Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…

Four people walk into your annual corporate event. One’s a “Networkian”, always seeking to create and maintain connections. One is a “First Timer”, giddy and positive about the event. Another is a “Dominator”, owning the scene wherever they go. The last one is a “Silenteer”, engaged, attentive and quiet. 

At your corporate event, you’ll want to engage each of these personas and more. In fact, designing an event that takes the needs and wants of all personas into consideration and delivers the event’s business objectives effectively should be your goal.

This is where Design Thinking comes in to play. If that isn’t in your event vocabulary, it needs to be.

Design Thinking is a thorough process used to provide creative solutions for complex problems. This methodology is a designer’s toolkit, taking them through a human-centered process.

In design thinking, the key element is empathy.

As event producers, we use design thinking by putting ourselves in the hearts and minds of our attendees to understand their experience. With this understanding, we design an event that aligns our goals with their needs.

It’s not that you should step outside of the box – sometimes, you need to throw it away completely. Design Thinking is all about breaking free from rigid processes and “better sameness” and focusing on people impressions to guide the attendee journey. To put the attendee first means to create an experience that actually makes them feel valued. When you do this, you’ll create brand advocates that maximize your event ROI in the long run. 

CPG Agency partners with Maritz Travel to kickoff the event planning process for clients by aligning business objectives with people outcomes. We introduce a people-centered, science-based approach to your annual corporate event based on the breakthrough work of Jim Gilmore, co-author of “The Experience Economy” and the creative design architecture of Greg Bogue, Chief Experience Architect at Maritz Global Events. From there, we let the organizing principle of your event take hold and guide the journey.

Here’s how you can use the Design Thinking process for your next event.

Key Elements of Your Event’s Design Thinking Process

1. Inspiration and Empathy

The first step of design thinking is collecting inspiration. The goal is to break away from old tools and seek innovation. If you think deeply about what your attendees need (and even ask them directly), you can discover new ways to achieve your goals. Begin with the best possible understanding of your users and attendees.

Try to understand attendee behaviors, thoughts, actions, emotions, and unmet needs. You want to remove judgement from the experience and put aside the beliefs you think attendees have always had.

Remember the “Networkian” from earlier? Turns out she’s always thought your event’s social mingling was outdated. She’s a social butterfly who has fun either way, but wishes there was some more proactive uses of technology that connected her to new and interesting professionals.

Now that you’re in her shoes, you see what she means. So, as an example of a design solution, you may want to consider implementing brain dates at your next convention.


Holistic Event solution partnership


2. Define the Problem

This is when you synthesize the previous information you discussed about attendees. You want to go over the current state of your annual corporate event and what current obstacles it faces. Identify patterns and consider what some challenges are according to your ideas from the empathy stage.

Keep your attendee lens on when you determine your problem. Let’s say that the “First Timer” at your event is disappointed with the registration booths because they’re confusing. The event is already off to a bad start for the “First Timer” and a bad impression is the last thing you want. Now, you see that your company could do a lot more to make the next steps very clear, whether at check-in and even check-out.

Engaged Audience at a large corporate event
Design thinking takes every attendee into account

3. Develop Creative Solutions

Turn your observations into concrete ideas that serve to help your attendees. Go back to the problems you defined and how you can tackle those while thinking from the attendee perspective. This can be a tough part of the process because you want to make sense of a jumble of information. Look for new opportunities and ask yourself relevant questions.

“The Dominator” may prefer to utilize in-between sessions to communicate with others. And since they want to own the scene, they may even be looking for a more customized experience. Here you can ask yourself how and where can we offer greater personalization for “The Dominator” and others? 

Tee up the questions and let your team tackle them with any solutions that come to mind. Remember, this is a brainstorming process, so get everything out on the table.

4. Make your Ideas Tangible

Now turn your concrete ideas into actual prototypes. Experiment and turn your insights into real things. This might be a storyboard for your event or creating an event app prototype. Remember to design and create with the attendee in mind. Transforming ideas into tangible things will show you whether or not they have real potential.

Imagine “The Silenteer” processing everything at the event. They’ll want to use an app that is engaging and helpful, because they will intently be using it. When you create your prototype, tailor it to the needs of the “The Silenteer” or another persona.


Corporate Event Workbook


5. Test Those Ideas

The last part of the Design Thinking process is testing these ideas and seeing how effective they are. This will help you make refinements. Your outcome could be changing what the problem is or thinking of a different solution. Testing will show you what changes you should make and which ideas are not going to work out.

And remember, testing is collaborative and experimental. You may try many options and keep experimenting before you see the perfect results.

Design Thinking is Your Competitive Advantage

Through this Design Thinking approach, CPG Agency and Maritz Travel can help drive creativity and innovation into your event’s business strategy. This process gives you a fresh, humanized solution for your same old, no results problem.

By eliminating judgement, you eliminate fear of failure and maximize input and participation. This ensures a positive environment where ideas can flourish. Using Design Thinking as a process means you care more about the attendee experience.

Design for all types of attendee personas so you create loyal, transformed event attendees who buy into your brand purpose and carry the company values with them when they return to work. 

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