How to Throw a Memorable Corporate Event
By Alexa Harrison
It’s a phrase that might send shivers down your spine, or might make you well-up with positive emotion, depending on the last experience you had at a large business conference or meeting.
At their core, all live corporate events have the same basic goal: to impart a message that leaves attendees inspired to take action. Yet, events can have such different outcomes: some events (probably most you attend) cause people to fall asleep in their seats, squirm with boredom, or simply leave having no idea what they were supposed to take away.
Others, however, can be emotionally-charged and riveting. They can make an unforgettable, life-changing impact on participants and the broader community, like the annual TED Conference. TED not only attracts renowned speakers and high-profile guests year after year, but it also has resulted in a library of world-class post-event content that gives attendees (and society at large) the chance revisit the experience again and again.
If you’re planning an upcoming corporate event, you may feel daunted, but you can rest assured it’s worth the effort. The bottom line is that large, live corporate gatherings just work. Why?
- Being around other people makes messages more memorable. Studies showed that 33% of people better remember information they hear if they hear it when they’re with other people. (source)
- Group experiences linger with participants. 61% of people say that having a communal experience shapes the way they think about that experience and the impact it has on them long after the experience is over. (source)
To make sure your event succeeds, commit to making it a memorable, powerful experience by utilizing the 4 key elements that we’ve identified as the 4 I’s of Impactful Events: inclusivity, immersiveness, intimacy, and inspiration. By keeping each of these in mind while you plan, you’ll produce an experience that effectively relays a message to your listeners—and one that lands in a way that inspires attendees to take action.
Create “Inclusive” Events
An audience at a live event wants to feel included, both physically and psychologically. In today’s age of AI and smart technology, people actually prefer personalized experiences when dealing with companies and brands, which means that they want to feel like your event is tailored to them, not something that is generic or forced.
That’s why Mark Benioff spent his time wandering through the audience of 90,000 during his 2012 DreamFroce keynote speech. By walking through ALL of those rows of people, he was able to physically represent that everyone in the room was a part of the same experience.
Live event attendees don’t only need to feel physically included. They want to feel like their needs are being met and like they have something to do while they’re there. Some strategies for actively including attendees are:
- Taking polls
- Creating a social media hashtag
- Having a virtual event room for those that can’t make it
- Hosting a photo contest with a designated hashtag
Global utility company Opower took the idea of inclusivity seriously at their 2014 PowerUp Conference, an event for utility industry professionals held in Miami. Before the event they spent considerable time in 1:1 interviews with attendees, hoping to understand exactly what clients wanted to get out of the experience. By making the attendees a part of the planning process, they both helped them feel valued during the event and helped themselves create an experience that worked.
After the event, attendees spoke about how successful it was. In a piece for Oracle, Arlen Orchard, CEO of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, wrote, “…The conference was refreshing. It sparked conversations I wouldn’t have had at other events. I came home with a lot of new ideas for my company… PowerUp is worth the trip.”
Plan to “Immerse” Your Audience
When the planners of the Montreal-based business and creativity conference C2MTL decided that attendees would enter the event by walking through a pitch-black tunnel up to a beaming ball of light (which turned out to be a button that said, “Prepare to reset your mind” when pressed), they weren’t just trying to pay tribute to sci-fi movies. Instead, they were honing in on one of the most important aspects of an impactful event: immersiveness.
For a meeting or conference to move people you’ll have to draw people into a story you’re telling, transport them out of their daily routines, or create a physical reality or existential realm that feels completely new.
An event can be made immersive in many ways. You may manipulate lighting or scenery to make the space feel different. You can offer interactive experiences (like C2MTL’s tunnel entrance), which can serve as a symbolic or physical demarcation that the event space is separate from real-world space. Or, you can ask guests to leave behind their technological devices to ensure that they’re focused on what’s happening and not connected to the outside world.
Immersiveness helps make an event impactful because it offers an experience that is starkly different from a participant’s everyday routine. It also helps remove distractions, which reduces the chance that attendees’ attention can be drawn away from the activities at hand and your central message.
Create a Sense of “Intimacy” Even in Corporate Events
There’s a good chance that part of what you want people to understand is based on data and numbers. However, it’s hard to make a live event feel riveting by focusing on facts alone. Instead, allow people to connect with one another, and with you, by facilitating moments of human connection. This will help attendees feel a personal tie to your brand and build loyalty.
To foster intimacy at your live event, plan activities that are simply for socialization, or those that require interaction between small groups of attendees. Tech company Slido did this well when they hosted a “World Café” at their recent all-company training event. Attendees were divided into groups of 5, then, each member of the group had 6 minutes to explain an issue he or she was struggling with and get feedback. This activity didn’t only allow company members to crowdsource solutions and advice from their peers. It also helped create bonds between employees and fostered a sense of empathy, community, and understanding.
Never forget about “Inspiration”
If you want your event to linger in peoples’ memory, you have to appeal to their emotions, not just stimulate their minds. Recent studies have shown that emotions have a significant impact on attention, encoding, and information retrieval. So, focus on creating an event that’s inspiring—not just informative.
If there’s one event speaker or host who understood how to build inspiration into his live events, it was Steve Jobs. Jobs was a master at stirring the emotions and excitement of the people who were in his audiences, which helped him build positive, lasting associations with the Apple brand.
Jobs was able to stir up exhilaration, anticipation, and hope during many of his keynotes. For example: the first Mac announcement in 1984 and the legendary iPhone launch in 2007. Sometimes, he also appealed to more tender or sobering emotions, like during his 2011 iPad 2 announcement, when he returned from a leave of absence he had taken due to illness in order to reconnect with employees and, in a symbolic way, encourage them to continue to look forward to the future, no matter happened to him.
You don’t have to make a world-altering speech to create an inspiring moment at your event, but there are some easy ways you can build emotions so it makes a lasting impact on those who attend. You can:
- Host contests and challenges to spur excitement
- Bring in keynote speakers who specialize in delivering emotional messages
- Include video testimonials from customers who can offer first-hand stories
- Include improve workshops, which get people laughing
At the end of the day, if you want your event to succeed, you need it to make a serious impression on the people who are there, and by following the blueprint of the 4 I’s, you can ensure that you’ll create an experience that lingers once people leave. If you focus on producing live events that are enjoyable, personalized, memorable, and human, you can ensure that people will continue thinking about your message—then choose to enact it—long after they’ve left the event space.