When you think of the key elements that contribute to an effective event, chances are furniture isn’t top of mind. But as younger generations make up a larger portion of attendee bases and their networking opportunities continue to be a top request, and the line between business and pleasure continues to blur, event marketers are placing greater importance on the role that furnishings play in the overall success of their events. Want to increase attendee dwell time? Creating a comfortable setup, both physically and psychologically, is a great place to start.
When it comes to elevating your event furniture game, high-tech pieces should be a priority. Power-enabled furniture offers attendees a place to comfortably charge without having to babysit their devices at a standard charging station, and can offer brands more time to connect with their attendees. What’s more, furnishings integrated with social media capabilities can provide increased networking opportunities.
“Social media is integrated into our life. It’s something we always find on the event floor,” says Angela Strahan, senior designer at GES. “So, charging opportunities become opportunities to captivate audiences. Integrating charging aspects into furnishings is high priority for a lot of larger events. And then integrating the social media technology itself into a coffee table or something of that nature becomes important as it encourages people to linger and possibly have a conversation about the social media content rather than be stuck to their phone.”
Tablet or multi-touch tables are also an up-and-coming trend in event furnishing thanks to their ability to foster collaboration, and even gamification. And while their staggering price tags mean some event marketers will have to pass on the technology for now, design experts say their prevalence is likely to increase in the coming years.
“I’ve seen tablet tables with touch screen capability that allow guests to gather and brainstorm, watch video or work collaboratively… But they are not a light investment,” says Jose Ramirez, marketing manager at AFR Furniture Rental and Event Furnishings. “But for the future, like everything else, prices come down as technology advances and evolves.”
Whether they’re high-tech or not, communal tables continue to help events thrive by encouraging networking and allowing attendees to soften the line between work and play. When attendees have down time at events, they still have to catch up on work, and they prefer to do it in a communal setting because it resembles how they work at a coffee shop, says Kevin Dana, executive director of marketing and product development at CORT. “It’s the blurring of work and leisure. People are always working so they want to be comfortable and they want to be in an environment that’s communal.”
Movable furnishings are also seeing increased use in events, providing event spaces with a more human element and allowing for increased attendee interaction, whether that takes place in groups or one-on-one. And with b-to-b attendees placing more importance on connecting with their peers than absorbing session content, movable pieces are a simple and effective way to increase the networking opportunities they crave.
“If you have a seating arrangement facing each other, you’re more likely to encourage attendees to have discussion, as opposed to a classroom setup,” says Strahan. “Having furniture that is semi-movable makes the attendees feel that they have a little bit of ownership of the space. So they can move a chair and have a private discussion with somebody, or a group discussion with a larger group, or they can move it out of the way and have a private moment.”
The style of your event furniture can also play a key role in creating a comforting environment for attendees, and as a result, often increases dwell time. Mid-century is the current go-to look, with its simple lines and uncluttered appearance. According to Dana, the style resonates because its popularity over the years has instilled a sense of familiarity in attendees, and consequently, a level of psychological comfort.
The same goes for the furniture’s color palette, including how it corresponds with the rest of the event space, Dana says. “As far as color goes, gray has been big in home furnishings for a while and it’s just getting bigger. It’s a clean slate, a clean palette. You can have a sofa in velvet, which lends some texture and softness, and you add the color and it becomes very fresh, but it’s not white and it’s not black. It feels softer. That’s why you’re seeing so much greenery. With all of these big, gray furnishing pieces, you need some way to warm them up… It’s one way to bring the outdoors in because people are creating more organic-feeling environments.”
Is investing time and money into event furniture worth it? Should you really turn your attendees into couch potatoes? The experts say yes. When attendees are immersed in an inviting environment, they’re more likely to create and learn, and in turn, brands will find more opportunities to engage.
“If [attendees] feel better then they’re more likely to pay attention, to stay longer, to connect with others,” Dana says. “They’re at ease. It follows that that’s the type of environment they want to be in. They’ve still got the technology, they’re still working, but there’s a blurring of lines between work and play and social, so you’ve got spaces that are blurring those lines as well.”