Designing ‘The Soul’ Of Your Event

by Maria Friske, Art Director

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When event managers, meeting professionals and CEOs typically think about event design, they focus on nuts and bolts: stage and room set up, keynote speakers, and all the equipment that will be needed to produce the event.

They do so with good cause. The planning and logistics of even simple events can be daunting.

Unfortunately, this all-too-understandable focus on the details often means that branding and creative aspects of the event become simply one more line item in a long list of boxes to be checked off.

This, I've come to believe, is a not only a mistake, but a missed opportunity.

Branding and creative are crucial to the success of your event and yield an abundance of benefits. You increase your value in the eyes of your customers and prospects. You project an image of consistency and confidence that builds trust and affinity which you can leverage throughout your relationship. Most importantly, you set the stage to generate future business and loyalty by making an impression that lasts long after the tables and laptops and collateral materials have been packed up.

Rather than simply adding design and messaging to your long to-do list, step back and breathe. Take a moment to pause and remember the power of these elements. 

They are the living essence, they are the soul of your event.

And this article will show you how to breathe life – soul – into your next event.

The Creative Process

What separates a great creative approach from a mediocre approach? This is a complex question, but the answer ultimately lies in your creative team's process, especially how it handles the very early stages of design. Tackling the challenge of creating and packaging your messaging and design comes down to understanding effective design thinking methodology.

Remember: the creative process is a process! While it is a voyage of discovery and often ventures into uncharted territory, useful rules do exist. Any journey, no matter how challenging, benefits from starting with a good map.

The Creative Brief

At our firm, beginning with a creative brief is “the law.” Quite frankly, we're adamant, even obsessive about this point… because we’ve seen what happens without it!

 A well executed creative brief includes details on tone, message, goals and objectives, timing, deliverables and budget.

Compiling these details often means asking the critical questions. Who is our audience? What is our message? What are the goals of the meeting? What is the tone of our event? What is the story we are trying to tell? What style best fits that story? 

In these details lie the heart – and soul – of your event.

They encompass everything you want to say about yourself and how you will say it. You are extending an invitation to others. You're starting a conversation. You're making the first move, even while thinking 3, 5, 10 moves ahead.

A creative brief will help you to work smarter, not harder. Your creative concepts will gain depth and reach that will repay you a hundredfold.

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Here's a Questions Checklist to help you get started:

❏     TONE: What tone do you want to present? Along a spectrum from serious to light hearted, where do you fall? Make a list of adjectives, i.e., Upbeat, Motivational, Celebratory, High-tech, Future Forward, Personal, Lighthearted, Fun, Serious etc..

❏     MESSAGE: In an “elevator pitch” time frame, what is your message? If YOU can't boil it down, your members will have trouble coming away with a clear message. Describe what you’re trying to say to the person sitting next to you. That’s your message.

❏     STYLE: What style of visuals will best reflect your message? Colorful, neutral,  photographs, footage, illustrations, Infographics, retro media? Make a list.

❏     MEETING OBJECTIVES: What results do you want to see from the event? What are you trying to achieve? What metrics are you using to measure success? Is it the number of inquiries from members? Requests for specific materials or services? Upgrades in membership status? If that's applicable? You won't get what you need if you cannot define what you want.  Also, what results do your attendees want to achie

❏     MEDIA OBJECTIVES: Your media, such as an opening video, will have different objectives than your meeting. What message are you trying to tell?  What are the objectives, and what do you want attendees to know, feel or do.  What is the tone?

❏     EXPERIENCE: Are there immersive experiences you can add to help achieve these results (such as virtual or augmented reality content) in your meeting space that supports your objectives?

For a creative brief template

Cutting Corners

Too many managers take shortcuts. They make the mistake of thinking, “I’ve done this a million times, I already know what I’m doing.” and “There’s too much to do. I don’t have time for that.” 

The results from this approach are all too evident in the majority of event presentations: by the book, same as it ever was, and often downright boring. That's the essence of mediocre messaging.

We’re not talking about adding glitz, bling, or bells and whistles. We’re talking about taking the brand and message seriously enough to consider how best to present it to the very people you want to address and impress! Every design choice, from color to font to visuals (photography or video or animation) to word choice (including narration and music) should address, support, and indeed reinforce your goals and message.

There's nothing worse than incongruity. A message undermined by poor visuals and presentation or one that falls flat because of uninspired execution or clutter. Remember: what you don't say is often as important as what you do say. A creative brief helps avoid going “into the weeds” with extraneous details or distracting tangents.

TIP: If you truly are too busy to tackle the brief, consider outsourcing to a qualified source that knows how to do this. Plenty of creative professionals can assist you.

A creative brief is the most sacred of all sacred ad documents
— Will Burns, Ideasicle
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Idea Generation 101

Once you've committed to the brief, the next step is idea generation.

Perhaps nothing frightens people more than trying to be “creative.” Most people fear that they simply don't have the right stuff.

So, how does one come up with that killer idea for the event’s theme and messaging?

It’s not rocket science, but there is a science to it.

A lot of research has been done on how people arrive at great ideas. Research continues to suggest that there is almost never a Eureka moment. Most great ideas are made from a series of good ideas that enjoy close proximity to one another, are given ample consideration, and are then carefully developed.

Great things are done by a series of small things brought together. 
— Vincent Van Gogh


Step #1. Marinate

Before any brainstorming meeting is called, the team should have an opportunity to prepare. 

Circulate the creative brief among key members at least several days before the kick-off meeting so that your associates can absorb the information being given to them.

