We take a look at how different sectors of the industry are trying to be more creative in their offering

Increasingly, planners are using technology to encourage collaboration and creativity – even during speeches, which were traditionally a fairly one-dimensional format. ‘The delivery of content shouldn’t just be someone standing up and talking,’ explains Daniel Curtis, MD at event specialist EMC3. ‘Delegates now have the opportunity to vote or ask questions during a speech via apps on their phones.’

EMC3 is currently working with a Chicago-based company to bring augmented reality into conferences, which, the company claims, will add another layer of interaction to events. ‘Delegates could hold up their phones and see things on the stage that aren’t actually there,’ says Curtis. ‘Augmented reality is, I think, going to be really big.’

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The technology has, of course, been harnessed to great effect by the makers of Pokémon Go. For EMC3 operating in the events industry, the hope is that augmented reality will encourage delegates to ‘play’ with what is presented to them and that this engagement will promote a better understanding of the content and more creative thinking.

Etc. Venues also promotes the use of smartphones for interaction – but outside the confines of the conference hall. At its County Hall venue, for example, which has views of Big Ben, parts of the building have been designated ‘selfie spots’, where delegates are encouraged to take photos together and share them online. ‘It’s a way of spreading interest and making sure there’s interaction among delegates,’ says Welsford.

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Tech’s benefits to events are palpable, but there’s also a growing call for ever more elaborate analogue experiences to get the most out of delegates. At a recent conference for the brewing giant Molson Coors, an experiential events company funnelled delegates through a giant fridge where they were encouraged to interact and engage with the brand, its products and values.

The creativity that goes into an event is proportionate to the creativity that comes out of it

They’re not the only ones pushing the envelope. The ever-outlandish Bompas & Parr use animal handlers, pyrotechnists and biochemists, among others, to inject a bit of vim and vigour into its events. Nothing is off the table. ‘Turning a pony into a walking bar can be quite delightful,’ says co-founder Sam Bompas, who did just that at a recent event.

Bompas and Parr Beyond the Waterfall

We laugh, but there is method behind such madness, and it all comes back to this idea of play – of engaging in something for the sheer fun of it – which, according to MacKinnon, ‘allows natural creativity to come to the surface’. Forward-thinking companies are coming to realise that this is indeed true: the creativity that goes into an event is proportionate to the creativity that comes out of it.

Unthink unconferences

Events buzzword ‘unconference’ has even been given a definition by the Oxford English Dictionary: ‘A loosely structured conference emphasising the informal exchange of information and ideas between participants, rather than following a conventionally structured programme.’

Now you know what it means, forget it existed. That’s the advice of Alistair Turner, former president of Ilea UK, who believes the word is unhelpful for the events sector and could actually stifle creativity.

‘We need to stop using that word because we’re shooting ourselves in the foot,’ he says. ‘Boring conferences, where people preach to their delegates, are the “unconferences” now. Events that are participant driven, open spaced and interesting are the modern conferences – they are the conferences of the future.’

Right, ready to plan your next meeting in a creative space? This list of arty and designer venues is a good place to start