You know if you have it. You know if someone else has it. And, you know if some places and things have it. In the world of style, you either have it, or you don’t. Many of you may have been told that your meeting and events are different and no one can explain why. I say, it is because you understand how to balance the sensory experience.
In the world outside of meetings and events, sense marketing has gained popularity through the growing field of scent marketing. You may be aware that many hotels and public spaces are fast learning that scent recall is far more accurate than other forms of advertising. The caveat here is that the scent must match the brand. Something masculine would not pair with a more feminine brand. Because the brain processes smell in conjunction with emotion, memory, and learning, we are more than 85 times more likely to remember something through scent, as it is connected neurologically in our brain.

Styling the Experience
In theatrical design, there are two style categories related to décor: realism and symbolism. Realism refers to the goal of creating an environment that closely resembles an actual setting with great attention to detail and nearly exact reproductions of key elements. Symbolism is the discipline that focuses on the imagination first and physical objects second: actors may gesture where a wall is to be, or a cube may stand in for a stepping stone, a sofa, or a car. Realism is natural; symbolism is imaginative.
In events, we need both. Realism keeps an event anchored to a specific theme, while symbolism liberates the imagination and awakens a sense of play and engagement. Décor, food, beverage, lighting, audiovisual, music, entertainment, and speakers are among the planner’s style tools. They are the different paint colors available on your palette to style a meeting or event, to design an experience.
First and foremost, of course, identify the level, demographics, and experience of your group. These will determine where the focus should be and what sense or senses are in play.

Here are 10 thoughts for a planning project focused on the sense of sight:
1. Choose a destination, hotel or venue that complements the group’s dynamics.

2. Ensure the venue is visually compatible to the meeting theme.

3. Invest in designing an effective graphic (a picture speaks a thousand words).

4. Consider using hard-copy invitations. The look and feel of the paper in addition to the personalized touch reaps benefits in how a person reacts and responds.

5. Plan on a visually stimulating element on arrival—outside, if possible. The first impression on site must match the promise of the invitation, which will have embedded a visual image in participants’ minds.

6. Find a way for the staff and team to dress to complement the visual experience.

7. Give attention to the room setup. Sometimes turning a table from a square to a diamond opens energy flow and is visually balanced.

8. Open opportunities to add accents in a meeting room to enhance the branding experience without being distracting.

9. Understand the participants’ profiles and select which visuals will have the most impact in décor and design choices.

10. Focus visual attention on one element if a budget is limited or the room is large.  

And one more thing to remember: It is not just what you have, but how you use it that matters. Effectively using the senses in meeting design need not be affected by budget constraints!

Dianne Devitt