Engagement is everything and event professionals are scrambling to find ways to connect with attendees by creating an environment where people want to be. With conferences borrowing elements from music festivals like Glastonbury and Clockenflap or fan festivals like Comic-Con, we are now seeing live music, comedy, celebrities, fantastic food, and interactive experiences at business events.
Festivalisation means more than just simply adding carnival-type elements to an event — the goal is to include experiences that resonate with and appeal to the target audience in order to get them engaged.
Make a Personal Connection
The essence of festivalisation is to create an event that the audience wants to attend. That’s why an event that targets specific groups or fans of a particular genre is naturally more personal for delegates — the interactions and engagement points are strongly related to their interests. In turn, this makes the event more positive and memorable. Crucially, if done well, these fans will evangelise about the event, bringing in new fans and returning again and again.
The gaming and e-sports sector is famous for hosting big-ticket festivalised events, and events like ChinaJoy — an annual digital entertainment expo in Shanghai — can provide a possible road map for other sectors. In the B2C section of ChinaJoy, exhibiting companies interact directly with consumers, who are drawn from a tremendously diverse and enthusiastic demographic. Here, fans of e-sports, gaming, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), wearable tech, anime and more all mix together, engage, and contribute to the experience. Pico gained firsthand experience of this phenomenon when we activated a massive booth and created a programme of interactive events for a popular mobile game brand at this year’s ChinaJoy.
Visitors circulated through six distinct zones, each of which offered a mix of activities, entertainment, and products. The main stage hosted cosplay competitions and interactive games, fan meetings with e-sports stars, and a high-profile competition between famous e-sports teams. Other parts of the booth offered a VR game experience zone and a life-size “grabber” machine which saw visitors strap in and grab as many snacks as possible. The sheer size and growth figures of ChinaJoy point to the event’s increasing success — the 2018 event drew in 350,000 people, 10,000 more than the 2017 edition.
Ultra Music Festival is another instructive example of festivalisation. Once a fiesta for a niche group of die-hard electronic music fans, the event has spread its wings over the past decades and is now a true global phenomenon.
This year’s Ultra Singapore featured a lineup of world famous DJs and electronic music artists and a stunning array of interactive brand engagement activities, offering more points of interaction which attracted and engaged a wider audience.
The Road to Festivalisation
For traditional events like industry conferences or trade shows, achieving this level of energy and engagement requires careful planning. A good starting point is to ditch common practices or conventional formats. Instead, ask potential delegates what they want to see and experience at the upcoming event; by doing so, you let their ideas, suggestions and preferences create an event programme for you. By asking for and listening to delegates’ ideas, the event programme will directly reflect and respond to the audience’s needs. At the same time, if the event is a conference or forum, encourage the speakers to choose the format of their own segment. This will introduce a level of diversity and creativity which, in turn, might grab the attention of people beyond the event or even the industry.
Last but not least, make full use of technology to create interesting and engaging interactions that draw in the live audience and also “project” the experience to a wider audience outside the event. Making sure everyone has a good time gives them a reason to return to future events.
The fundamentals of event planning do not need to change — we still need to understand what motivates our audiences and what they want to hear, see, and do at an event — and it may be that turning a serious conference into a fun festival is not appropriate.
But when it comes to crafting experiences that move people, enhance the engagement of committed fans, or pique the interest of the general public, festivalisation can provide that all-important extra boost.