3 February, 2023, 14:03

The Fine Art of “Festivalizing” Meetings and Events

Out with the old and in with the interactive – festivalization doesn’t just attract attendees to an event, it helps them consume the content…but only when done right.

“Festivalization” may be a made-up word, popularized in the meeting and events industry, but the concept of connectivity behind the colloquialism is as tangible as the money in your wallet. At its heart, it’s about including experiences that resonate with the target audience in order to get them engaged (think: putting the same amount of emphasis on entertainment as education). But there is a common misconception that the festivalization of an event is merely adding eccentric, eye-catching elements to a run-of-the-mill conference.

For corporate event planners who have been hosting events in ballrooms and conference centers with the same passed hors d’oeuvres and glasses of pinot grigio forever, this may seem like an intimidating shift. Luckily, there are plenty of examples of engaging festivals and festivalized events in the world to learn from. And when innovative planners implement them properly, the return on investment is undeniable.

First, Know Your Audience & Get Input

The essence of festivalization is to create an event that the audience wants to attend. If you throw in some vogue experiences that don’t fit the mission behind the event, it can distance the attendees, while costing the whole operation a pretty penny. So the key is to gauge what potential attendees want to see and experience and let the programming directly reflect their input. Take advantage of the technology at your disposal to gather opinions from attendees and allow them to shape content. For example, South by Southwest – the annual conference conglomerate of film, interactive media, and music – has created its own online platform called Panel Picker, which allows anybody to suggest ideas for presentations, which are then voted on (the most popular suggestions are then brought to life in the event). You may not be able to develop your own digital platform, but apps and closed social media groups are a great way to collect data. Once you have that data – and only then – should you begin your event’s deliberate design process.

“PanelPicker connects us with the thousands of creative professionals, experts, and decision-makers from the many disciplines in the global SXSW community. This interface helps us identify the most compelling new ideas within the many different industries we serve and, in so doing, keeps SXSW exciting, timely, and relevant.”
—Hugh Forrest, SXSW Chief Programming Officer

Interactive Tailored Experiences

Covering everything from virtual reality to e-sports, with six zones of activity and entertainment spanning a more-than-1,800-squarefoot facility, ChinaJoy is one of the most influential expositions in the digital entertainment industry. And it’s showing no sign of slowing down: From 2017 to 2018, it grew by 10,000 attendees with a total of 350,000 gamers flooding the dynamic expo in 2019. The secret to ChinaJoy’s success? Interactive, experiential programming. They know their audience and tailor their content to suit them. There is no sitting quietly while a speaker drones on about the e-sport’s boom. There are live competitions between famous e-sport teams and competitions where the fans can get involved in the action. It elevates spectators to participants, and that is the key to making any event, or meeting, memorable.

Setting the Space

Architect, Adam Paulitsch, touts spatial design as the key to “festivalization”. Pointing to the success of C2 Montréal, one of the more progressive events in the corporate space, he provides evidence of the implications of properly utilized space. “By virtue of hosting the conference in an empty riverfront warehouse, the show’s designers had few physical barriers to limit them. Multiple separate meetings happened feet from one another with no dividers,” he explains. Open-concept meeting space creates an inherent flow and connectivity even among different groups of people participating in different activities.

C2 Montréal, 2018

C2 Montréal, 2018

Not Just One Experience

Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts is the poster child for giving the people what they want — which is rarely just one thing. To create a truly dynamic event, there must be many cohesive elements. Glastonbury is primarily a music festival, but they also have food stalls dishing out cuisines from around the world, a market filled with vendors, and public art pieces for spectators to enjoy. Take a cue from this international festival experience and provide more than one activity option for attendees to choose from. Make sure there are interesting food and beverage options and lots of activities or workshops happening throughout the conference or event.