With the age of passive participation coming to an end, experience design is the resource that can truly make a difference for your conference.
The Traditional Passive Conference
Most conference experiences are passive. Those conferences deliver information and distribute content for listening and watching with the assumption that learning is a one-way process. In fact, they don’t engage attendees in any other way.
However, people today don’t want to have a passive experience. They want to participate, discuss, expound, question, meet peers, and think deeper. People are tired of being lectured to and talked at. Instead, they want to relate conference topics to their life and work through experiences in which they connect with other people. In a nutshell, they want to feel special!
The Age of Experiences
In the current digital era, conference organizers compete for online and live attention. Persisting with a traditional passive format means that they are not only competing with other live conferences but also with online events, webinars, videos, and other kinds of content that is available for free. The big challenge for events is to find a unique formula to attract, to entertain and engage, and to make sure attendees come back year after year. That is when experience design becomes the secret weapon for profitable businesses!
What is Experience Design?
To explain what experience design is (often interchangeable with the terminology “service design”), I often use the following example:
“You have two ice cream parlors, right next to each other. Each sells the same type of ice cream for the same price. Experience design is what makes you walk into one and not the other!”
So, if the product and the price are the same, what attracts people’s attention?
This video by Fjord inspired by Marc Fonteijn explains the concept. It’s well done and immediate. For a start, I recommend investing 3 minutes of your time to watch it. The video builds a scenario with coffee shops instead of ice cream parlors, but you’ll get the idea.
What is Service Design? A tale of two coffee shops from Fjord on Vimeo.
This sounds easy, doesn’t it?
Experience design or experience design thinking (the approach to it) is the practice of designing products, processes, experiences, events, and environments with a focus on the quality of the customer experience with culturally relevant solutions.
Experience design offers a bird’s-eye view and facilitates the connection between relevant trends, market research, ethnographic studies, culture, visual communication, and much more.
This approach puts people at the heart of an experience. In fact, it allows building functional connections through design and meaningful connections through storytelling via many different touch points – websites, a mobile app, human interactions between the conference experience providers and attendees – during the journey in which people interact with your experience.
The journey doesn’t take place only during the actual day(s) of the conference. Instead, it already happens before during the concept creation, ideation, and planning, and that it continues afterward when ongoing feedback is key to improving the service.
A New Paradigm: The Experiential Conference
That means transforming the event into an experiential platform in which all content matters. From the line-up of speakers, workshops, and other activities to the sound, space design, badges, food, interactions between attendees, and attendees and speakers. All those elements contribute to engaging participants and delivering a message worth their attention. That is what makes the difference between an appealing modern conference experience and an outdated one.
By mastering experience design, conferences organizers can surprise, create recurring ‘wows’, and increase loyalty and revenues. After all, if participants feel they learn something useful and manage to connect with people that can advance them, they have no reason to opt for another event.
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