SITE Week saw SITE Global hosting 46 Ideation Sessions over the course of 2 days, 2 times zones, and catering to over 1500 registrations. The idea was simple – facilitated brain-storming to help us all prepare for the road ahead, collaborating through the sharing of thoughts, insights and perspectives from across the globe, while collaborating and celebrating the togetherness of the larger SITE community. Each session was attended by a scribe, who was tasked with the articulation of his/her thoughts into a thought-provoking and informative article as a summation of their takeaways from the session.

This week we hear from Windsor Crawford of Cultivate about her learnings from the session on Experience Design – Enhancing Activities and Events in a Digital, Hybrid, Distanced Time, hosted by Dr. Andrew Lacanienta of California Polytechnic State University and Chris Parnham of Absolute Corporate Events.

Windsor is a Regional Sales Manager at Cultivate – industry leader of virtual and on-site gift experiences for corporate meetings, events, and incentive programs. As a SITE member, Windsor leads the Southeast’s Young Leader program and serves on the Young Leader’s Conference Committee. When she’s not working, you can find her exploring her new hometown of Nashville, Tennessee!

What is Experience Design?

Experience design is how to go about engaging the audience at hand.

Some might think of this as the strategic planning process, but it goes beyond the questions of who, what, when, where, and why. If you keep on digging, you’ll find that not only will you need to answer these questions, but you will also need to present it in a way that appeals to the audience. Have you ever heard the term “falling on deaf ears”?

A man looking bored - what will happen if you aren't careful about implementing Experience Design and engaging your audience!

That’s exactly how your message will be received if you ignore audience engagement, especially for virtual incentives! So, let’s jump in!

Questions to Ask Yourself

Before taking all the nuggets of information and plugging it into your next meeting or event, take a breather and think about these questions.

  1. How do I want to make the audience feel? And why?
  2. What can I do differently in this space that is even better than before?
  3. What’s next? What do I want the audience to respond with?

For example, in response to question 2… if you wanted to showcase a special venue in person, a private tour for 250 people would be next to impossible. However, in the virtual world, you can give a never before seen pre-recorded private tour and possibly even have guest appearances. Think about hearing Dolly Parton give a tour of her new hotel and then sing in the Ryman to showcase Nashville, TN! That’s definitely a memorable experience! – facilitated thanks to a virtual platform.

Here are some key pointers to make sure you engage your audience through careful experience design!

Bring Emotion into the Event

We want to make the audience feel something at the event. Let’s face it, when people are invited to attend a meeting or event, it is rarely tied to a strong emotion. However, in life, our most memorable experiences are formed when we feel some type of strong emotion. So, let’s not shy away from bringing emotion and ethos into how we design our meetings and events.

Dr. Andrew Lacanienta, Professor of Experience Industry Management at CalPoly State University, challenged us to think outside the normal emotions associated with meetings and events.

“Think of your childhood. Draw inspiration from that.”

Dr. Andrew Lacanienta

For Example:

  • Do something themed that keeps things light or silly. It could be wearing hats or the worst “tourist” outfit.
  • Make them laugh. Try engaging the audience with skits!
  • Encourage movement. Maybe even dance.
  • Reward them with something tangible.

Going back to the Nashville tour… Imagine if everyone on the webinar were told prior to the event to dress up like their favorite country singer. It would transform the attendees out of their normal day and into the feeling of truly being in “Music City”!

Dare to be Bold

The goal here is to look for opportunities to do something different that was not, or could not, have been done before. No matter if you are a planner, supplier, or DMC, you know the importance of a good site visit. These current times have made it more challenging, but the key is taking your audience out of their ordinary world and into the “world” you want to share with them. You’ll want to create a stark difference between ordinary everyday life and the idea you have for them to see. Crossing the threshold is so important! So many meetings (digital or live) miss the mark on this and it becomes just another session. So, spend some time on designing a power barrier to entry. Don’t just rely on images and words. Use multi-sensory engagement. Think about sending a candle with a clean ocean scent or a specialty cocktail recipe with the ingredients to make a drink. Remember, the key here is to engage and enhance the audience experience.

Allow time to Reconnect & Reflect

After you have transformed the audience in a way that is engaging, dare I say, memory-inspiring, you’ll want to give them time to reconnect with one another and reflect. Just like you brought the audience into the realm of your meeting, you’ll want to now allow them to think about what they have just seen, heard, smelt, tasted and experienced to take back with them into their “normal world”. This can look very different depending on the type of meeting or event you have. Maybe you are hosting a sales meeting and you want to have time at the end for people to share their take-aways, or maybe you want to host an individualised meditation time. Whatever it may be, be sure to carve out time to reconnect and reflect.

Man taking time to reflect - a key element of successful experience design in virtual incentives.
Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

Written by: Windsor Crawford, Regional Sales Manager, Cultivate