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How to festivalise your meetings

How to festivalise your meetings

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By Paula Rey Our 2019 market research identified festivalization as a trend. There are many clear examples of this trend in events related with design, fashion, culture... But the feeling and atmosphere of a festival can also be transferred to MICE. The FRESH Conference held in Turnhout (Belgium) from 13th to 15th October, has left us some keys to festivalise. We bring them to you.

But first of all…What is the meaning of festivalization?

Obviously, the point is not good music and food trucks. The concept of festivalization reaches a more complex level. “It’s actually a more subtle adoption of the “spirit” that energises the most successful festivals (in music, dance, arts and culture in general)”, explain Martin Sirk, moderator of the ‘Festivals: more than meetings’ session. Sirk urges the organizers to forget the static meetings and see them as a living and dynamic entity with the spirit of festivals.

In fact, the success of a festival is its ability to give emotion and generate a sense of community. According to Sirk, the most forward-thinking companies realise that transactional business events don’t really build loyalty or a sense of community. In that sense, Matt Grey, speaker of the session ‘The Rise of Event Festivalisation’, explain that festivalization helps achieve audience engagement. Of course, with an strategic plan. Every company has to investigate the interests and needs of its attendees.

Thus, admitting the heterogeneity, the meeting becomes a flexible and adapted platform that gives decision-making power to the attendee. More variety, more choice, many types of actions and activities. Immediately, the participant gets excited, feel as an active participant, involved, feel that their opinion matters, that they have not come to sit and shut up, because they are part of a community that listens to them and with which they share that own culture created there magically. This is the “spirit” of a festival.

Three keys to festivalize your meeting:

1.Reinvent the space

For Martin Sirk, “meeting designers know that more valuable activity happens outside the meeting rooms, but only a few venues and organisers are really changing their thinking about how informal space is used”. Come on! Break the establishment; do not sit the attendees on a chair. Take them to the theatre or a coffee shop… Surprise them with various places. Maarten Vanneste, speaker and director of several workshops in this conference, advises to decide a place and, at a distance of 7 minutes on foot, another five surrounding places. His recommendation was applied to FRESH. “We celebrated the FRESH in Turnhout, a small place that most of the participants loved; they visited a recording studio, an old factory, a concert hall, a theatre, a modern town hall… ”-he tells us.

2. Create community with the community

The locals can bring a sense of community to the meeting. Having their presence in different ways encourages an emotional bond between everyone. Some examples could be to include local students as speakers, to organise a debate in a local cafeteria… The alliance with local suppliers and partners also ensures the implementation and extension of a culture and style that is absorbed and shared. Everyone gathered for the FRESH in Turnhout felt one, moving at the same pace, merging with the city: local coffee, local beer, cookies, local caviar and, of course, Belgian chocolate!

3.Break the format

The idea is to offer the possibility to choose and let the attendee create his own event. Do not tie him to follow a strict program, propose a more flexible program according to his needs. Each one looks for different things and it is necessary to provide several itineraries, several paths that generate their own experiences. Not forgetting to inject style and emotion in each session, leaving behind the most boring meetings. In this sense, Martin Sirk mentions as an example the “fringe” conferences on unexpected topics, and also, cultural activities. The FRESH program included walks to 10 different locations, plays and shows of jazz, handpan or 3D surround sound by Ozark Henry.


Martin Sirk concludes that “many organisations (and delegates) are change- and risk-averse – we recommend to frame the changes as experiments, to reduce the fear of failure, and to let everyone be exposed to new possibilities”. From Grupo eventoplus, we second this call to action!

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