Marketing October 18, 2012 Last updated November 27th, 2022 10,514 Reads share

13 Innovative Event Ideas That Drive Engagement – Discover Lost Lectures, Fishtanks And Speed Geeking

Image Credit:

The focus on driving engagement and participation online should also be applied to your face-to-face events and experiential marketing. How? With innovative event ideas and formats that encourage real world collaboration and conversation between you and your audience.

No doubt; many of us have embraced the new paradigms unleashed by digital marketing on issues like driving engagement, conversation, social business, Person-to-Person and word-of-mouse marketing,  as we try to keep up with the changing expectations of our millennial markets.  If  you have already signed up to these notions online, it makes more sense than ever to carry those valuable psychological insights into offline marketing campaigns and real world business events. Which in turn create more engagement, legacy and viral content that may feed back into your digital marketing activity.

But first of all: WHY BOTHER Refreshing your Events?

Our current cultural Zeitgeist has thrown up a few interesting trends and  ideas associated with  capturing more engagement, creating user-generated content and awakening imagination.

  • We have moved from a world of Infotainment and Edutainment to one of Crowd sourced Idea-tainment. Don’t Believe me? Have you heard of

    Innovative (and Counter Intuitive) Ideas to Refresh your Events

    #1 . Lost Lectures

    • The Lost Lectures take audiences out of mundane corporate conference environments and transport them into secret pop up hideaways.
    • The location has got to be interesting enough to awaken your audience’s imagination and allow them to rejig their thinking. Examples can include derelict vacant space, a never before used space, a movie set, a mobile unit or going outdoors instead of indoors.
    • In addition, just think of how much more magical it might be if you preceded it with a secret tour. Definitely the sort of thing to encourage more opt-ins pre-event and word of mouth post event.
    • Add to this, a surprise interactive element to one part or all of your speaker programme so that potential delegates are intrigued and announce the programme only hours before the event via social media to heighten expectation.

    #2. Unconferencing

    A seemingly counter intuitive approach.

    • No preset agenda or programme exists for this conference pre event as a large part of it is developed through organic participation on site around a general idea.
    • The schedule is driven by attendees at the start of this open space event around a theme set by a Facilitator and advertised beforehand. Any attendee can claim a time and space within the event and initiate a discussion.
    • A marketplace for discussions thus develops at the start of the event. The event is therefore made up of a series of audience-sourced discussions rather than a top-down monologue.
    • Programming does not  have to be a linear list of speakers in chronological order. It is an organic process, and can have several sub-discussion groups taking place simultaneously.
    • People can drop in and out of discussions.

    This Open Space style event has spawned many similar event formats and Unconference Methods

    For example:

    #3. Pecha Kucha talks

    • Japanese for “Chatter” or ” Chit chat”, these are now familiar to many in design based or creative industry events. They involve a series of short 5 minute stand up talks , usually 8-15  sessions in total,
    • These may or may not contain multi-media presentations.
    • Some events restrict presentations to “20 images in 20 seconds” .
    • Some Pecha Kucha talks are executed  soapbox style, with small stand-up audiences occupying temporary spaces.
    • Some allow for an immediate critique in the final 20 seconds.
    • Great way to see “elevator pitches” by not so famous people like students, researchers or start ups who want to spread their new innovative ideas.
    • Quite egalitarian and can be preceded by an open call for presentations.

    Similar ideas include:

    #4. Ignite Talks

    • An Ignite Talk is a brand of global events series, characterised by 5 minute talks and 20 slides per presenter.
    • Presenters talk about their passions, brave new ideas or news ways of problem-solving

    Ignite Talk Videos say it all.


    #5. Lightning talks | Data Blitz

    • A fast succession of 1-10 minute talks with no multimedia.

    Apart from the Design based creative industries, new event styles are emerging from academia which include hands on participatory Think ins, Problem solving workshops or Hackathons. Here’s a few:

    #6. Speed Geeking | Rapid Demos

    • A bit like  speed networking but not about selling businesses, it’s all about the pitching your big idea.
    • Presenters are dotted around the room
    • Each time a bell rings groups of 4-7 converge on a new presenter.
    • Presenters pitch their idea repeatedly to every time the bell rings.

    #7. Fishbowl Conversations | Unpanel | Samoan Circle 

    • A concentric circular arrangement of seats whereby an inner ring of people discusses a topic
    • They are surrounded by a larger circle of audience members who may  just observe or
    • Dip into the debate by taking turns sitting in the inner active ring in order to  gain speaking rights.

    #8. Knowledge Cafes | World Cafes

    • A Workshop styled event format that kicks off with a general keynote address event. A Facilitator provides some open ended questions based on the pre determined topic or puts forward a problem that needs solving.
    • The group gets into small round table groups, discusses, digests the problem and submits feedback for the larger group at the end of the round table pod sessions. Conversation and Participation are the key processes.
    • A World Cafe allows one person to stay behind while the pod moves on to the next table. The person that stays behind gets to infect the next group with their ideas.
    • Great for a self regulating guild, association or trade gathering that wishes to address issues facing their sector for example.

    There are also some interesting ideas coming from the Cultural sector which may find their way into the cutting edge mainstream events.

    #9. Silent Discos inspire Silent Conferencing

    You must have heard of Silent discos by now – where attendees apparently dance in silence, wearing headphones WIFI-ed into the DJ’s sound system? Arts Festivals are incorporating these especially as Flash mob events.

