Creative Group’s List of Top 20 Innovative Event Ideas

We’ve put together a list of 20 innovative event ideas gathered from — you guessed it — the most innovative meetings and events. Keep reading for actionable ways to implement some of the ideas to engage your participants and make your next meeting or event more relevant than ever!

  1. Get creative with meeting spaces and venues. Google did this with their I/O developers conference by creating a festival-like event. If moving the location is not an option, brainstorm ways to reinvent the look and feel of the space. Tie the environment to the purpose of the gathering and watch audience engagement levels spike.
  2. Support a lasting outreach project. Give-back projects are a great engagement tool, but once the group leaves, the give-back ends. To really create lasting impressions in the communities surrounding conference locations, the Greenbuild International Conference & Expo selects an annual “Legacy Project,” which has included the building of multiple educational facilities including a job-training center and an urban food studio.
  3. Build a data warehouse. Past and present attendee data will help you make informed decisions about the future layout, content offerings, or even location of your next event. At the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting & Food Expo, tiny battery-operated beacons were placed on name badges to measure booth dwell time and aisle traffic. In large conferences such as SAP’s Sapphire Now, the use of iBeacon technology afforded the opportunity to track traffic patterns, identify points of interest for attendees, and better design the floorplan of the space for the future.
  4. Create micro-communities. Start connecting attendees before the event begins. The Social Media Marketing World conference did this by setting up internet chat groups based on a number of factors such as geographic location and industry. Opportunities for networking continued in full force throughout the event, helping the participants make the most of it. Another way to enhance micro-communities is to tap into the power of micro-influencers.
  5. Understand audience personas. Tailoring content to each target audience will ensure the event is hyper-relevant to participant interests. Salesforce’s Dreamforce Conference created intimate events and specialized zones to appeal to each audience type. Asking the right questions upfront, thinking strategically and optimizing attendee data will help you understand personas to create maximum engagement.
  6. Personalize the experience. Even though data privacy is an area of concern, people are willing to share their data in exchange for personalized experiences. It has become more prevalent to receive a coupon on your phone when entering a store or a ping about product information when you pass a company’s booth at a trade show. The ever-innovative South by Southwest Interactive Show (SXSW) analyzes attendee profiles, identifying things such as previously favorited sessions, location, and behavior based on real-time data from GPS tracking and beacons around the event site. While it takes time and money to develop algorithms to suggest personalized session recommendations, it can positively influence the attendee experience, especially at large, complex events.
  7. Re-think the old PowerPoint and think Instagram. Marriott replaced PowerPoint presentations with a live fashion show at its Marriott Sales, Marketing, Revenue Management, and Event Management Conference. The unexpected and highly energetic show visually depicted the target audience for each Marriott brand through designer label clothing. Many content presentation formats have emerged lately, but the most successful examples create thoughtful audience interaction. In 2018, they created interactive vignettes to showcase each of their hotel brands – inspired by other Instagrammable installations.
  8. Demand (and benefit from) diversity. The Social Capital Markets Conference, a gathering to discuss impact investing and social entrepreneurship, requires every panel at the conference to include participants that reflect gender, racial, and ethnic diversity. It’s also important to ensure the content is relevant to a broad audience. This helps foster innovation by being open to diversity of thought. Melding multiple developer conferences into one, Microsoft Ignite, could have proved chaotic for the differing audience types, but instead, it became evident how innovation and inspiration could come from looking at the bigger picture. Many networking events, including “mashups” of different communities, reinforced the human connection at the events.
  9. Unplug. It’s easier to unplug when it’s hard to connect to Wi-Fi. It’s rarer now that you’ll hear of a “no social media policy”; however, the Summit at Sea swears by it. Taking place on a cruise ship, organizers want to promote intimate conversations and genuine togetherness during the entire experience. Although seemingly more manageable for a small group, the Summit at Sea was able to pull this off for a group of over 3,000. Other meetings have participants put their phones in lock boxes for select sessions; even providing prizes for those who can make it the whole time without peeking.
  10. Escape the comfort zone. The C2 conference (which explores the intersection of commerce and creativity) created special “brainstorming environments to propel participants out of their usual frame of reference.” One activity paired attendees to walk together under an umbrella while simulated rain fell, to explore topics like collaboration and trust. Another year, they suspended hanging chairs 18 feet in the air to change people’s perspectives. Adding out-of-the-ordinary elements is a great way to ensure your event remains memorable.
