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Our Key Takeaways from the Untethered Design-a-thon

Three people working on computers, with one presenting

The Untethered: Design-a-thon was so much fun and we are stoked about how it went down. Last year was rough for the events industry. Our industry changed a lot over the course of it, and it is clear that we are not done changingHardship led to innovation that is re-shaping our industry and improving the way we engage with participants. 

Exploring the future of hybrid events. 

Now it’s up to us, the Untethered community, to stay in front of that innovation curve — providing thought leadership and guidance ahead of the next wave of change. The Untethered Design-a-thon brought together the event industry’s most creative minds to explore the future of marketing events and how we engage audiences in more meaningful ways. We intend to make that collaboration into something valuable for all of us. After testing and digging into the ideas, best practices, and opportunities that came out of the Design-a-thon, we are going to produce a Big Ideas Book for event planners. We hope this tool will help our industry navigate the road ahead. 

We also know waiting is the hardest part, so please consider these key takeaways from Design-a-thon to be a preview of coming attractions. 

Beware of over-engineering your event. 

Every event has objectives. Keeping those goals top of mind is important to measure successWith virtual events, we can get regular doses of real-time feedback from participants. By making a practice of examining the data during the event, we can measure if we are connecting with participant personas as we anticipated. We don’t want to create too much structure; that can inhibit creative thinking and limit the type of collaboration that creates connections. 

Attendees come to an event wanting to share ideas about the content they consume during it. At Design-a-thon, we set the stage for participants and provided some initial guidance, then sat back and watched the creative ideas fly. 

Focus on community. 

Events are as much about community as they are about the content. People attend to interact and build relationships with peers and leaders. We think it is important to recognize that each participant comes to an event with their own perspective on the community it is serving. Some are already heavily invested members while others are new to the group. 

Conference planners should seek out methods to build a sense of community before the event, foster it during, and sustain it afterward. When attendees make stronger connections within the event community, they engage more deeply and realize more value from the event itself. They end the experience feeling good about the time spent and look forward to the next one! 

Give your attendees engagement options. 

Though we work hard to create meaningful personas and tailor experiences to them, every participant is unique. Persona doesn’t necessarily correlate with preferred method of engagement. Some attendees come in wanting to explore, personalize, and chart their own path while others want recommendations about content. 

Some participants just want to consume content, like watching sessions on a monitor or mobile device. Others want to interact in chat or poll other members of the community. High engagers want to participate by doing things like taking the tape off the webcam and sharing their ideas. 

Participants who engage at this level can be influencers for those who are more comfortable watching, listening, and learning. By publishing their event calendar, with permission of course, others can see what the influencer is interested in, providing a curated journey for those who want it. It is cheaper and more engaging than a recommendation engine! 

The key here is not to limit thinking about engagement options as in-person versus virtual. Think of it more like a menu of engagement preferences for your participant community. 

Humanize technology. 

After a year (and counting) of virtual everything, there is a lot of concern about technology fatigue in our industry. We came away from Design-a-thon with a different perspective. After all, people don’t get tired of watching basketball during March Madness. They don’t get tired of Netflix after a few episodes of Bridgerton. The technology we use for hybrid events can be just as engaging. We examined how everything from augmented reality to gamification can make for a more immersive, engaging virtual event. 

So long as we’re using it to help them make human connections, participants won’t get tired of the platform. Just check out this Hot Takes over Hot Ones session. You can expect to learn more about this in our upcoming Ideas Book. 

Charting a path to the cool future of events. 

We went into Untethered Design-a-thon with an understanding that no one in our industry knows what the future will hold exactly, but that it will be cool. The past year has been a whirlwind and many of us are exhausted from it. This event offered us the opportunity to not just be exhausted together, but also to move the conversation forward and move our industry forward. 

Events are about connections. Last year, we had to fundamentally transform how those connections were made in reaction to the pandemic. This year, we can lead the change, be proactive. And together build better, more inclusive and engaging events. 

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