Meeting Design

Why it’s worthwhile reinventing the wheel again and again

Author: Michael Heipel

For some time now, there’s been talk of “meeting design“ at major industry fairs such as IMEX, IBTM or ITB. However, you’re mistaken in thinking that this is only about particularly creative event logos. Meeting design is much more.

Influenced by the creative strategies of design thinking, certain methods have over the past few years come on the market that apply these concepts on the design of events. And events are more important than ever because no matter if is about the digital transformation of companies, transferring know-how in the medical sector or presenting technical innovation – nowadays, no communication strategy can do without the face-to-face meeting of people at events. This specifically applies in times of increasing digitisation, as exemplified by the hype surrounding the yearly Apple keynotes or high-profile events organised by software and hardware producers such as SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, Samsung and others.

Focus on the behaviour, wishes and motivation of the stakeholders in question

Otto Group, a globally operating retailer, is on its way to a digital company and regularly organises internal “F**k-up-Nights” in order to encourage a “culture of error” to accelerate progress. These events are a vital part of the transformation process. They engage employees and contribute to making them more willing to take on risks.

Which areas do meeting design concepts address then? Even if approaches differ in detail, all meeting design concepts first of all focus on the stakeholders in events and ask questions such as which goals do they want to achieve and what are their expectations and motivations? Stakeholders are the starting point for all meeting design concepts because they all work with the assumption that an event can only be described as successful if there is a visible change in behaviour among participants after the event. Take the above-mentioned example of the Otto Group: If the aim is to give employees more self-confidence and be less risk-averse, an event such as the “Fuck-up-Night” can contribute to encourage such behaviour.

Experience design for meetings

To initiate a change in behaviour, event planners need to think about the best possible surroundings for an event that can encourage such a behavioural change. In this context, the design options not only include the event space, projections or other obvious elements: The practice of experience design comes into play, too, i.e. meeting designers need to think about every experience that stakeholders have before, during and after an event.

Questions to be asked are: How can participants be inspired and engaged even prior to an event? Which music, what kind of lighting and furniture will support learning targets? Which room setup is best for networking? How can the knowledge gained be reinforced so that the event has a sustainable effect?

The standardisation vs. individualisation predicament

Conventional conference, seminar and exhibition organisers are often faced with a dilemma because they always try to standardise processes and offers if possible in order to achieve economies of scale. This includes anything from the procurement of technical services and the construction of exhibition stands to the standardised look and feel of websites.

No doubt, this makes a lot of sense for organisers from a commercial point of view. However, for the purposes of meeting design, the “we’ve always been doing it like that”-approach is counter-productive because meeting design is precisely about reinventing the wheel and incorporating a multitude of elements that provide positive surprises when putting together an event for the purposes of inspiring participants.

As a consequence, non-conventional organisers are often the ones coming up with event innovation, e.g., the OMR Online Marketing Rockstars festival in Hamburg, re:publica in Berlin or the start-up festival Bits and Pretzels in Munich. When it comes to meeting design, these events break new ground and resolutely focus on the requirements of their target groups, implementing ideas that conventional exhibition and congress organisers wouldn’t necessarily come up with.

How can organisers implement meeting design principles?

Meeting designers such as Martijn Timmermans, Eric de Groot, Ruud Janssen, Elling Hamso, Maarten Vanneste or Adrian Segar are often rooted in completely different sectors, e.g., theatre or film. Good meeting design combines the strategic approach of focussing on your customers with creative ideas.

Strategic tools such as the event canvas (Janssen) or the event storyboard canvas (Timmermans) come with corresponding instructions and are most of the time available free of charge. Thus, event planners can easily start their meeting design process and lay the strategic foundation for further steps.

When it comes to bringing experience design to life, inter-disciplinary teams are needed, i.e. MICE sector professionals, creative original thinkers, experienced event planners and marketing specialists working together on a design concept that will be the best possible solution for the event goals. Depending on the core competencies that you already have in-house, you can work with external experts in this context.


The concept of meeting design is a new and fresh way of approaching event design and helps realise what the actual aims of events are. Combined with the tools of visual and design thinking, meeting design can help event planners create inspiring experiences that will delight their clients and achieve sustainable success.

Three questions for…

1. What is it that makes the #EventCanvas concept fundamentally different?

The #EventCanvas is a new language for the MICE sector. Once learned, everyone involved in the value chain can communicate clearly with each other on all levels, e.g., the CEO with marketing, the event department, agencies, hotels, audio visual designers, venues, caterers, etc. The #EventCanvas is a language that is also being understood by our clients and is based on one set of core questions: Within a given budget, which patterns of behaviour of our main target group are to be changed by the event and how can we measure these changes and the added value resulting thereof?

2. Why should event organisers consider the #EventCanvas?

How often do you get enquiries that are, in many ways, not clear so that you end up asking yourself if you’re actually speaking the same language? Only if all of us, service providers and clients, learn the same language, master it perfectly and make it the basis for all of our plans, can we really take over responsibility for their targeted implementation. A common language creates trust. It defines the framework within which different event prototypes can be developed. In this context, the staging of events (at a meeting, congress, etc.) and the didactic design of the prototypes are interwoven in such a way that the desired change process sets in.

3. Which events did you "reinvent“, using the #EventCanvas?

Since 2014, more than 3,500 interested users have downloaded the #EventCanvas for free. The NUCLEAR SECURITY SUMMIT 2014, the Internet Society and the International Olympic Committee IOC are some examples of organisations that have realised how valuable the #EventCanvas is and used it to optimise their events in a user-oriented way.

Over the past 25 years, Gerrit Jessen, CED CMM CMP, has successfully build up companies and motivated his teams to reach personal and entrepreneurial goals. He has been involved with the #EventCanvas since 2013 and successfully completed the Certified Event Designer Programme in January 2017. He is the director of the Event Design Collective Germany and trains industry professionals in event design, using the #EventCanvas method.