As attendees spend more time glued to their smartphones and tablets, event professionals recognize that the on-site environment needs to create a hands-on, out-of-sight type of experience. Solution? Meetings should be multisensory.


Designing for all of the senses. It’s not a new concept to consider the attendee’s entire journey from pre- to post-event, and how to best enhance every element. Applied to the meeting environment, multisensory design is the deliberate involvement of all the senses during the experience.


London & Partner released a study asking 600 event organizers their thoughts on multisensory events. According to the survey, only 27% of planners say they believe the industry effectively engages all five senses. When respondents were asked what keeps them from delivering sensory-led experiences, the top three responses were: not having the budgets (43%), lack of time (26%), and an inability to find sensory content (24%).


What can organizers do to help attendees do more than see the stage, shake hands with people and hear the speakers? Instead of simply turning up the volume or turning down the lights, organizers can use simple touches to achieve a delicate balance. Here a few examples of each design, dedicated to each sensory experience.


TASTE: Create food and beverage experiences to align with your location and demographic by adding interactive elements such as culinary competitions and demonstrations. Capitalizing on the city’s history can help engage the senses without creating a feeling of sensory overload. Events held in venues such as spice bazaars, food halls and even farmers markets are colorful ways to engage. Host a beverage night where attendees create bitters and cocktails with mixologists in distilleries.


TOUCHHere is where you can add a sense of play or whimsy to your event. Providing inexpensive squishy toys or stress balls (provided they are noiseless!), play-dough or even doodle pads (coloring books for adults are quite popular) are all excellent ways to help keep someone’s ears listening, even though their eyes may not always be watching.


SIGHT: Create a space where the audience was part of the general sessions. So, rather than setting up an exhibit hall with the typical staging – a division between a lit-up stage and darkened seating – extend the lighting truss from the stage to the back of the room to create a unified space. Also, set the room at an angle allowing for more seating closer to the stage. In addition, LED stage lighting creates more visual interest.


SOUND: Maximize your pre- and post-conference outreach by embedding music strategically to keep listeners engaged. Consider adding creativity to your meeting speaker line up with storytellers or DJ’s with individual headphones. TED Talk formats (usually 17 minutes or less) encourage fresh and focused communication.


SMELL: Opt for potted herbs – rosemary, sage, mint. These herbs are proven olfactory memory activators, and can all be inexpensively obtained from a local nursery. Small signs can invite participants to “Smell me!” or “Guess my scent?” At the end of the event, give away all the plant centerpieces with a raffle or trivia.


MOVEMENT: If ‘sitting is the new smoking’ – encourage participants to move, not just at a designated break, but during the meeting as well. Sensory activation also includes kinetic activation or movement, as getting people moving reportedly helps them engage. So as the organizer, ensure your set-ups have enough space for people to roam and stretch while they are listening. If you have small group discussions, and assuming you have a barrier-free area, have a “strolling break-out.”