How to Create a Festival-Style Meeting

Make your conference "rock" by modeling it after a summer music festival.

Concert Audience
Meetings inspired by music festivals can be fun and memorable.

Summer is synonymous with fireworks, barbecue, beaches -- and music festivals. There’s Lollapalooza, for example, which brings up to 400,000 people to Chicago every August; Bonnaroo, which lures 80,000 people to Manchester, Tenn., each June; and Burning Man, a weeklong festival that attracts 70,000 people to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert every Labor Day weekend.

Whether you’re a festivalgoer or not, you have to admit: With numbers like that, festival organizers must be doing something right. If you ask Hannah Hagar, director of music and social programming at the Kimpton Hotel Van Zandt in Austin, Texas -- home of the South by Southwest and Austin City Limits music festivals -- they definitely are. So much so that she thinks meeting planners should take a page from their book by “festival-izing” their events.

“Music festivals are an opportunity to be your true self and to unite with those around you over a common love for the shared experience of a performance," Hagar says. "I’ve seen group dynamics completely shift with a proper integration [of music], and we have direct feedback that meeting attendees found music to be the real game-changer of our events. The more hands-on, the better. If you’ve ever left a concert with a euphoric energy, then you can totally relate to the power of a good drum circle or writing an anthem for your team. We are big believers that music brings people together.”

In fact, the positive effects of music are well documented. In a 2005 study music therapist Teresa Lesiuk concluded that people who listen to music at work experience more pleasant moods, are more productive and produce better, more creative ideas compared to people who don’t.

Plus, festivals are fun. If you ask them, most people would rather attend a music festival than a business conference any day of the week.

So if you want your meeting to be engaging, experiential and effective, creating a festival atmosphere might be the genius idea you’ve been looking for. Here are five ways to help you make it happen.

1. Curate a Mini Music Fest

Most music festivals take place in giant parks or pavilions. But you can create your own mini music festival inside a hotel or convention center, according to the Kimpton Hotel Van Zandt, which recommends making every meeting room in your venue its own “stage.” Along with a dedicated performer, each room can feature a special cocktail or appetizer. Attendees can roam from room to room to sample different music, food and beverages as if they were at their favorite music fest.

2. Musical Team Building

Although a mini music festival will certainly leave an impression, you don’t have to organize something on that scale to make an impact with music. Another offering at the Kimpton Hotel Van Zandt is “Anthem,” a team-building experience that includes a handful of musical activities that create the same camaraderie among attendees that friends experience together at music festivals. For instance, attendees can engage their inner writer by creating a catchy company theme song with help from a professional songwriter, come together for the ultimate drum circle, and “name that tune” during a music-themed trivia game.

3. Seize the Great Outdoors

Of course, music festivals aren’t just about the music. They’re also about the atmosphere. For that reason, brand-experience agency Cramer says one way meeting planners can festival-ize their events is by moving them outside.

“Festivals worldwide are breaking out of the ballroom and embracing the great outdoors. Some [are] using wide-open natural vistas as their venues, and others [are] taking inspiration from nature and bringing it right to their attendees on the show floor,” author Jonathan Ronzio writes in an article on the company’s website.

Why not host a meeting or event in the same spacious outdoor venues where festivals take place? Lollapalooza takes place in Chicago’s Grant Park. Coachella gets going at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif. Both can make exceptional backdrops for meetings and events.

4. Embrace Amenities and Activities

Anyone who’s been to a music festival knows that there’s a lot more to experience there than music. As GQ reported in 2018, such festivals often include an array of activities and amenities in areas as diverse as food, fashion and wellness. At South Florida’s Okeechobee Festival, there’s acro yoga, stillness meditation, improv dancing, energy healing and Thai massages. At Coachella, food is a major focus, with offerings like Korean rice bowls, vegan ramen, fried chicken sandwiches and dessert tacos. There’s even a kombucha bar with kombucha “sommeliers.” And at the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, there are amenities like a beauty bar and body-painting station, a splash pool, a kandi bracelet-making station, cellphone-charging stations and “chill zones” where attendees can relax, refresh and rehydrate. Meeting planners can give their events a festival flair by offering similar buzz-worthy perks and enhancements.

5. Plan an Awesome After-Party

At many music festivals, the after-parties are just as exciting as the main event. Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival extends the fun into the wee hours of the morning at music venues across the city that host special performances and parties after the regular scheduled performances, according to the Chicago Tribune. Meeting planners who want to create an air of exclusivity can do something similar by hosting VIP post-meeting celebrations at special venues across the city.