Inspiration from the event team at Steinbeis Europa Zentrum
Think about the things you remember for a long time and all have something in common: They are linked to emotions. Or to be more precise, deep-seated emotions. According to Paul Ekman, these are surprise, disgust, anger, sadness, fear, and joy. The Steinbeis Europa Zentrum event team taps into two of those six emotions: surprise and joy. Every successful event includes elements that link to at least one of those two emotions – ideally even both. Every year, the Steinbeis experts organize a variety of events, involving plenty of variation regarding processes, purpose, and format. The team has gained valuable experience over the years and tried out a number of creative formats. It has also learned what doesn’t work. In the following, the experts share some of the do’s and don’ts of events.
Why are we particularly likely to remember events if they’re linked to emotions? Emotional messages lead to a particularly intense “depth of processing.” Stimulus processing no longer takes place subconsciously or automatically, but instead switches to serially and volitionally controlled processing mode. That’s exactly what you want to happen with an event, because the information that’s conveyed and stimuli compete intensely with other stimuli. Our brains take in roughly eleven million bits of information every second through our sensory channels. However, only a fraction of this – around 40 bits of information – is processed consciously. Evolution has trained our brains to filter out the important information from the deluge of stimuli. This is evaluated emotionally, effecting an emotional response such as arousal, or in particular situations a reinforcement of our behavior. It also leads to certain cognitive processes or subjective feelings (based on Scherer, K. R. (2000), Psychological models of emotion).
When you’re organizing an event, it’s crucial to produce stimuli – impulses that are perceived as important, linked to an emotion, and stored in the long term. Do that, and the event will be remembered for a long time. In the following four examples, we would like to show how this can work for a straightforward meeting, a larger company get-together, or an external workshop.
Insight #1: Time Limits
Whether you call it a slam, a pitch, or PechaKucha, event formats have one thing in common: You’re playing with time. Time limits are now a firmly anchored element of event design. Everything revolves around the idea of moving beyond long-winded and thus attention-sapping presentations. If you set a time limit for presenters, and sometimes even strictly limit the number of presentation slides, out come concise, memorable, and entertaining presentations that stimulate creativity and capture the attention of the audience.
We tried this out and succeeded in 2019, for example at the Unicorn or Transformer in Baden-Württemberg event, which we organized for the Baden-Wuerttemberg Ministry for Economic Affairs. After a morning of keynote presentations and discussion sessions, the participants were assigned to so-called campfire sessions to look at different instruments used to fund innovation. The people we asked to lead the sessions talked about their topics in a five-minute presentation. This provided an initial overview of the different sessions, allowing questions to be discussed openly with the whole group and unresolved issues to be clarified. Shifting the proceedings off the stage and into smaller discussion groups fulfilled a second purpose of augmenting attention, which brings us on to our next insight, the topic of movement.
Insight #2: Get Things Moving
A simple ingredient for gaining attention is animation. When triggered by movement, our brains automatically redirect their focus back to the action. This actually works in two directions. Firstly, it affects the presenters: When presenters move around on the stage, move into the audience, or get the audience to look in a different direction, they’re guaranteed to grab attention. As a result, we advise presenters to move around during presentations or speeches! Secondly, movement is also an important recipe for success for the audience: Stand up, walk around the room, change the panel discussion, or conduct a live vote and a passive audience transforms into an active audience.
We really got things moving at the two-day Clean Energy for EU Islands Forum 2022 in May of this year in Rhodes. The first day took place in a conference room on a boat and a nearby island, taking us out of the room, out to sea, and into life on an island. Not only was that a good match with the topic of the event, but it also actively involved the participants in it and created lasting memories.
Insight #3: Stepping Outside Comfort Zones
Getting participants to step outside their comfort zones and see things from a different angle is never easy, but when it works, there are clear effects when it comes to lessons learned and memories. So why not get people participating in an event to present themselves? Role reversal adds a distinctly different feel to a conference, especially for the audience. A number of event formats can be used to reverse roles, such as planning a so-called BarCamp. Whether this is made part of a conference or used as a stand-alone format, it’s an open approach to a convention using topics, sessions, and workshops that are not pre-defined. The sequence and contents of such “non-conferences” are established by the participants themselves at the beginning of the event; things take shape as the event progresses. An overarching topic can be laid down, but it doesn’t have to be. What is crucial for the event to succeed is that the participants become involved.
A BarCamp was organized for this year’s Smart Cities Marketplace Forum as part of a European Commission initiative of the same name, for which we are spearheading the communication campaign. Participants in the internal working groups were allowed to try out role reversal. Establishing an overarching theme made it possible for different stakeholders to open up their ideas (new local working groups) to discussion, to find like-minded people, and even to establish a basis for a new working group in the form of an initial concept paper.
Insight #4: Limits
It takes a great deal of effort and passion to plan and run a big event. Expansive exhibition halls and packed rooms are impressive, but to forge connections that last and stoke emotions, a good event sometimes needs the exact opposite: small groups, a friendly atmosphere, and intensive discussion. We advocate looking closely at event planning and occasionally simply “planning small.” This works extremely well with networking events and workshops, which often require small groups. At the same time, setting limits may also be important for the target group. For example, it might be better for an event to only address a specific target group – such as women or men if it’s about gender equality, or only participants from the energy industry if it’s about a specific technology.
An example of a particularly atmospheric event we organized took place at the Steinbeis Europa Zentrum offices in Stuttgart in July. After joining forces with INNOVATIVE WOMEN, we hosted a limited networking event called Gendered Innovation to bring women together and allow them to network. The event started with a presentation, after which the participants engaged in dialogue, exchanged ideas, and provided one another with inspiration. This resulted in rewarding conversation, new contacts, and the feeling of having moved forward together.
Holistic Event Management
Steinbeis Europa Zentrum has been running successful international congresses for more than 30 years, looking at a variety of current innovation topics. These now also take place in different physical, hybrid, and digital formats. The focus lies in a holistic approach to event, information, and communication management. This includes moderation, media, and methodological skills covering a variety of specialist topics.
The services offered by the event team range from end-to-end planning to conceptual planning, the actual running of events, and related communication measures. Most of the events are run on behalf of the Baden-Wuerttemberg Ministry of Economic Affairs, Labor, and Tourism, the State Ministry of Baden-Wuerttemberg, and the European Commission.