Attendees are searching for unexpected, magical experiences—which means planners need to learn how to plan the unplanned

What makes a meeting memorable? For many attendees, it’s the unexpected moments.

A study from Marriott International and the PCMA Foundation found that facilitating orchestrated serendipity—that is, planning for chance encounters and activities—leads to more memorable events. 

It’s the same reason Google designed its campus to promote “casual collisions”—because it believes that moments of spontaneity are crucial for productivity and innovation. 

So, how can planners plan for times that are supposed to be “unplanned”?

1.  Set up for success

Like Google, planners will want to design meeting spaces with serendipitous experiences in mind. That means creating spaces that allow attendees to explore and interact with other guests. Instead of sit-down meetings that confine attendees to one spot for the event’s duration, for instance, plan an agenda that encourages guests to get up and moving. This could mean developing more active learning sessions or offering a choose-your-own-adventure approach to the meeting as a whole.

And in the spirit of exploration, try selecting a venue that’s inherently different, too. Atypical destinations, flexible meeting spaces or those with secret hallways or surprising infrastructure elements all create an unexpected physical environment before attendees even walk through the door.

2.  Prioritize attendee networking

With a lot of attendees in the room, unexpected interactions are bound to happen—you can’t plan a run-in between old college roommates, after all. But you can cultivate these types of spontaneous meetups and conversations by focusing on networking. Host a pre-meeting breakfast where attendees can hype each other up or a post-event happy hour to wind down together, or create a meeting agenda focused on giving opportunities for guests to walk and talk around the room.

3.  Minimize technology

Technology can streamline a lot of meeting processes, but it can also be distracting and foster less participation. For example, if your meeting will be livestreamed online, why should guests bother to leave the house when they can participate remotely? It’s this kind of convenience that works against serendipitous events: Although remote guests won’t change attendance numbers, they will affect the type of engagement happening—or not happening.

The fix: Lean less on tech and more on in-person experiences. What kind of unpredictable, nontech interactions can you provide? If you’re hosting a food-related event, for instance, perhaps you plan a surprise live demonstration from a famous chef or serve desserts on tables suspended from the ceiling. (Sound shocking? That’s the point!) Whatever it might be, the goal is to encourage memorable in-person activities rather than engage with guests through a screen.

For more information, download a copy of the full Marriott International and PCMA Foundation’s study, “The Future of Meetings & Events”.