Stealing the show: How learnings from theatre can make events engaging and impactful

Audience engagement 

Audience engagement is a widespread challenge for events and conferences today, particularly in a post-Covid world, where online alternatives to in-person attendance and high-impact short burst pre- and post-event material, are so commonplace.

Securing your attendees and then keeping them interested once they are in the space (when so much else is competing for their attention) can be a real problem.

There will invariably be a multitude of touchpoints to consider; it’s not just about a main space, everything from sponsor or brand zones, to networking or food and drink spaces, right through to exhibition or retail areas that need to be taken into account.

So how to elevate the power and emotive engagement of the experiences we deliver?

Why not glean inspiration from the oldest, and one of the most engaging event formats there is: the theatre?

Ben Krebs, head of production at Event Concept

Originally published in MIT Magazine. Read the original article here.

Real Impact

Whilst approaching corporate conferences and brand events as you would theatrical productions sounds a bit fanciful, there’s a lot the event production world can learn from theatre.

Theatre is all about storytelling.

Theatregoers expect to be transported somewhere else and to lose themselves in a narrative during the show.

They expect to be taken on a journey as a collective, to experience the show together. With the right expertise, events can deliver that same transformative experience.

Event producers have an opportunity to go deeper on an emotional level with their audience to land a brand’s message in a truly memorable way, which is key to driving long-lasting business impact.

Theatrical Inspiration

Of course, there is a crucial line to be drawn.

Though all events can take inspiration from theatre, that does not mean they need to be flashy or elaborate productions to achieve their objectives.

Often, it’s about weaving elements and methodologies subtly, to ensure that an exhibition delivers the brand messaging, a retail space hits sales targets, or a conference has great delegate engagement.

Creating that immersion and landing the right messaging is achieved by creating a holistic and well-curated experience for all the senses across the entire event lifecycle.

Pre-event communications also have a role to play – that’s where the audience journey begins so your story needs to start there.

This is followed by the live experience, where spatial and lighting design, a bespoke and evocative soundscape, compelling moving content, and even carefully designed catering or florals that speak to the theme of the event can all work together to bring people into your brand story.

Post-event wrap-up comms can reinforce messages and if the whole experience has been effective, attendees will become brand ambassadors beyond that moment in time.

The role of tech

As an industry, we can get hung up on the use of the latest tech to make our events more engaging.

Of course, virtual reality and augmented reality can be effective ways of showcasing a product or idea, whether to demonstrate a new car in action or allow attendees to experiment with new fashion trends virtually – but a VR headset or an AR activation won’t always serve as the panacea for all.

You need to ensure that in the onsite environment, these do not become isolating rather than social experiences.

Many people describe theatre as a community experience and in the same way, a core part of the event experience is enjoying it live as a group.

Where hybrid events are required working out how to balance the experience delivered for in-person attendees and those joining online is a significant challenge for those hosting events in this post-Covid world.

The whole industry is stepping up to make digital experiences feel as real and interactive as possible, alongside ensuring that when the event is hybrid the remote experience is as compelling as possible.

Here’s one place where tech has a significant role to play.

If event producers use it well, they can deliver a narrative-driven, engaging and meaningful experience through a screen too.

Theatrical talent

The benefit of leveraging the skillsets of event professionals with a theatrical background and training cannot be underestimated.

From scenic, lighting and audio design, to content creation and production management, the balance of commercial and creative considerations, and core focus on experience and emotive response that is so central to theatre practice can be transformative to events.

That is why we often hire talent with this type of background. That expertise is important.

Successfully producing truly unforgettable events comes down to event producers working with their event strategists and designers, needing to look at their event more humanly and holistically to engage audiences. It’s this which will immerse attendees, drive an emotional reaction, and make your event stand out among the sea of competition.

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