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This article is a review of some superb events that strive to engage audiences in new ways. Invaluable inspiration for your next conference, party or music festival.
I know you've been waiting for this post for quite a while. As much as I try to be constant in giving you the freshest trends in event concepts, finding really innovative concepts is one of the toughest research pieces.
The list below is the result of 4 months of reading, pinning, bookmark saving and attending events.
A Note on Methodology
The reason I always write this paragraph is because I hate trolls. I hate commenters who show up to exclusively share negativity or drive away the attention from the actual post content. This people also tend to forget this is a blog and not an academic journal. This paragraph is my insurance policy against them.
How I selected these events. I tried to find events that engage with the attendees and larger stakeholder community in innovative ways.
The people behind these experiences tried to do things differently and in most cases it paid off.
I also selected those events whose approach is transferrable. If a concepts comes with no learnings or actionable ideas, you won't find it listed below.
Now that I have taken care of trolls, allow me to share with you these incredible experiences. In no particular order…
The Moth immediately caught my attention. The event ask speakers or performers to use storytelling to address a unique theme in new ways.
That creates a storytelling environment where learning is fostered through audience development and participation.
Here is how they describe the experience:
Each show starts with a theme, and the storytellers explore it, often in unexpected ways. Since each story is true and every voice authentic, the shows dance between documentary and theater, creating a unique, intimate, and often enlightening experience for the audience.
Learning: The Moth asks all speakers to bring their experience to address a theme. The development of the experience is unexpected, almost unplanned. The audience is at the centre. It mixes elements of live theatre and improvisation resulting almost 'dinner with murderesque' in some aspects.
Start From This: How can you involve your audience more in your event? How can you work with your performers on a unique theme? How can you get them to include your audience in their performance?
The idea behind this event is very simple. It puts startup founders seeking help to market their product in touch with marketing professionals willing to help.
In their words:
StrategyHack is a full-day event dedicated to accelerating startup growth. We select awesome startups and match them with brilliant marketers to collaborate and create tailored marketing strategies.
Learnings: Matchmaking is becoming quite a powerful tool to sell out events. If the event is planned around the attendees and wider stakeholders' objectives, that usually translates in successful event. Just looking at the popularity of hosted buyers programs will give you an idea of the importance of this phenomenon.
Start From This: How can you better satisfy the needs of those attending and sponsoring your event? How can you secure them business? How can you reduce the perceived risk of attending your event?
Big thumbs up to whoever designed the concept of this conference. Not necessarily for the core of the event which is the usual conference model, but for a couple of introductions that are particularly brilliant.
The event gives substantial prominence to online attendance, they surely are not afraid to push it. Secondly it asks the audience to sponsor creatives to attend.
The organisers clearly understand the importance of having creative types to attend and how it is difficult to get them to pay the full price. Border line genius!
Learnings: If you recognise the need to have a particular audience to attend your event, make sure to investigate all the possible ways to secure their presence. Think outside the box and push traditional boundaries.
Start From This: Can technology help you to reach audiences that wouldn't attend otherwise? Can you convert them into attendees for next year's event? How can you secure and incentivise attendance of your key audience?
Stream is a very popular unconference. It caught my attention as it was mentioned during my visit to the ISES Middle East Chapter in Dubai. Stream was used in comparison to an industry event where the unconference model was an utter failure.
Stream does a great job in planning the unconference as one of the most absurd misconceptions is that unconferences do not need planning.
Learnings: Stream does a great job in planning the unplannable. They organise chaos. While attendees may in fact love the feeling of anarchy of unconferences, *camps and OST events they still need a framework and skilled moderation.
Start From This: Have you thought about how to make sure everybody understands what to do? Have you considered the dynamics of free/creative environments? Have you prepared a list of actions to involve every attendee in the co-creation of the event?
Mediterranean Weekend Festival
This event consist in a party on a ship. A long one. On the beautiful Barcelona-Rome-Barcelona route, this awesome event combines the cruise experience with the unique European summer partying.
Getting hundreds of party animals on a cruise ship means understanding their needs and giving them an amazing scenario to express them.
