What is an experience to you?

A few weeks back I asked my LinkedIn connections three questions about the meetings and events industry:

  1. What is the one thing you would like to improve or enhance when it comes to meetings and events in your company to make them even better?
  2. What does experience mean to you?
  3. What made the best meeting or event, you have ever attended, the best meeting/event ever?

I got a lot of interesting answers to these questions, and in this blog post I will look into question number two (if you want to read the summary of answers for question number 1 and 3, you can read them here and here).

This question is specifically near to my heart since I teach, speak and advice on experience design for the MICE industry, so knowing what my peers, clients and strangers think an experience looks like is crucial to me – because, as Jan-Jaap in der Maur, commented in the thread “Our trade is full of these kind of words … words that we think we all know what it means: engagement, experience, interaction, design …“. And we all know what happens when you assume :o)

What does experience mean to you?

Almost all comments in the thread for this question included some form or shape of the words FEELINGS and EMOTIONS, so I think we can establish that experiences are based on feelings.

My good friend Pieter Allaerts puts it this way: “When I leave with more than what I came for (feelings/learnings/connections/emotions)”, and I really like the idea of an experience being a combination of emotions and some sort of outcome, since creating value is important, but so is designing for emotions.

Victoria Matey adds science to the question (and I love it! There generally is too little science in meetings and events.) and describes an experience as “what we remember we felt, the emotions we remember about the event” (as in the situation that happened to us … not necessarily a meeting kind of event), which supports the general perception that emotions are a huge part of an experience is actually.

To underline this, Marianne Hoogeveen shared my favorite experience quote from Mary Angelou:

People will forget what you said
People will forget what you did
But they will never forget how you made them feel

Which actually sums it up so well: You could say that an experience is a complete ‘package’ of emotions and senses. Or as Attila Laszlo comments: It’s “learning BY sensations”, and I love that we add learning to the equation as well, because that is what my line of business is all about: Designing experiences to enhance learning.

Creating memories as part of the experience

There is also a general perception amongst the commenters that memorable moments that leave an impression are also what defines an experience. Like a smell that instantly takes you back to a specific place and time. “Something that is only possible with live events” according to Geoff Woliner, which I agree with. It is only 100% possible in live events, but we can and must try to obtain the same feeling with online events as well.

Incorporate experience elements

Expectations also came up a few times along the way. This really makes me happy since I focus on setting expectations when I talk about the communication side of a meeting or event. Expectations are the foundation for a great experience!

The five experience elements are:

  • The experience space
  • The senses
  • Involvement
  • Disruption
  • Communication

You are immersed in an experience, ​when you​

  • want to recount the experience​
  • feel the event is relevant ​
  • feel you are a co-producer of the event​
  • feel the event and the people there are authentic and present​
  • feel the event is unique and tailored exactly for you​

Communication is one of the five experience elements (see the box at right), and one of the five immersion elements (see the box at right) is recounting – the urge to tell another person about your experience – and that is exactly what Sabrina Meyers pointed out in her comment: “For me, it’s only an experience if I actually will tell someone else about it afterwards because be it a good or bad experience – it’s something that moved me to a point that I’d want to share the memory. So it has to be an encounter that is impactful enough to be shared – good or bad.” Well, you said it Sabrina. Spot on!

Philip Verhaeghe has this fantastic interpretation that describes all the things we would like to have happen for the attendees of an experiential event: “I like the idea to describe an experience as the mental processing of the actual new perception into my accumulated ‘wisdom’ of previous personal interpretations, possible expectations and deeper reflections about the given topic… :-)”.

So, even though the word ‘experience’ has so many connotations, I am happy to see that there are definitely general agreement along the lines of what it means.

I leave you with another question:

What is most important: The experience we design, or the experience a person experiences (get) during the event?

Please remember that this is by no means a scientific post … but the thoughts and ideas from a variety of meetings and events people that I treasure.