Whether you’re planning a company retreat that supports strategic planning goals or looking to generate customer leads at an event, truly effective corporate meetings and events go beyond thoughtfully considering the details of venue, décor, and programming.

Throughout my 20-plus-year career supporting meeting and event planners, I’ve seen one secret ingredient that you can add to your events recipe to increase your return on investment, regardless of your budget, size, or content focus.

You must make space in your meeting or event design for memorable experiences that build rapport and camaraderie among your attendees. Remember that it’s not only about your B2B or B2C offer — it’s also about the person-to-person connections you facilitate.

Experiential event design that consciously builds attendee connection is a strong and growing trend in the meeting and events field. The good news is that there are many ways planners can facilitate that sense of connection, whether you’re engaging staff, board, shareholders, or clients. To get started, consider trying one or more of these strategies.

1. Create transformational experiences

Beyond attendance and a seamless experience, I’ve seen an increased desire from our customers to have their event attendees walk away with shared knowledge at the group level and an internal change at the personal level. Often referred to as transformational experiences, the goal of these types of activities is to evoke joyful emotions, create a sense of shared change, and build the FOMO — Fear of Missing Out — that drives further engagement with your company. 

Food always brings people together in a remarkable way. Our food and beverage team is made up of teachers for interactive cooking classes as part of retreat programs. During one particularly tense executive meeting, we saw the act of cooking lunch together as a team was able to thaw the room. Almost instantaneously, conversations moved more fluidly, and the mood was lighter. The attendees had new skills; a shared experience to laugh and joke about the rest of the meeting; and an opportunity to work collaboratively in a low-stakes way, outside of day-to-day duties.

2. Tap into wellness

With greater awareness in the corporate sector of how wellness impacts productivity, I’ve seen planners thinking creatively about how to get their groups active and outdoors. The Eastside has breathtaking views, and many outdoor activities are readily available in any direction: Take advantage of them. 

It can be as simple as breakout sessions happening outside, allowing attendees to move their bodies, or you also can take a more programmatic approach through DIY or collaborating with a vendor. I’ve had a great experience working with Compass Outdoor Adventures to offer group outdoor experiences before, during, and after meetings — everything from kayaking on Lake Washington to a waterfall and wine tour in the Issaquah Alps. It’s amazing what fresh air will do to bond groups.

3. Make it shareable

Social media lends itself to a stickier event, with higher attendee engagement and interaction, and benefits that linger long after you wrap. Some tactics to generate social media opportunities include: 

‣ Design and designate spaces for Instagram-able moments. Interactive backdrops and activities with a clear call to action and a prominently displayed hashtag make it easy for your team to share and create a sense of excitement. 

‣ Create bite-sized breaks during the daily itinerary designed specifically to encourage attendees to share on their social media platforms. One client included a floor-to-ceiling screen to share all the posts on the hashtag in real-time. Another client worked with Argosy Cruises to host their post-event happy hour on Lake Washington, in a made-for-social capstone to their day. 

We all know that planning a successful meeting or event requires commitment and high-level attention to detail. I hope these ideas show that it’s also easy to take your corporate meetings and events to the next level with a little creativity, mindfulness, and focus on the foundation of all our businesses — that person-to-person connection.