How Successful Leaders Use Experience Design at Events

Experience Design for Meetings Carolene Meli
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What if you took the details of the most memorable experiences you’ve had and integrated that into work? How did that experience make you feel? What did you get through that experience? What is it that made you walk away and continue to share that experience with others? 

The bridge between employee experience and event planning grants companies the opportunity to create a culture of true connection and loyalty. This industry is called, Experience Design.

Today, customers display extreme loyalty to their favorite companies ranging from Apple product launches to events like Comic Con. Imagine blending those types of experiences into events – for your employees. 

Inside this episode, we interviewed Experience Strategist and former head of VIP events at Cirque du Soleil, Carolene Méli. Carolene has traveled the globe creating and delivering VIP experiences and now she’s here to help leaders understand more about Experience design and tips for creating unbelievable experiences. 

We will be bringing our teams back to work for monthly, quarterly or annual meetings and events, and then sending them off for months at a time.  We will want to offer them meaningful experiences.  Carolene cautions that we focus too much on the experience we want to create, and not on the one actually relevant to the desires, wants and the needs of the people we’re creating for.

On today’s podcast you will learn the four essential elements of experience design, the one question to ask before planning any event, and the magic of a box of popcorn.

Successful Leaders Create Incredible Experiences

The onset of pandemic seriously impacted the ability to create incredible in-person experiences throughout 2020. But what can we now offer to help bring incredible experiences back to life? And what do we need to know about making incredible virtual experiences? Whether you’re still working from home or in the early planning stages of planning in-person experiences, here are four concepts of incredible experiences that to consider when planning your next event. 

To Create Incredible Experiences Ask Four Questions

To become better at experience design, leaders must ask four questions when they are planning experiences.

  1. Is it Personalized? 

For example, leaders can create a 20 second personalized video thanking someone for signing up to attend an event. This strategy is easy to watch and easy to make. Don’t make personalization highly complicated, but consider how you are making experiences with your employee events and meetings more personal. 

  1. Does it Create Connection and a Sense of Belonging?

The best events create connection and a sense of belonging. They make you feel like you were meant to be there. How are your events creating connections and a sense of belonging?

  1. Is it Memorable? 

The most amazing events are memorable. It’s something that you will remember. How are you creating events that are memorable? Ask your team about the last memorable event or meeting they’ve been to and listen to their stories. 

  1. Will I Share this Experience with Others? 

Will I tell a whole bunch of people about this experience? You know your event will be incredible if people share their experience with others.  

Incredible Experiences Tell A Story

One of the earliest activities done by humans was storytelling. It’s the most powerful way to emotionally connect people to a story and teach without teaching. 

Just like your most memorable experience has a story, you have a leadership story. Inside your company, the people you lead are aspiring leaders themselves. Through storytelling, they can connect with you as a leader and see themselves in your shoes. Use that story to connect to your team. Likewise, your company has a story; that story needs to be shared to connect people to your company as well. Share how you got to where you are as a leader and as a company and why you are here doing what you are doing. 

Solve Problems With Low Effort, High ROI Gestures

In Cirque du Soleil, Carolene shared she was surprised by how many problems she could solve by offering a box of popcorn. It was how she quickly solved customer service problems by offering this small gesture. Offering a box of popcorn showed the customers that she cared about them and understood the issue, even if she couldn’t solve the problem. Often, the customers would come up and thank her for the box of popcorn after the show. Carolene explains that we tend to overthink solutions (internally and externally.) Offering a box of popcorn for her was incredibly cheap, but had a high impact for customer service solutions. 

As a leader of your team, what low effort, high ROI gestures can you make to help solve problems that show that you understand the issue even if you can’t solve the problem? This goes back to personalization. How can I get something across very quickly to my team? Examples to consider are using more personalized videos. Don’t overlook personalization when it comes to small gestures; this extends connection even further. 

What do you have to offer to your customers and employees to solve problems that are low effort, high ROI?

Leadership Skill: Adaptability 

When you are creating experiences, you have to be able to be adaptable. Identify what improvements and changes need to be made and implement it. Creating unforgettable experiences requires leaders to identify what doesn’t work, change it rapidly and implement it. 

How can a company measure ROI of Events?

Leaders need to focus on the ROI of an event in the follow up through meaningful conversations with the attendees, not just surveys. You can really see the impact the event has made. Follow up a week or two and then six months from now. If the event is really resonating with people in 6 months time, you know you’re getting your ROI. Most leaders underestimate the value in asking their employees about their desires and needs in creating memorable and incredible events.

If I went to an event and was asked six months later to give feedback during a short phone call, this would foster for me a sense of belonging, a personal touch, and a higher feeling of admiration for that organization. 

For an event to be memorable, you must design it around listening to conversations that will make it memorable and fulfilling. 

Event Planning Tips:

For leaders to become better at experience design, they should start planning events by leading through curiosity.

  • Don’t focus on creating the experience that you want to create; rather, focus on creating the experience your attendees will want to create. 
  • The ideas in your strategy are going to come through your employees and teams. 
  • Your teams are the ones who know your customers better than you. Rely on them for improvement ideas. 

In experience design, create opportunities for conversations to happen naturally.

  • What can you put in place in the event for conversations to happen naturally? 
  • When people walk into the event, how can you wow them with a conversation starter right away? Can you use food to open a conversation? 
  • Virtual Events: What questions can you present to the group that will create exciting conversations? 

How do you want them to feel at the end? 

Virtual Meeting Icebreakers- Tell A Story Example

One idea to implement into your virtual event or meeting is an icebreaker that includes storytelling. Inside this icebreaker, the leader asks a question and informs participants that they must format their answer as if telling a story. For example, the leader might ask, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” When answering the question, each participant must relay their answer in a story format. 

About Carolene Méli

Carolene Méli is an Experience Strategist who helps bring more impact, intentionally and success to the experiences we offer, no matter what the business or industry.

This role is brought to life through her leadership program ‘Better Your Leadership’ where she mentors the next generation of emotionally intelligent leaders and also through her youtube channel ‘The Experience Creators’ where she asks exceptional experience creators from all over the world ‘What elements make an incredible experience?’

Her expertise stems from over 15 years in global events and entertainment predominantly working for Cirque du Soleil where she ran VIP experience teams across 17 different countries over a 10 year span. She also ran the entertainment department on a cruise ship and was part of numerous store opening teams at Lululemon Athletica. 

Carolene is an avid traveller, having travelled to 41 countries and is currently based in the beautiful Mediterranean. No matter what country she is in, what teams she is leading or what clients she is working with, her north star is that ‘one great experience has the potential to change someone’s world’.

Better Your Leadership Program

Carolene’s Website


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