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5 event formats that put networking at the heart of the audience experience | B2B Marketing

Jez Paxman of Live Union shares the innovative event formats that are helping today’s audiences make better connections

In an increasingly digital business environment face-to-face events are viewed as a rare opportunity to build real world connections. B2B event audiences – whether customers, employees or other stakeholders – are looking for smarter ways to help them connect.

Industry research confirms that audiences are prioritising networking over content at events. A report by the Experience Institute saw 76% of people sighting networking as a top driver for attending events, with younger audiences placing the greatest emphasis on making connections.

Helping audiences become super connectors means looking beyond the traditional plenary focused events and opens up an exciting array of event formats.

Here are five formats you can choose to put networking at the heart of the audience experience:

1. The ‘campus’ format 

Ideal for larger audiences this festival inspired design places emphasis on experiential engagement. It helps audiences personalise their experience and is a far more conversational and inherently connecting format.

Content is brought to life in many different ways – clinics, genius bars, mixed reality experiences, huddles. Presented content is often scheduled on more informal pop-up stages which audiences can drop in and out of. Main stage keynotes are live streamed into the campus allowing people to engage with content in a more social setting. Whilst well-designed campus events provide the perfect setting for networking, facilitation and event technology are vital in helping people achieve the right connections.

We worked with a payments brand to transform a stage-led thought leadership event into a format designed to spark connections. The ‘Marketplace’ brought to life the future of payments across four zones. Combining partner brand experiences, clinics, live demonstrations and pop-up stages.

2. The ‘campfire’ format 

Like the campus format, it shifts the focus from static plenaries to a more mobile distributed experience. Unlike the campus setting though, the campfire is better suited to smaller audiences with more focus on discussion.

Campfires are small huddle spaces, each one hosting no more than 25 people. They are designed to spark the connections and honest conversations that happen around a campfire. The campfire lead sets-up a topic and then facilitates a group conversation.

The open, discursive nature of campfires helps people uncover valuable connections and form relationships based on shared passions. The campfire format benefits from introducing physical props and hands-on demonstrations that further stimulate networking. 

We helped a retail bank’s leadership form deeper relationships and share ideas, shunning traditional breakouts in favour of a whole series of campfire sessions around the venue. Each was designed and facilitated in a different way, many embracing fin-tech demonstrations. The result was varied and lively discussion that saw new relationships forming around relevant content.

Box format image

3. The ‘box event’ format

Creating super-connectors means embracing more fluid formats; encouraging interaction and discovery. Box events are a creative solution with an open feel helping to remove barriers and encourage more honest open interactions. Robust branded cardboard boxes, multi-tasking as seating, signage and structures are used to create a variety of pop-up spaces.

These spaces can variously be configured as huddles, debates, live demos or mini-stages, delegates free to personalise their experience. Putting the audience in control of their own journey and populating it with stimulating content sparks connections in a way that’s beyond a traditional format.

We helped the leadership of a technology business form new connections with a Box Event format. The solution saw a central presentation space surrounded by pop-up debate spaces, huddle and demonstration spaces, all created using branded cardboard boxes.

Digital playground image

4. The ‘digital playground’ format

If you’re focusing on technology or innovation (and who isn’t these days) then the digital playground is the perfect format to spark connections within a lounge or coffee area.

Audiences get hands-on with fun, digital innovations, opening their minds to new consumer technologies and new ways of interacting. Technologies such as mixed reality, robotics and gesture control can be combined with brand specific innovations. The digital playground provides fantastic stimulus for relationship building.

An annual awards event for an FMCG business was designed to bring senior marketeers together to celebrate innovation within marketing. A digital playground was created in the drinks area to stimulate connections. Experiences included gesture-controlled projection, food innovations such as edible mist and super close-up photographs of peoples’ eyes.

Campfire format

5. The ‘unconference’

This radical format does away with a pre-ordained event agenda. Instead the audience – live at the event – generate the subjects they’d like to discuss and volunteer to facilitate topics. Time slots and spaces are made available and people are encouraged to leave sessions if they’re not of value.

Many variants of unconference exist, but they all strive to empower the audience. Putting the audience in control supercharges the networking helping bring together people around shared passions.

A professional services firm wanted to re-imagine its annual global partners event to focus on relationship building. We took an unconference approach, part of which saw us introducing a ‘Big Debate’ space at the heart of the event as a striking way for people to connect around some major topics.

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