New ways of thinking about conference flow and design are disrupting old formulas about how to locate and lay out large events. That disruption begins with the first question, which evolves from “how much space do we need?” to “how little space could we do this in?” It’s a question that carries a surprising amount of upside for the audience experience.
Making better use of space can open a broader choice of venues in more desirable locations. It minimizes sprawling, confusing layouts and sprints between far-flung breakout sessions. Efficient space design in more compelling and convenient locations spells opportunity for event marketers. We can create higher-value experiences for target audiences, and to reach them in places they want to be. Space-constrained (but otherwise desirable) venues can more than make up for their limitations with efficiency and savings downstream.
Creative event organizers can take a page from the microhousing trends in large cities around the globe, where demand outstrips capacity and the price per square foot is skyrocketing. Microhousing often showcases ingenious architectural design with convertible spaces that result in a liveable 250-square foot apartment with many of the amenities expected in larger units.
If the same dollar buys 10,000 square feet in Las Vegas, or 5,000 square feet in Seattle or New York, conventional wisdom sends many large-scale events to Las Vegas by default. This has, over time, been a recipe for wasted space. Registration areas get used once and then sit empty, or a keynote room remains dark from after opening session until the closing party.
Every live gathering encounters a set of fixed assets: money, space, and time. A lot of creativity and strategic thinking goes into how monies are allocated across an event, to get the biggest return on dollars invested. Time is also carefully spent: a tremendous amount of attention goes into building an agenda that will be attractive and relevant to attendees. But room configurations and function spaces tend to play out along the same old inefficient patterns. New ideas often run into legacy, resistance, and budget challenges right out the gate.
Space maximization is an objective that needs to be established at the outset of the event plan, and everyone—technical directors, set designers, producers, logistics team, etc.—must be committed to designing a versatile, multi-purpose space.
A classic example of reusable (and often wasted) space is the keynote hall. With proper planning in advance for rigging and a/v design, it’s feasible to turn the hall, immediately after a keynote, into three or four large breakout rooms. Another example is the lunch area, often a large, generic banquet room. An alternative is to create ad hoc gathering spots throughout the venue to allow more flexible, configurable dining areas.
Registration is another chronically underutilized area, after the critical mass has moved through badge pickup.
Partner showcases often end up being dead zones at certain times outside a welcome reception or the lunch hour. These can be turned into higher-value centers of interest and activity by locating social and online media broadcast studios or a series of satellite stages in the space. With proper acoustical considerations and screen placement, content can be piped onto the showcase floor, and generated there, to encourage traffic and discovery. At the most recent Microsoft Build conference, the expo was located throughout the venue in high-volume hallways, eliminating the need for a dedicated space and ensuring good exposure throughout the event.
A high-impact example of bringing interest to the exhibitor floor helped SAP event organizers address space challenges for the growing SAPPHIRE NOW conference. They combined the keynote and exhibit spaces, eliminating the conventional keynote hall altogether. They created a theater space open to the show floor with seating for six thousand and an 80-foot stage. Not only did they recapture most of the square footage normally consumed by a keynote hall; they also created a more inclusive environment for partners and exhibitors. And the conference was able to accommodate meaningful growth without changing venues.
Reinventing the approach to venue layout—room configurations, keynote capacity, and functional areas (registration, meals)—can open new options for event organizers and audiences. A smarter approach to space utilization saves time, dollars and shoe leather, and is another way to build value into the conference experience overall.
Note: This topic is a derivative of a recent Trends and Innovations article released by Microsoft’s Marketing Events and Production Studios.