How to Create Immersive Experiences at Virtual and In-Person Events

Maple Ridge Farms Team

You just registered for an event, and you can’t wait to meet the attendees, online or in person. What should you do with your space? How can you stand out at the event and encourage buyers to engage with you? Whether you’re planning for an upcoming virtual event or a future in-person event, people are looking for more than products and services today: they want an experience. Here’s how to create an immersive experience at your next virtual or in-person event that attendees will love—and remember.

Showcase Your Products “In the Wild”

Attendees want to see your product in action. How will they use it once they buy it? How will it fit their lifestyle? Make it easy for buyers to understand by showing them how your product will improve their lives.

The first part of creating an immersive experience at an event is envisioning how your product is used in real life, or “in the wild,” as we like to say. Think about how your team uses your products. Have you discovered any alternative uses you could showcase?

Look at your marketing materials and selling tools—lifestyle images, videos and case studies. How are you showing your products to your customers? What tone are you setting for your brand? Take inspiration from the materials you’re already creating to give you direction for your immersive experience.

Recall conversations you’ve had with clients about using your products and services. Have they mentioned any benefits you hadn’t thought of before, or used your products in a unique or interesting way? Asking your clients for feedback on their experiences with your company, products and services will help you improve in all areas. Plus, you never know when a conversation with a client will lead to a big (or better) idea!

Now that you’ve done your research, you’re ready to create the theme or overall look and feel of your experience. Note that this isn’t the first step in the process. You want to start with envisioning how your product is used instead of starting with a theme and trying to make it work. The exception is if you’re attending a themed event. In that case, you’ll turn the process around and figure out how to make your brand, products and services fit the chosen theme. Get creative, and have fun with it!

From the Farm to Your Neighborhood Store

We went through this process on the Farm when we decided to revisit our booth design for 2019. Our team thought about how we could connect with attendees at the events we attend in a fresh and interactive way. Food is such a powerful part of our lives because it’s a basic human need and helps bring people together, from building business relationships to celebrating with our loved ones.

How could we relay the significance of food in our everyday lives during an event? Welcome to your local gourmet grocery store. We created a welcoming space that showcased our gourmet food gifts and packaging designs in a fresh, modern environment. Stroll through the space while browsing the shelves and helping yourself to some delicious samples. Interact with our friendly Ridger family as you snack, and ask questions about our products or discuss ideas for your clients.

We love to include games and contests as well. Visitors can spin the wheel for a chance to win or guess how many pieces of candy are in the oversized champagne flute. Having fun with games and offering a tasting experience help us break the ice with attendees. The latter also helps us showcase how delicious our gourmet treats are.

Finally, our event experience is a blueprint that you can use for your experiences. We’ve worked with several of our valued distributor partners to create their own tasting experiences or set up one for a client. You can scale it up or down depending on your budget and cater it to your audience’s specific tastes.

Meeting with clients or prospects virtually? Recently, we worked with one of our distributor partners to surprise and delight their customers before a Zoom meeting. After receiving their cheese package, attendees were excited to join the video call and were highly engaged throughout. A few days later, our distributor partner received an order!   

Welcome to Our Experience! Let’s Engage    

While designing your event experience, don’t forget about the immersive part. Capture attendees’ attention with your space and pull them in—online or in person. Your experience should create an atmosphere that attendees want to explore and learn more about.

It’s so important to engage with your attendees before, during and after an event. Send them an event kit full of branded merchandise when they register, or use your kit as an incentive to encourage people to register. Invite recipients to use their merch during the event, whether they’re attending in person or logging in from home.

Recently, we attended skucon at home, commonsku’s virtual conference for innovators, explorers and dreamers in the promotional products industry. Our friends at commonsku teamed up with Numo to create a limited edition gift pack for the first 500 registrants. What a cool gift! Ridgers were excited to receive their kit and use the included swag while attending the conference and beyond.

Think about how you can engage with your visitors in a positive way. While we like to create a tasting experience and have fun with games and contests, you can also use mascots, live animals and selfie spots to bring your experience to life, too. Modify these ideas to use them for virtual events, so you can engage with attendees face-to-face or through the screen. Encourage visitors to share their experience on social media, and remember to share the official event hashtag (and yours if you have one).

Another way to welcome attendees to your experience is with a pre-event mailer or invitation. Ask recipients to bring the mailer with them or enter their unique code during your virtual event for a special gift. Only have email addresses? Send an email with a personalized URL for each recipient, so they can RSVP and receive a special offer.

If you can’t connect beforehand, catch people when they arrive. Place a welcome or pillow gift in each room as you give attendees a sneak peek of what awaits them if they visit you. At virtual events, you can offer people a gift in exchange for attending a demo of your product or service. 

During the event, engage your audience with interactive content. Ask attendees to respond to questions, conduct polls or set up dedicated networking time, whether it’s a chat over coffee in the morning or a happy hour to close out your event. You can also push content out to attendees during a virtual event for download, such as presentation visuals or materials referenced during sessions.

Look for sponsorship opportunities to make more attendees aware of your experience. Include one of your products in the show bag or event kit to help drive traffic to your space. This idea works for virtual events, too.

The beauty of creating an immersive experience is that you can scale it up or down depending on your budget. Think about the takeaways you want attendees to leave your experience with, and work from there. Get creative! If you come up with an amazing idea that’s out of your budget, brainstorm alternatives that will achieve the same goal. Or invite other companies to partner with you and sponsor your experience. That will help all of you make a bigger impact together than you could on your own.

Don’t despair if the pandemic has forced you to move your event or conference online. Take this opportunity to try new things while creating immersive experiences in a virtual environment. How can you connect with your attendees through the screen? How will you continue the relationship after they log off? Think through your entire experience from pre-event marketing to post-event follow-up just like you would with an in-person event. Your virtual event doesn’t have to be a poor substitute for your normal event while we socially distance. It can be a huge success that attendees are still talking about next year! 

Once you register for an event, your work is only beginning. Don’t settle for showcasing your products and services in a boring, traditional way. Create an immersive experience that fits who you are and what you do. Show attendees your products in action, so they can see how they fit in their lifestyle. Make sure to include plans to engage with attendees, so they feel welcome in your space. People crave experiences today and will remember them long after you’ve gone home or logged off.