    Silent conferences or Silent product launches solve the problem of engaging distracted visitors within a busy exhibition or event space.

    • Hook up seminar audiences with headphones directly to the speakers microphone.
    • Great if you are worried about engaging distracted attendees to the event, being discrete with information and don’t have enough facilities for a closed-off seminar space.
    • Even better when you do away with the large screen slides and broadcast slides directly into their devices.

    #10. Open Mic Jam

    In the music world,

    • Open mic sessions invite members of the public or audience to step up to the plate and contribute.
    • Jam sessions especially in terms of Jazz, allow different performers to play together, experiment and most importantly improvise on stage.
    • Bring the 2 together and you’ve got a new format for engaging the attendees to your event. Creative business sectors are picking up on this with open mike storytelling or Jam sessions where you get to put out your latest ideas and have be open to feedback.

    Here’s a local example : The Innovation Dublin Festival  will be holding an Open Mic Idea Jam where anyone with a new innovative idea can get on stage and share to an invited audience consisting of Venture capitalists or potential collaborators.

    #11. Soundclash

    • Soundclashes take place when 2 different bands are pitched against each other on opposing sides of the stage. They often displaying different styles of music. A sort of duel takes place.
    • Add some frisson to your events by kicking of some soundclashes of your own. You could pitch opposing points of view like Buyers versus Sellers, Big Business versus Small business, or competing businesses and brands for example. Another way to approach this would be to get people from 2 different disciplines to tackle the same problem

    #12. Multi Sensory Mash up

    Talking about ideas can be so dry sometimes. Sitting through a profusion of words and intellectual content in the abstract can be challenging. Remember to present your information in a Multi Sensory format to break the monotony, provide conversation starters and talking points that make your event more memorable.

    For example:

    • Use a visual mood board as an event installation rather than written material. Or a giant Mind Map to outline your programme schedule onsite.
    • Get Tactile and Tasty. When handing out  drink reception cocktails, Design consultancy Designgoat made attendees choose  from a series of  3D shape tokens instead of offering them a menu. The cocktail was served according to the shape chosen and it was a surprise recipe. Delegates were left guessing as to the ingredients.
    • Go Mobile, go outdoors and grab some fresh air. Cater for breakout coffee or lunch by getting delegates outdoors and hire mobile food trucks instead of a standard buffet.

    A mobile catering unit like this Big Blue Bus Pizza cafe is an Innovative event idea

    #13. Crowd Sourced Installations

    The visual arts world are engaging more festival go-ers and members of their community with crowd sourced installations that get centre stage display rights during the event. This brings a sense of ownership to all contributors who are bound to spread the word virally and attend to view the end result.

    Business events can take this further by:

    • Crowdsourcing ideas with a hashtag
    • Displaying them on the day via multimedia as a backdrop to the event. Here’s an idea:  Crowd source ideas into a pinterest board pre event and turn this into a large scale visual backdrop at the event, a real world display wall or slideshow.
    • It could also be a simple traditional idea. Like Yoko Ono’s wishing tree in the Dublintellectual biennale, whereby guests were asked to write down their wishes on tags
    • a crowd sourced installation is an innovative idea to drive engagement and participation at your event
    • Generate merchandise out of the contributions, programme content or publish the results as a takeaway momento of the event.
    • Use this as a basis for a pre event viral marketing campaign and use the onsite result as content for a post event viral ad .

     I was inspired by the arty ideas creative agency Tangible Interaction’s series of Artworks

    Caveats to Crowdsourcing

    I found this handy blog detailing the: 10 Commandments of Crowdsourcing

    Blending the Offline with the Online

    The full potential of these ideas and their execution is of course more possible now with the profusion of social media channels that can engage more people pre event. Tap into:

    • Event software that allows pre-event introductions, and networking. Basic event profiles in social networks like Linkedin and Meetup already allow a rudimentary facility for engaging pre-event.
    • Apps that can Gamify the experience in the build up and during the event.
    • Storytelling applications like Storify or Photo-tagging that have the power to create a post event legacy.


    In short we have to change the way we look at our marketing events and corporate conferences.

    Where Events were once a method of Con-tainment i.e. keeping a captive audience to yourself in an enclosed space, we have moved on from that way of thinking. Events are evidently becoming more useful as an explosive creative device.

    Think of them as:-

    • a launch pad for generating more content for broadcasting into the ether,
    • a stage for crowd sourced ideas from outside the 4 walls of your business and the programmed thinking of your organization,
    • a 4D experience that extends beyond the conference or exhibition space.

    I would really like to think there are way more examples of innovative event management styles, formats and conferencing ideas out there. I have more in my back pocket for future posts on various new styles so do stay tuned.

    Why don’t you rise to the Polylogue challenge and throw some new ideas back at me? What other innovative event ideas and formats have you seen?

    Did you like this article?  

    Tweak Your Biz

    1. Please share it with your network, we’d really appreciate it! 
    2. Would you like to write for Tweak Your Biz? Or sign up for our RSS?
    3. An outstanding title can increase tweets, Facebook Likes, and visitor traffic by 50% or more. Generate great titles for your articles and blog posts with the Tweak Your Biz Title Generator.

    Connect with Tweak Your Biz on:                      

    Get Featured On Tweak Your Biz – #TYBspotlight

    Images:  “businessman show brainstorming of idea in business /

Elish Bul-Godley

Elish Bul-Godley

Read Full Bio