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Feature – Design for Engagement

Designing the Future of Association Events By Kim Myhre, Managing Director, MCI UK and MCI Experience One of the challenges that seem to be consistently shared by nearly every association event planner is finding a way to balance what is perceived to have worked in the past with what needs to change for the future.

A new interdisciplinary approach that engages a much wider range of skills and disciplines is the future of experience design.

As with most membership-driven associations, change can be difficult to embrace and there is a reassuring sense of comfort gained by staying with a ‘tried and tested’ event approach. It is simpler and sometimes easier to stick with traditional, familiar formats and approaches to congress design than try something new.

One idea now practiced by a growing number of event planners is the use of a more structured planning approach called Design Thinking. IDEO, the global design firm that developed Design Thinking defines it as “a human-centred approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

What we do know is that association audiences are changing. They are getting younger, they are technology-enabled with access to information and networking from the device in their pocket rather than needing to wait for an annual event, and they are more demanding. Time is at a premium. Relevancy, value of content and the quality of the experience all play a pivotal role when attracting audiences to an association event. Changing audiences ultimately means that event formats must evolve. Relying on the traditional approaches and expertise that the events industry has been using for years to design event experiences, will not be sufficient to create the next generation of event experiences.

The process is a straightforward five-step model.

So, what’s a forward-thinking association event planner to do?

In practice, design thinking is a set of planning principals that enables you to move from the traditional approach to event planning towards a more structured, attendee-centric, insights-driven and strategic way of planning events. In Design Thinking the focus is on the people and experience. It is a human-centred approach to event planning that helps us to get a deep, empathetic understanding of our attendees’ wants and needs, whilst encouraging creative consideration of a wide array of innovative event experiences and solutions.

The chief benefit of using a process like Design Thinking when planning event experiences is that it puts the attendee experience at the centre of event planning. The question that must be asked is, “how can we create an engaging, meaningful, memorable and sharable event experience for our audience?” Whilst we now live in a world where the potential power of event experiences has never been greater, the future of these experiences will need to be more personalised, authentic, engaging, and enjoyable. Traditional event planning approaches that focused primarily on logistics will need to reflect a changing audience. Design Thinking enables us to imagine a future for successful association events with legacy and systematically achieve that vision.

PCO | September 2018

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