Let them marinate in it.

It is NOT a passive process. In cognitive (rather than culinary) terms, it means familiarizing yourself with the information, mulling it over, and looking at it from different angles. You cannot rush it.

Participants should conduct their own research then begin to generate ideas for treatments. Often these early ideas are written in a rather loose list format. That's fine.

The goal at this point is putting something down on paper to get started.

 

Step #2. The Kick-Off Meeting

There’s nothing worse than a kickoff meeting where everyone is being brought up to speed on the content and details of the event. Meetings of this kind eat too much time. Circulating the brief prior to the meeting eliminates this time drain, and is another good example of working smarter not harder.

When the time arrives for the first kick-off meeting, each team member will have understood the parameters of the project and should arrive armed with several ideas, insights and approaches.

Now you're ready to move from individual ideas to collective brainstorming and begin concept development in earnest. 

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Step #3. Brainstorming

To be effective and to present a brand image that is memorable and consistent, event themes and messaging need to be on point, smart, and garners the attention of attendees. Brainstorming a theme can be a stimulating and collaborative process between event producers and the creative department.

The creative brief gives the team the information and insight they need to develop a theme that will resonate with your audience.

First Key to Effective Brainstorming: Practice Safe Collaboration

There are some basic rules that can make the difference between a frustrating and exasperating bull session and a successful collaborative brainstorm.

First and foremost, there are no stupid ideas.

Participants should fight the urge to shoot down an idea they don’t like.

Brutally criticizing or even mocking someone’s idea smacks the off-button on that contributor for the rest of the meeting – and may leave them reeling for hours afterward.

The idea is to open the field wide at this point. Consider all ideas, no matter how weird or off base, as long as they pertain to the goals and objectives of the creative brief. It is amazing how often a seemingly “bad,” idea from one person sparks another to massage it into something very valuable. Or how a pie-in-the-sky idea from one member cross-pollinates with other’s ideas into something exciting and executable.

The best way to proceed is to take the edge off the criticism. For example, “I like Bob’s idea and want to build on it by suggesting… “

Everyone should feel valued and feel that their ideas are being taken seriously.

Second Key to Effective Brainstorming: The What if...? Factor

Encourage people to explore possibilities by asking, “What if?” 

“What if we” translates to, “wouldn’t it be amazing and tremendously cool if we… ?” 

This is where you begin to try out audacious, exciting, unrealistic ideas that would be hard to execute. That's fine. That's the point.

The goal is to spur the imagination of your fellow brainstormers who might see solutions or insights where you do not. One idea usually leads to another – our brains just can’t help it. The best ideas will spark the imagination of others and be built upon. It is this give-and-take that typically generates winning concepts, as one or two top contending ideas emerge and enthusiasm builds around them.

The team should be able to cherry pick the best ideas for naming your event as well as the messaging you want to convey.



Step #4. Concept Development

Now that you’ve got the messaging, the rest real magic can happen. You're ready to give your event personality and a soul.

At this point your creative team can begin to incorporate the principles of design – color, fonts, and style – to create the look and feel for your messaging that mirrors the tone and goals you defined in the creative brief.

Hard hitting and exciting, celebratory and light hearted, inspirational, moving and personal, high-tech and futuristic, or whatever feelings you wish to inspire in your attendees are achieved in design choices.

The personality and mood you create can be reinforced through your speaker support, signage, pre- and post-event marketing, logo development, and animation and video. 

The result: an event that feels cohesive and delivers a more unified and memorable message.

At our firm, we generally develop several concept approaches for each piece of media. The team presents the ideas to the client to see what resonates and if tweaks or adjustments need to be made to any concept. 

A general outline for the media concepts encompasses:

●       Logo and theme development

●       Pre-event marketing materials

●       Speaker support

●       PowerPoint templates

●       Opening video

●       Awards video if needed

●       Destination video, if needed

●       Signage

●       Experiential media (AR/VR), if wanted

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Step #5. Designing For Engagement and Experience

This topic deserves its own article. With technological advances booming, there are a multitude of ways to engage your audience before, during, and after the event.

One great advance has bridged the gap between personal and digital, and we highly recommend it: augmented reality. 

Today any print piece can be turned into an engagement tool brought to life with a range of media such as 3D product display, a video or an infographic  to name a few. Posters are especially great at a show for augmented reality experiences.

Virtual reality is also gaining traction in meetings and events, and is an awesome tool in tech pods and teaching demos that might be sidelined to workshops. For a personalized, immersive experience nothing beats VR.

Implementing VR in the general sessions is not without its challenges in this stage of the technology, as VR still relies on everyone’s having a headset (although the output can go to screen). Workshop and tech/health demo spaces are the excellent venues for this technology.

Nevertheless, don't miss an opportunity to put this exciting technology to work for you.

Talk about putting a sense of soul into your event!

 

Conclusion

Put simply, the design process is a process. These steps outlined can serve as guides for you as well as jumping off points.

With the right information and right questions answered, a well seasoned team can execute at a high level. I encourage you to help your team reach those heights. With a little time and some basic resources, they can get to the heart of the matter for your next event and create branding and messaging that brims with heart and soul.

 

Upcoming

In future articles we will delve into the details of each of the ideas laid out in this article. For now you have an overview of what it takes to design a superb event experience for your attendees. 

And remember: if you cannot tackle these key tasks in-house, consider outsourcing to a professional company that can be your resource for a great event.


Bio: Maria Friske is an Art Director at Fusion Productions. She has over 30 years of design experience for agencies and companies and has won numerous national awards and recognition.