Learnings: The organizers clearly understand the power of venues as experiences. They make the venue part of the event concept, making it functional to deliver the experience. They removed all the traditional barriers (you can't do the above on a regular cruise) to foster the expression of the core need behind the event: having fun!
Start From This: How can you make the venue part of your event concept? How can you remove barriers to make attendees fully express themselves?
The first update Apple gave during yesterday's otherwise boring keynote was about the iTunes Festival. I was impressed. iTunes Festival takes place in the UK, tickets can only be won. 20 million people registered to attend - that is million, you read correctly. Apple made the 30 day event accessible via lifestream in 100 countries.
Learnings: If you are able to pull together names such as Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Elton John and Katy Perry together, giving away tickets for free may actually be a wiser choice. Because at the end of the day you end up with a database of 20 million people to market to - people willing to listen to you and buy your expensive but beautiful products.
Start From This: Is price important to your event? Can you leverage free to achieve financial success with other revenue opportunities? Can you leverage lifestream to increase the reach of your marketing?
Before We Were Ghosts
Ok this is an illegal event. Before I get bashed for suggesting to imitate an illegal gathering, let me warn you. I am NOT suggesting you emulate any of the illegal activities carried by these guys. I am sure I have your interest by now.
This event is actually the latest gig by the serial impresario Jeff Stark. The only illegal bit is about the venue, an off limits abandoned subway truck in New York.
But there is amazing secrecy in how the event is born, promoted and implemented. That would take a post of its own, but it is amazingly chronicled in this article.
Learnings: Secrecy makes people curious and curiosity is a great reason to attend events. If you are able to throw an event that lives up to its secret promise your attendees will go bonkers to attend.
Start From This: How can you stimulate curiosity in your audience? Can you replace boring and traditional bits of your event with the unexpected?
The best way to explain this event is by the words of the founders:
The OpenCo Innovation Festival is a cross between an artist open studio and a tech conference, with the vibe of a music festival.
130+ companies will open their doors for 45 minute sessions from their thought leaders, talking about innovation, collaboration, and what makes the New York business ecosystem so great.
Interesting to note that the event actually happens at the HostCompany office:
As a HostCo a founder or senior member of your management team should lead a 45 minute session around your organization’s vision and what innovation means to you. Time of day (broken out in one hour segments between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.) and the number of people you can host is up to you and what you are comfortable with.
On the day of the event we will provide you with printable collateral to put up at your offices to denote your organization as a HostCo.
Learnings: This is a liquid event. The venue is distributed and the hosting companies are in charge of that. In effect sponsors are in charge of content and venue, the organisers gather the audience. Pure genius!
Start From This: Can you delegate areas of the event planning and delivery to your sponsors? Can you get them to be more involved in your event in return for a relevant audience?
Don't Pitch Me Bro
The simplicity of this event is its most powerful weapon. The opportunity is for a startup struggling with aspects of their product to ask help to an audience willing to give constructive feedback.
Learnings: This event eliminates the tension of the 5 minute pitch - an industry standard - that hardly can communicate the effectiveness of a product nor it can earn valuable feedback. This is an anti elevator pitch movement aimed at delivering value and quality over fast food information.
Start From This: How can you change a traditional way of doing events for the benefit of your stakeholders? How can you challenge an industry while staying relevant and interesting? How can you get rid of unnecessary and commonly hated practices?
Some people like psychedelic films of the 60s. Some cinemas, like the Cinefamily, recognised that these people may want a bit more than just a screening. They organised Dress-Up, a special night with a screening of a 60s movie - Wonderwall, and asked the audience to show up dressed accordingly.
Learning: Watching a movie dressed like the protagonist makes the experience much more pervasive. Immersive experiences are a great way to put attendees in touch with the core concept of your event - in this case eclectic movies.
Start From This: How can you involve your attendees more in the delivery of the event? How can you push them to be part of the creation of the experience?
I am sure you will find several learning points from the events above. Even one will be enough to start innovating your event today.
Ask yourself and your team the questions I gave you at each point, write down answers and give them priority, all of a sudden your event will be fresher and more innovative.
If you feel like this article has helped you in any way, go on and share it, it will help others as well.