complete mindful-oriented interior. Check out HorecavaTV for some inspirational videos.

Look at the same space with fresh eyes
The only limit here is the budget; other than that the possibilities are endless. Turn the world around if that helps convey the message. And who said that rooms need walls? Use the park. Go on the roof. Organise a workshop in the kitchen. Use the transfer from the airport to do a unique presentation. Organise a race which generates strong networking opportunities. Look at familiar locations and surroundings with fresh eyes.

Where do we start?
Standing still is not an option and will cause you to lose out to online alternatives or innovative competitors. If you want to beat the competition, ask yourself a few critical questions, the most important being: what is my goal with this exhibition and is its current format truly the best? Followed up by… Are there possibilities in or around the location which we can already use to better enable visitors and exhibitors to achieve their goals? If so, use this space! Experiment and don’t be afraid to fail. Start small. You could even just head out into the park as a first step... Whatever you do, do something!