  11. Ask for feedback. Feedback can be collected in a wide variety of methods; whether in real-time like at the world’s first hotel in “live beta,” or with post-event surveys on a mobile event app. SAP’s Sapphire Now conference worked with University students to gather brief, in-person interviews with attendees throughout the show. This helped to capture impressions immediately, ensuring they weren’t lost.
  12. Welcome newbies. Setting the stage and guiding newcomers on what they should expect throughout a conference can help them focus and not get overwhelmed. Microsoft has taken this one step further at their Worldwide Partner Conference by staffing a live “help desk” and adding a post-event workshop to provide next-steps and real-world applications for first-time attendees.
  13. Run a volunteer program. The tech start-up – Collision Conference – invites volunteers to help with registration, social media and speaker services for the four-day event. Instead of hiring staff, the volunteers are compensated with complimentary access to the event. Considering running a similar program for large events, or a “scholarship” program for smaller events. This will help with event publicity too.
  14. Inspire attendees. The wedding industry summit, Engage!16, inspires its attendees by making them feel as special as couples feel on their wedding day. Organizers shower participants with luxurious gifts and take them on a journey of surprise and delight. Do away with meaningless conference swag, and incorporate emotional storytelling to inspire the audience and make the message more impactful – it’s what participants are asking for according to an EventTrack survey.
  15. Think outside your industry. A professionally diverse audience fosters fresh thinking. The Re/Code annual Code Conference organizers did this by manually curating the invite list instead of offering attendance to past attendees first. Industry diversity can easily be applied to speaker presentations or panel discussions to offer different viewpoints to the audience. The whole concept of event festivalization plays into this too, as it combines entertainment and education, creativity and business.
  16. Livestream for widespread reach. Global issues should have a global stage. Mashable’s Social Good Summit partners with the United Nations Foundation to discuss how technology and new media can help tackle issues such as poverty and climate change. Livestreaming the event for people that were not able to attend in person expanded the conversation to 90,000 people from 200 countries and territories. More than just an isolated event, the conversation continued long after the meeting was over.
  17. Engineer serendipity. The Collision conference literally did just that. They utilized applied statisticians and computational physicists to figure out people who would benefit from meeting one another. Investors were also directed toward startups that matched their interests. Even if you don’t hire an engineer for your next program, the concept can still be applied. It can be as simple as collecting personal preferences during event registration, such as hobbies, in order to group those with similar interests on activities or tours.
  18. Fully integrate the theme. You don’t have to be a professional filmmaker to immerse your attendees in an experience. Make sure all speakers and presenters tie their content to the purpose of the meeting or meeting theme. You can also take advantage of great venues that help tell your story and are inspirational in their shear nature. Weaving the purpose through every aspect of the event from communication to location to content will ensure you are leaving a lasting impression. Who didn’t love a themed birthday party growing up? Like being a kid again, Summer Brand Camp  weaved the “Summer Camp” theme throughout the entire meeting with things like casual dress (shorts and flip-flops), food (s’mores and popsicles) and summer décor. It was casual and fun, yet accomplished the goal of connection and improving communication. We’ve designed and implemented some pretty over-the-top event ideas for clients too; including acrobatics and scripted villains for a James Bond theme and a “Go Pro” event at Dallas Stadium with appearances from the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders.
  19. Make it interactive and fun. Whether you are acting out a mock emergency room such as at the American College of Emergency Physicians Scientific Assembly, entertaining your audience with a comedian, or role-playing a new sales strategy, the impact on education and engagement is significant. Hands-on activities and demonstrations grab the attention of your audience, creating memorable experiences that will stay with them long after the event.
  20. Crowdsource content. When organized properly, not only can crowd sourcing topics increase audience engagement but collaboration is born where similar interests lie. It’s even beneficial when an idea is voted-down because of the opportunity to constructively learn how ideas can be improved upon. Companies are using social media for instant feedback at meetings and beyond. Airbnb’s CEO took to Twitter to crowdsource ideas on what to launch in 2017 and Buzzfeed held a dance battle on Facebook Live that adapted according to the comments from viewers. Utilize this concept at B2B events by gathering topics from suppliers, employees and customers through the event registration website, private Facebook groups or your intranet.

We hope these ideas will inspire you to continually innovate, making each event you host a more memorable and impactful experience than the last. For more information on creating the ultimate experience for your participants, download our free white paper below. 

photo credit: C2 Montreal

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