Orchestrated Serendipity as an Event Engagement Catalyst

event engagement
Post authored by Donna Kastner, Founder of Retirepreneur

Marriott and the PCMA Foundation joined forces, along with Fahrenheit 212, to update research on top trends impacting meetings and events.

Research findings were shared earlier this year in a fascinating report: The Future of Meetings and Events.

Five overarching event trends were identified in this report:

  1. Emotional Intelligence
    Designing with the end-user in mind.
  2. Orchestrated Serendipity
    Engineering and embracing the unexpected for more meaningful moments.
  3. Multimodal Design
    Designing for adaptation and iteration.
  4. Bigger Than Oneself
    Acting on a meaningful message.
  5. Sense of Place
    Leveraging geography for deeper enrichment.

While all five warrant further study, it was trend #2, Orchestrated Serendipity, that caught my eye most of all. They go on to share this about Orchestrated Serendipity:

“Experiences must embrace freedom and surprise, freeing consumers from the constant constraint of schedules and agendas. By embracing the unexpected, we can engage participants and leave a lasting impression.”

A lasting impression? That certainly sounds like an outstanding event engagement outcome to strive for…

The WHY behind this trend is crystal clear, but for me, the HOW was still a bit fuzzy.

What specific steps might we take to activate orchestrated serendipity at our live events?

event engagement

Creating Casual Yet Hyper-Relevant Attendee “Collisions”

Event organizers have access to massive volumes of attendee data.

Alas, sorting the valuable from the worthless – “separating the wheat from the chaff” – can be tricky.

How might we extract meaningful data clues to foster richer peer-to-peer encounters and increase event engagement?

Let’s start with the registration data bucket, that might capture name, organization, title, location, etc.

Layer in a few more data points, like years of experience, certifications, participation at past events, plus survey feedback and the data clue possibilities multiply.

And I haven’t even mentioned behavioral data, that often reveals huge variations in what attendees tell us they want to do versus what they actually do.

I know – it’s enough to make your head spin, but let’s take this one step at a time.

But first, here’s one more dynamic to consider for your Orchestrated Serendipity playbook.

Mere-Exposure Effect

The Mere-Exposure Effect (also known as the Familiarity Principle) suggests that individuals prefer things they’re more familiar with.

To illustrate this, let’s explore a common consumer experience: Have you ever noticed after you purchase a car, you tend to spot more cars like yours on the road?

That’s the mere-exposure effect at work. Your brain is now picking up more signals of others driving the same car.

Applying the mere-exposure effect to human interaction at events, here’s my shortcut definition: “The more I see you, the more I like you.”

Much like the car example, every time my path crosses with a particular person, my brain will be attuned to this face and after several encounters, conversations tend to unfold more easily.

How can we dial up these chance encounters at events?


Why not tee up special hotel offers for like-minded people? This would increase the frequency of chance encounters at the elevator or on their stroll to the conference venue.


Why not tee up session recommendations to guests with similar interests via the event app? Learning tracks situated in different areas accomplish this beautifully, too.


Why not have stanchions at each table indicating a topic for discussion? Attendees now have the freedom to self-select and engage with others who are passionate about this topic.

General Sessions

Perhaps color-coded sections that correspond with a particular role, geography, or topic of interest? As people enter the ballroom, slides might tee up icebreaker questions to pose to your neighbor while you’re waiting for the session to begin.


The ride to and from the airport strikes me as an excellent opportunity to offer a few “first-come, first-served” shuttles for like-minded people to share a ride.

I’ve only scratched the surface on possibilities. Sounds like a great topic for an event team brainstorming session to identify a few more event engagement tactics.

While you’re at it, take a look at The 8 Phases of a Successful Event. It’s an outstanding framework to gradually begin plotting opportunities to unleash Orchestrated Serendipity at your live events.

About Donna

Donna Kastner has spent good portion of her career as an event experience design consultant and is now building a dynamic collaboration community for executives age 50+ who are striving to make a smooth segue from full-time job to part-time consulting gig.

As the founder of Retirepreneur, Donna’s championing a movement to help others design flexible and fulfilling encore career opportunities.

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