At last year’s TedX Sydney, a collection of ‘tribes’ were designed outside of speaker sessions to showcase the latest innovations around themes of ‘Technology and Future’, ‘Creative and Curious’, ‘Mind, Body and Soul’, ‘Storytelling’, ‘LGBTIQ’ and ‘Food Innovation’.
At ChinaJoy in Shanghai, attendees were treated to six zones, each of which offered its own mix of entertainment offerings such as competitions to trial products, fan meet-and-greets, esports events, and interactive gaming sessions.
Meanwhile, the recent Singapore Fintech Festival at SingEx saw a cosy Sandbox presentation, an innovation lab crawl, a Hackcelerator competition, Open Stage pitches, and industry networking events co-existing within the larger festival.
Instead of a linear agenda with successive events on the agenda, attendees are increasingly looking for multiple elements to take place concurrently – also known as the concept of festivalisation.
What is festivalisation?
“Festivalisation is about injecting the appropriate buzz and energy via tools and formats into an event in such a way that it enhances the experience and engagement of exhibitors, conference delegates and visitors via their five senses,” says Aloysius Arlando, CEO for SingEx Holdings.
“Their senses of sight, sound, touch, smell and feeling must be engaged such that these physiological and emotive responses enhance their intellectual responses with the aim of creating the desired outcomes, ideally with a business, commercial or educational objective in mind.”
He adds that the concept is not just about the “feel-good” factor, but also about curating outcomes from the show that add value to attendees’ experiences. This can be done by designing unique content platforms that customise an attendee’s journey and provide various touchpoints for them to engage with.
One easy way to implement that is by providing all-day F&B. According to Arlando, each attendee would have their own schedule, and with all-day dining, they can find those serendipitous moments to have a discussion over a coffee break or break away from sessions and segue into a lunch networking session at their own leisure.
“The objective behind it is to inject flexibility into the show experience so that attendees can choose when and how they want to eat and with whom. We don’t want to dictate their time,” he says. As a bonus, this allows for large-scale to personalise experiences without breaking too much of a sweat.
According to Darren Lim, senior VP at Pico+, festivalisation doesn’t literally mean adding ‘festival’ elements to an event. “The essence of it – the idea of providing a range of touchpoints and experiences to choose from, and for them to be enjoyable and appealing – can be applied to any kind of event,” he says.
“For traditional conferences, the starting point would be to listen to the audience’s ideas and understand their expectations. And then, wherever it’s appropriate, don’t be afraid to supplant common practices and conventional formats for something more diverse and creative.”
In the consumer events space, Singapore Design Week in collaboration with the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is a good example in bringing design to the masses through festivalisation. “People are not coming in for mere buying and selling, they want to be impacted by the experiences you give them,” says Andrew Phua, director, exhibitions and conferences, STB.
“So how STB works with the Singapore Design Council is to actually create an umbrella festival or Singapore Design Week. Along with the furniture fair, we have design trails where delegates can go on a Chinatown tour, for example. Or maybe look at boutique hotels…”
As much as the trend has been more commonly seen across music events and fan festivals, it’s beginning to catch on at sporting events. For example, the international Six Day Series of track cycling races that first hit Hong Kong in March, featured a live DJ and lightshow that encouraged people to enjoy the event in a party atmosphere. Meanwhile, the annual Singapore Grand Prix features free concerts, fringe activations, and premium viewing zones with various price tiers, each with its unique entertainment offerings.
Storytelling via touchpoints
Festivalisation can also be used to tell stories and create communities. Unlike a more conventional format that encourages passivity, multiple elements can allow attendees to network and choose sessions more strategically, thus creating small communities and allowing organisers and brands to better convey their messaging.
In the case of Slush Singapore, an annual start-up festival that aims to defy traditional event formats, event head Anna Ratala and her team redefined the ‘elevator pitch’ by having start-ups deliver their pitches 50m off the ground on the GMAX Extreme Swing at Clarke Quay.
“A part of [festivalisation] is about being a part of a story,” says Ratala. “I think people don’t care if there’s a rock band, for instance, but they want to feel it. They want to feel like they were there, and they want to tell people that they were there. And I think events that are going to be leading the way are start-up and tech events because of the nature of [those industries].”
Her comments are echoed by Nina Gomez, head of operations, Singapore, CWT Meetings & Events: “Audiences have an innate want to be a part of something. They don’t want be on the sidelines anymore, they want to be a part of something bigger.”