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What can conferences learn from festivals?

Ahead of the Event Production Show in February, Stuart Wood casts an eye over some of the show’s exhibitors, who could inspire festival fun into your next conference.


The conference industry is always evolving, as the task of keeping delegates engaged in educational content and events has demanded new approaches, and new ways of thinking.

Trends such as the rise of event technology, and the decrease in average session size, are all about capturing the attention of a changing audience. The trend towards ‘festivalisation’, which has seen conferences and business events taking notes from the outdoor events industry, is all about that same key word: engagement.

By incorporating attractions such as marquees, food stalls, mobile bars and much more, organisers can entertain as well as educate their delegates. They also increase the appeal and traction of their event on social media.

From 26-27 February 2019, many of the suppliers who are bringing a touch of festival fun to the conference industry will be exhibiting at the Event Production Show (EPS). Any organisers looking for some inspiration, or something that will set their conference apart, should make the trip to Olympia London and take a look around.


Buggin’ out

One company that will be exhibiting at EPS is Beetlejuice, who provide mobile bars for use at festivals, exhibitions, weddings, parties, and - yes - conferences. 

Beetlejuice’s Jonathan Gomma told CN: “Everyone these days wants something different and quirky. Festivals are always looking for innovative attractions and activations – so why not have this at an office party, team building exercise or a conference?

“I think when people think of conferences they think of a boring room in a stuffy hotel. The pop-up culture has really taken off over the last five years, and I believe conferences should mix things up a bit. They should use certain things that festivals use to make events more fun and interesting.”

Beetlejuice’s bars would certainly make an eye-catching addition to a conference – they are constructed from 1970’s VW bay window panel vans, which have been restored and converted into self-contained cocktail bars. Each has its own colour scheme, built-in sound system and lighting.




No malarkey marquees

There are plenty of items organisers can rent to bring a touch of the outdoor events industry to a conference. But what if you want to bring the conference itself outside? Then you might need the assistance of a supplier such as Fews Marquees, which provides temporary structures to events.

The company has set up outdoor marquees for many conferences and business events, the most recent of which was a management conference for prestige car sales company Sytner. Fews installed a 25x45m structure at Cheltenham Racecourse, which housed 950 delegates.

Within the igloo-shaped structure, a circular bar provided a focal point and a stylish area to serve refreshments from. A viewing platform was also erected around the marquee, so that attendees could appreciate the views of the racecourse and surrounding countryside while networking. The igloo also contained crystal clear roofs above a dancefloor, allowing delegates to party under the stars as the evening progressed. 

Andy Dingley, marketing and business development manager at Fews Marquees, said: “A loading capacity of 3,000kg per arch made the igloo the perfect structure for an event with large production & rigging requirements, such as a conference, concert or festival. They are able to support large sound systems and lighting rigs.”

Speaking on the benefits that festivalisation can bring to conferences, Dingley added: “The main benefit of using temporary structures for conferences is the versatility around location. Within reason, you can locate your event wherever you like, therefore tapping into infrastructure such as hotels, airports or major road networks.”


Bringing the mountain to Muhammad

Festivalisation, then, isn’t just about bringing the festival to the conference. It can also be the reverse – getting a conference into the open, outside of its comfort zone and breaking the rules.

If you want your event to think outside the box, join CN at the Event Production Show in February and get the creative (beetle) juices flowing! 

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