Event Design

What Event Excellence Looks Like in 2023

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Skift Take

The latest Skift Meetings virtual summit took the audience behind the scenes of some of the most innovative and inspiring approaches to event experiences of the year.

The Skift Meetings Best of 2023 – Case Studies in Event Excellence virtual summit showcased some of the year’s most impressive and innovative events. It featured discussions with event experts working with Google, Raising Cane’s and PWC Australia. Each expert speaker shared insights from events they personally planned or participated in. The sessions highlighted the importance of creating engaging and interactive experiences for attendees.

Utilizing unique venues and the use of intentional event design was a common theme among speakers. Immersive experiences and making human connections at events are key pillars of what event excellence means in 2023.

Watch the event recording, available on demand, via this link.

Banner for the Skift Meetings Best of 2023 - Case Studies in Event Excellence virtual summit

Showcasing Event Excellence

DJ Graffiti got the virtual event rocking Wednesday morning, spinning a number of classics. Shortly after, the Skift Meetings team welcomed expert planners who shared their techniques in shaping events that provided elevated experiences for attendees in 2023.

The event featured several sessions highlighting approaches to event production and design that shone over the past year. These ambitious events, shining examples of event excellence, inspired the next generation of industry leaders, creating a crave-able brand experience and shifting paradigms. 

Rules Do Not Apply

“We want to make better experiences that make people feel alive, that make money sustainable from a financial point of view that are profitable, scalable, repeatable, but also good for people and the planet,” said James Wallman, CEO of the World Experience Organization.

Wallman is the mastermind behind the organization and its events, which include the World Experience Summit. This flagship event broke all the rules by design and is an excellent example of event excellence. It took place for the first time in London this summer and attracted 226 experience professionals. Participants had access to over 62 sessions, with 17 different experience safaris spread out around London. Most of the event took place at Phantom Peak. This unique venue is part escape room, part immersive theater, and part real-life video game.

Seasoned event expert Rajeev Kholi, joint managing director of Creative Travel India, waxed lyrical about the event in a LinkedIn post. He joined us live to share his experience. “I was looking for something different, and I really found that with the type of people who were at the event,” said Kholi. “The experience was very enriching in that way. The conversations were genuine – it was something I had never seen in my own space.”

Innovative Attendee Experiences 

Cvent Connect is the event tech giant’s largest marketing campaign, according to Paulina Giusti, senior manager of meetings and events at Cvent. Cvent’s annual user conference is a three-and-a-half-day event. This year’s edition saw 3,200 on-site attendees, with over 5,000 attending virtually.

“For us, it is a true business impact marketing tactic and so much of that success is really driven in the creative event design decisions that we make,” said Giusti. She shared that a huge emphasis was placed on marrying the onsite aspect of the event with the virtual to create the most engaging experience possible. 

Nick Kopach, Sr. Director of National Event Sales Programs at Topgolf, joined the session. Giusti described Cvent’s partnership with Topgolf as the “perfect sponsorship case study.” The partnership initially started small in 2019 – and the long-term connection definitely paid off.

The 2023 event featured an offsite activity at Topgolf Las Vegas, which proved very popular among attendees. “We had folks just stopping by our booth constantly the next day saying how much fun they had, Kopach said. Working with Cvent led Topgolf to partner with Fidelity, hosting employee appreciation events across 35 cities. This series of events yielded roughly $250,000 return on investment for Topgolf.

Great Minds Think Unalike

Advertising Week New York is an event representing event excellence for the next generation of eventgoers. Dana DiGregorio, global managing director of MESH Experience, and Louise Dilulio, executive director of global partnerships and AWNew York, spoke about bringing a vision of an elevated meeting to life in an unexpected way.

“This year advertising week was held at a very unconventional location. We actually took over an Old Mall, formerly known as the Manhattan Mall,” Dilulio said. The event was positioned to host nearly 15,000 in an expansive space that was “out of the box and super creative,” Dilulio added. 

DiGregorio, both an attendee and a presenter, noted the event’s exceptional organization, despite its immensity. “It was fun to revisit that space in a reimagined way, but it was also super organized,” adding that the event featured a presenter’s lounge and a personal guide to ensure she could get where she needed. 

Diversity, equity, and inclusion was a major component of Advertising Week New York, highlighted by the event’s The Future is Female Awards – focused on honoring women in the industry regardless of job title. The event also hosted Group Black and the Female Quotient. It featured curated content, networking opportunities, and heavily discounted badges for students and next-gen attendees under 30 years of age to increase accessibility. 

