Today’s typical user conferences are hardly typical at all. With top notch entertainment, vibrant creative scenes and surprise and delight experiences around every corner, what was once a simple sit-down business event has become something that looks more like a buzzing arts festival. Here are four tips for shaking up your user conference strategy to give it a more competitive edge.
1. Create ‘Micro Experiences’
Successful user events are doing away with the “general session plus exhibit floor” model and are creating more unstructured physical spaces filled with immersive, tangible and tactile engagements—“experiences within an experience,” says Brent Turner, SVP, Solutions at Cramer. “People are taking inspiration from and being influenced by the more general trend around consumer activations.”
TED 2016, for example, offered rock climbing walls and ball pits for its attendees. The C2 (Creativity and Commerce) conference in Montreal erected a full-scale Ferris wheel inside its event space. Bottom line: the same people who are coming to your show are comparing you to what they experienced at South by Southwest, Coachella and other festival-style events.
2. Become One with the Destination
Why host an event in a killer host city when you’re just going to lock your attendees away in a nondescript ballroom? “The biggest and best conferences become microcosms entwined in their location,” says Turner. “They’re authentic and true to where they are.”
For example, think about how Austin, Texas, and South by Southwest have become synonymous with one another, and how you can bring that same sense of place and destination to your event. Some ideas: treat attendees to local musicians, artist engagements, and tasty fare by local chefs (even food trucks!) that infuse your user event with the local flavor—and a whole lot of energy.
3. Create a Next-Gen Environment
Smart environmental design is just step-one in the modern user conference experience. To truly differentiate your event, you have to give it a sense of special energy that goes beyond the static identity work. “You’re not just branding a space, you’re figuring out how to take your business’s purpose and keep that tied into all the spaces,” says Turner.
Can attendees collaborate on a digital graffiti wall that embodies your company’s spirit of collaboration? Can a local artist create customized takeaways that align with your product’s personalized features? “It’s about how you keep what’s special about your company’s message going on outside the general session, so when you walk out there’s something big and meaningful—a space of activation and activity versus passive signage illustrating just your brand identity,” Turner says.
4. Be Courageous
“Give yourself permission to explore the edges of what’s expected and possible—of stepping into the irreverent to find something that may not make a lot of sense on paper,” says Turner.
Like the C2 conference, which offered attendees the chance to climb above the show floor, circus style, and have meetings suspended in chairs. “You may amaze and engage your audience in a way they didn’t see coming. That alchemy of physical reaction becomes so much bigger when you are tapping into those emotions in a way that’s not expected or planned for.”
As an added bonus, quirky and unexpected moments are also highly shareable ones, and that viral effect is an imperative piece of any healthy user conference.