Bustin out: Taking Your Conference Outside


More and more research is telling us that stepping away from our desks for a quick walk outside is good for our health, good for our brains and—to the delight of our employers—even good for the bottom line. So with so much incentive get our work lives outdoors, why are so many business events held inside?

Yes, convention centers and hotels make sense as a logistical go-to for events hosting thousands of attendees. How else would you feed and entertain them all without the infrastructure they provide? The thing is, being stuck inside all day deprives attendees of fresh air, and that can impact attention spans, retention and engagement in your event. Experts call the effect “nature deficit disorder.” Getting that extra boost of fresh air? Turns out it can give attendees a fresh perspective—and a refreshed boost of mental and physical energy.

The truth is, outdoor events are not the logistical nightmare they used to be. If you need proof, look no further than today’s biggest music and arts festivals, and the ways they have created temporary and fully-functioning cities out of empty fields, desert landscapes and other remote locales. Coachella has become home to VIP “glamping” experiences that include stylish tents and VIP amenities including private check-in, golf cart shuttles to the stages and back, exclusive access to restrooms and showers, a concierge, around-the-clock snacks and electrical outlets. Even Burning Man, which strives to leave no trace of its annual festival, still managed to offer a luxury camping experience for attendees (although, in 2016, it was vandalized by festival goers.)

In the b-to-b space, Google took the leap outdoors in 2016 with its annual I/O developer conference, when it moved its 7,000 attendees from the Moscone West to a 10-acre outdoor concert venue called the Shoreline Amphitheatre. The move required a variety of structures, including tents, domes and smaller pop-up experiences, to create the vibrant festival environment the brand was after. The result? A three day developer festival with an all inclusive outdoor keynote, 190+ breakout sessions, 18 product teams represented in the developer sandbox, and 85+ Codelabs. In addition to the live experience, 530+ I/O Extended events took place in 90+ countries - gaining 22M minutes of watch time on I/O Live, 5.2M visits to google.com/io, 250K+ mentions across social networks, and 2.8K+ press stories.

If you can’t take the whole show outdoors, even offering a strategy for getting outside between venues can offer that breath of fresh air we all crave. Oracle’s annual OpenWorld conference, for instance, in years past has gotten attendees outside and thinking about their environmental impact by encouraging them to walk between their hotels and the venue. The event in recent years expanded its connection to the outdoors with a city-block-wide Cloud Plaza where attendees could network, relax, eat and just take a breath outside between the educational experiences taking place inside the Moscone Center.

Whether you activate b-to-c or b-to-b events, the evidence is pretty clear: when it comes to engaging the hearts and minds of attendees in the modern era—nature is definitely calling. How will you answer the call?

Posted by Kristy Elisano | Request as a Speaker

Caffeine dependent Jersey girl. Inspired by creative risk takers and underdogs. Chief Marketing Officer, Doodle owner and lover of all things chocolate.