The Secret to Combining Relevance and Entertainment at Customer Events

Tyler Blocker, customer success manager of Webex Events (formerly Socio), spoke about WebexOne 2023 hosted in Anaheim, an event showcasing how customers use Webex software and devices.

“When I talk to my customers, they not only like to hear from me as a product expert, but they also want to know how other customers are using it and see some real-world examples and to showcase some outside-of-the-box thinking,” Blocker said.

Webex took its experience further this year by adding an Oscars-styled customer award element. “That allowed us to have as much reach into our customer base as possible,” said Blocker. Webex was thrilled with the 80 nominations received for customer awards. An additional benefit was that attendees wanted to connect with the award winners. This boosted networking as winners shared their tips and advice on how to use Webex products.

The awards also gave Webex a vehicle to highlight values, including hybrid work collaboration and producing innovative events. The Oscars-style award ceremony was intentional, as Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal were keynote speakers. 

Inspiring the Next Generation of Leaders  

The Outside 2023, a part of the PwC Academy Signature Experience program, was a unique immersive experience. Over the span of five weeks and five separate cohorts, 2,700 attendees gathered in Hunter Valley, New South Wales.

“It was an opportunity to do something radically different,” said Lawrence Goldstone, partner and future of work lead, PwC Australia. The event took place at a high-end resort, began in the early morning, was largely self-directed with a choose-your-own-adventure style of learning, and didn’t feature the typical offering of ample booze. 

“[This was] an opportunity for us to do something radically different as an investment in our emerging talent and emerging leaders,” said Goldstone. “Emerging leaders in our definition are the 25 to 35 year olds, which are a huge part of our organization,” he said. He added that younger employees are often the least invested in by companies, which often results in that demographic being the most transient.

“This had its roots in wanting to do something that was high on the attraction scale and the retention scale. To do something that was brand iconic to really shift to something that nobody had done before,” said Goldstone.

In 2022, the event’s first year, it was exclusively for PwC employees. This year, it also welcomed PwC clients as part of its extended community.

PwC partnered with SongDivision to provide various musical activations throughout the event. According to Monica Dolso, special projects and events at SongDivision Australia, the organizers of The Outside clearly understood the crucial role of music in delivering event excellence. She highlighted how music can help create incredible bonds and provide a sense of belonging. 

Creating a Craveable Brand Experience

The Timeless Horizon conference, produced by Creative Group for fast food chain Raising Cane’s, served up 20 immersive experiences. Its objectives were to nurture the growth of store leaders and help attendees connect with the roots of the brand.

One iconic feature of the event for 2,300 attendees was a life-sized replicas of chicken fingers and fries. Amassive ball pit replicating dipping sauce completed the unique scene. The event also included a swag station that allowed attendees to select specific items. Melissa Van Dyke, senior vice president of integrated marketing and innovation, Creative Group, highlighted these activations as tangible components of the event excellence on display.

Inspiring the participants with the brand’s story needed to be done quickly and efficiently. This relied on creative and immersive ways to connect with the audience. “That feeling is really what these store leaders then are going to carry back into their stores,” said Van Dyke. “It’s about being super intentional with every element of the experience,” she added.

Shifting Paradigms by Coloring Outside the Lines 

Knowing your audience is a key aspect of event design, said Megan Henshall, global events strategic solutions lead at Google. Google Xi Days, hosted in New York City, was showcased as the final example of event excellence in 2023.

“We knew very early on that we were designing Google Xi Days to be very collaborative. We wanted to co-create with our audience,” said Henshall. The result was “throwing a lot of spaghetti at the wall.” She used focus groups and invited people to join the core creative team to garner diversity. It was very much a community approach to experience design, which also included several agencies.

“We’ve been piloting for the last two and a half years a number of different mechanisms. Now we’re even leaning into how we can explore identity and get ahead of preference,” said Henshall.

Paul Tramonte, principal designer of Paul Tramonte Events, took part. He shared why he considered this to be an example of event excellence. “There was just a warmth about the community, how we were welcomed,” said Tramonte. “Seeing how everyone interacted together on stage and the community added a warmth that made you feel at ease.” 

The event design also focused on senses to cultivate a human-centered design, including colors, scent and touch. A designated area for attendees with neurodiverse issues allowed them to escape the hustle and bustle of the event floor.

“Giving people autonomy and agency back makes our jobs easier. It actually makes the experience better for them,” said Henshall. “In order for an experience to be resonant, you need highs and lows. You need something cool and then a moment to process and digest and make sense of it.” 

Photo credit: Yaoqi / Unsplash