5 Key Trends from the WXO Summit 2024

Kate Connell, Project Director at EC, talks about the key trends emerging from the World Experience Summit 2024, held this month in New York. 

The World Experience Organization’s Summit took place at the legendary performance art space House Of Yes in Brooklyn, New York, last week. The three-day event that brought together innovators and executives from across the world to explore the latest trends in the experience economy. 

From mind-bending interactive installations to deeply contemplative experiences, it was a powerful reminder of how experience design can ignite curiosity and leave a lasting impact. 

We’ve compiled the emerging trends that are shaping the industry, those that will challenge us to keep on pushing boundaries and enhancing the richness of experience for everyone.

Sorbet Experiences 

With presence an important state of consciousness at the beginning of any event, expect a rise in pockets of ‘palate cleansing’ moments that help us transition from one experience to the next. In response to the challenge of conference sensory overwhelm, these micro ‘sorbet’ experiences allow attendees to reset and refresh between the intensity of panel and breakout sessions. 

At the summit, innovation consultancy White Mirror showcased therapeutic ‘palate cleanser’ soundscapes inspired by biophilic nature sounds. Designed to support the nervous system, the cutting-edge audio aligns with circadian rhythms, opening up much-needed moments of calm and helping combat fatigue. When considering a live event, everything is a touchpoint and an opportunity to breathe life into the experience, as well as the audience.

Watch out for immersive interludes that keep attendees pepped up, and which may even neutralise the hierarchy of speaker slots in the future. 

The Death of Storytelling

With technology and culture evolving, it’s game over for storytelling in the way that we know it. Since the dawn of time, narratives have been linear, but they are now evolving to be multi-linear, merging real and virtual worlds simultaneously. Opening up parallel timelines, dreams and side plots, this exciting journey is just at the beginning. 

Former Disney Imagineer, Stephanie Riggs, and author of The End of Storytelling took us on a non-linear journey, from formulaic story shapes such as the Hero’s Journey to wavelets and radials which are more relevant for today and tomorrow’s media. 

In her workshop, we explored how, in order to develop powerful stories in emerging mediums, multi-linear narratives will manifest as unscripted ‘funky techno screensavers’: constantly evolving, interacting at different touchpoints and responding to the audience and environment. As experience creators, we often try to design out uncertainty with linear narratives, but having the courage to surrender to the unknown will open up groundbreaking new experiences.

Main Character Moments

The inflection point between humans and machines is more important than ever, with technology enabling us to play with human experience. Among the innovations showcased at the summit were mixed reality, AI generation and Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID), which are reshaping experiences from the ground up, and challenging audiences to use all their senses for complete immersion. 

The session, Make Your Audience the Main Character, hosted by digital agency NeoPangea, detailed how future experiences will integrate RFID to make visitors the protagonist in their own personalised, localised and interactive story. Instead of listening to a story, participants become the story, co-creating and determining the direction in which it unfolds. 

Advanced tech will also allow us to measure experiences through biometrics; identifying the ‘main character’ moments which trigger oxytocin and dopamine bursts that will induce post-event ‘cravings’ – helpfully informing us what leaves audiences wanting to come back for more.

Healing Spaces  

The Experience as Medicine session explored the power of ‘functional’ experiences; those that use insights from neuroscience and art to make us smarter, happier, more curious and creative.

This notion is taking root, with a surge in experiences that help to ground, re-orientate and heal, and which play a transformative role in mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. The panel, experts in psychosocial health and esoteric practices, delved into the power of curated experiences to positively impact health outcomes, from the resurgence of ancient spiritual practices to the fast-moving frontiers of biohacking. 

The antidote to today’s tech-enabled fantasy worlds, these somatic experiences serve in grounding attendees in reality, and offer fascinating journeys of inner self-exploration. For example, the importance of sound as a vector of emotion, catharsis and healing came up repeatedly during the summit, with the use of L-Acoustics L-ISA spatial audio to nourish the audience.

Designing for Community  

The WXO Summit is a self-termed ‘unconference,’ a participant-driven gathering mixing open discussions and audience-led formats. Its fluid schedule had several ‘gears,’ allowing its 300 attendees to experience the event in different ways, from passive listening to active participation. 

It also leaned on community storytellers over VIPs for a more impactful and authentic experience. The Designing for Community session highlighted the importance of multicultural experiences for the whole audience spectrum. From accessibility to neurodiversity, we need to build psychology into the pre-design phase: How do we want all guests to feel? How can we play with our event to land this emotional goal across the audience spectrum? 

In a talk about ‘emotional bureaucracy’ artist April Soetarman explained how ‘delight is the intersection between the positive and unexpected.’ To create future experiences for everyone we need to balance thoughtful design with empowering the audience to steer the direction of their journey.

Conclusion

These trends are concepts we are leaning into at EC, and we are excited to add new tools to our arsenal to keep pushing the limits of the event experience. A recurring theme that resonated was bridging ancient wisdom with modern technology to enhance the wellbeing of each and every guest – drawing from the past and the future to breathe life into audiences today.

Technology is now deeply entwined in the human experience, and we can use it to enhance wellbeing and creativity in new and personal ways. At EC, we get the importance of balancing digital innovation with a deep understanding of human connection, designing with diversity and the individual front of mind. 

By embracing the next wave of event trends we can engage with both heads and hearts to enhance the experience for everyone, and cater to the rapidly evolving ambitions of our clients.

Author:
Kate Connell, Project Director

Originally published in C&IT. Read the original article here.

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