Buzz is building around “experiential meetings.” In the spring 2019 edition of Meeting Planner International’s Meetings Outlook report, 78% of event planners said that demand for creating unique attendee experiences had risen, and 37% called it a “substantial increase.” Event attendees share the modern traveler’s desire to create memories and connections in authentic, unexpected ways. This happens most naturally when attendees are engaged—mentally, emotionally and physically. Experiential meetings, in turn, tap into all five senses to boost team building, active engagement and return attendance. Keep reading for our six favorite off-site experiential meeting design tips.
1. Consider Locale and Capitalize on It
In the EXPERIENCE Institute’s 2017 Decision to Attend study, 78% of respondents named an event’s destination as a top reason for registering, while 75% ranked “variety of things to see and do” as a primary destination factor. Attendees care about where they go and what they can do once they get there—inside and outside of work hours. Choose a destination that can exceed their expectations with happenings they can’t find elsewhere.
Get Inspired: Use your destination’s convention and visitors bureau (CVB) to determine local vendors and partners who can elevate your event to the next level. Thinking of a D.C.-area meeting? Plan to be surprised and inspired when chatting with the destination experts in Alexandria, Virginia, named the #1 Best Value U.S. Travel Destination 2018 by Money magazine and a Top 5 Best Small City in the U.S. 2018 by the Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards.
2. Surprise and Satisfy with Local Eats
After hours, make meals an event while attendees connect over a common table. From chef demonstrations to street food to a dinner prepared in-home by locals, options are as ample as they are appetizing. Create the customized experience your attendees crave by tasting regional specialties—from oysters to wine to chess pie—and consider sending attendees home with a sample to share and spark memories.
Get Inspired: In Alexandria, attendees can snack their way through the city with Carpe DC’s food crawl, or say “cheers!” with cheese-and-beer combos at Port City Brewing Company and Cheesetique’s Private Guided Pairings. At George Washington’s Distillery & Gristmill, your group will forget what century they’re in as they sip George’s whiskey in a cozy colonial setting.
3. Get Moving in the Great Outdoors
Fuel a sense of adventure and accomplishment—not to mention endorphins—with outdoor activities. Is your event by the water? Near the woods? Reduce stress and increase the fun factor with parasailing, hiking or even “forest-bathing.” Just remember to offer accessible activities to include participants of various ages and abilities.
Get Inspired: In Alexandria, cruise with your crew along Alexandria’s bike paths, take a tour on Pedego Electric Bikes or kayak on the Potomac River. Get on the water at the Washington Sailing Marina, or hit the links at Topgolf. For a satisfying workout session, rev and refresh with Port City’s Pedals and Pints and Beer Yoga events.
4. Inspire with Arts and Culture
Wow your attendees with local art experiences, from street murals to museum exhibits and everything in between. Add music to the equation by hiring a local band or visiting a popular concert venue. Then, get the creative juices flowing while fostering community at hands-on makers spaces.
Get Inspired: Alexandria’s Torpedo Factory Art Center makes a stunning reception venue, blending its former industrial vibe with the creative energy of 82 active artists’ studios. Or, get crafty creating home décor at AR Workshop and paintings at Wine & Design.
5. Challenge Attendees to Friendly Competition
Tap into attendees’ competitive spirit while engaging their intellect. Look for destination-specific activities, such as a city-wide historical scavenger hunt, and watch as your group gels when you gamify.
Get Inspired: Put yourself in the boots of our nation’s first president with George Washington’s Mount Vernon’s “Be Washington” experience and see how your decisions would shape up. Later, sleuth your way out at Escape Room Live, race through the city with Let’s Roam’s scavenger hunt and match wits at Port City Brewing Company’s tailor-made team-building trivia night.
6. Connect Over a Cause
Experiential meetings elicit a positive emotional response, in turn cementing positive mood memories. Stoke those feel-good emotions and expand your meeting’s impact by engaging with local service organizations, from conservation groups to food banks. Local CVBs can connect you with these efforts and share corporate social responsibility ideas.
Remember, experiential meetings are not simply a series of stimuli, but a well-planned itinerary shaped toward an intentional objective, an objective that you define at the outset. At the end of your event, consider issuing a survey to attendees, and use their responses to craft the next crowd-pleasing, tailor-made group experience that meets your goals.
Header Image Credit: Christine Halsey for Building Momentum