How (and Why) to Elicit the Five Senses at Virtual Events

JDC walks you through the process of planning a multisensory event experience...virtually!

How (and Why) to Elicit the Five Senses at Virtual Events

Don’t limit yourself to the visual in virtual events. Enhance engagement by thinking multisensory. When the senses are stimulated, the mind becomes more active, creating new ways of thinking. Senses also enhance the formation of memories, so the more senses you’re able to appeal to, the more exciting and memorable your event can be.

All event planning should begin with a few key questions:

  • What is the goal of the event?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • What message needs to be conveyed?
  • What’s the purpose of the event?


Keeping these simple questions in mind, read on for ideas to trigger each of the five senses when planning your next event.


Designing Multisensory Virtual Events


Sense of Sight

In a virtual event, visual images deliver the deepest impact for the least effort. Spend just a little time on design to ensure that your site and on-screen images are engaging. Boost interaction with your content by opting for a TV-broadcast style of presentation versus a webinar approach. If presenters will be using slides, encourage presentations that are eye-catching and use color or photos to help convey the information. Explore augmented reality options, too, such as virtual confetti or animated graphics to celebrate game or award winners.

However, beware of sensory overload. The goal is to meet your objectives, not overwhelm participants. When designing the visuals for an event, know your audience. While a younger team might enjoy playful, even silly visuals, harmonious, thoughtful touches will likely resonate more with a group of senior leaders and CEOs.


Sense of Sound

Don’t be afraid to include sound on holding slides or PowerPoint decks during a presentation. Live entertainment or a dance party is a fantastic way to spark engagement. Even pleasing music broadcast during registration or event login can begin to get participants in the mood. Have a little fun with sound—a drumroll when tallying game results, a trumpet when announcing a winner.

While sound is a powerful tool for exciting the senses, it can be overdone. Don’t allow sounds to drown out event activity—participants need to be able to hear presenters and remarks. Breakout music can be a nice touch—think “background reception music” that adds ambiance, not volume so high that it causes participants to yank out their earbuds or yell to be heard.


Sense of Taste

While taste can take a little more planning, budget, and resources, there are a number of ways to engage participants’ sense of taste at an event. Whether you’re holding a morning meeting or a late-day gathering, including food and beverage can make all the difference. While some events might invite participants to BYOB, others can include items shipped in advance. Consider, for instance, an early morning delivery of coffee and muffins for a breakfast meeting. Or send a wine and cheese basket for an evening gathering. As with an in-person event, try to accommodate various dietary needs and other restrictions—gluten-free snacks and mocktails can ensure everyone is included.

Because it is an added expense, be sure food and beverage meet your event objectives and partners with the other four senses. A custom-curated experience box, complete with event swag, can even be designed as part of programming, prompting guests to unbox and use specific items at different times during the event. Even if you aren’t able to include “real” food, a recipe or mixology demonstration can stimulate taste and visual senses.


Sense of Smell

Smell is the most powerful of the five senses because it can trigger emotions. For many people, the smell of pine or gingerbread evokes memories of the holiday season; grilled foods remind others of a summertime backyard barbecue. Of course, like the other senses, smell can be overdone—who hasn’t been in the vicinity of someone wearing just a bit too much cologne? And a few smells can even cause allergic reactions in some people, so be sure to offer an opt-out option when targeting this sense.

To engage this sense in a virtual event, consider sending candles, essential oils, or even a few sprigs of herbs as part of a participant package. A health and wellness break that features the scent of lavender and some soothing music can make a memorable multisensory event activity.


Sense of Touch

When it comes to the sense of touch, here again, the opportunities are numerous. As with other items already discussed, consider sending in advance highly tactile swag or items for participation at specific prompts. Again, consider your goals and the purpose and appropriateness of the touch items.

With any of the items to engage the senses, consider the brand of the event or organization, or potentially bring in a sponsor. Whatever you choose to do, remember that the goal is to create more cohesion, not confusion. With careful planning and consideration, you can enhance a virtual event and achieve amazing outcomes by engaging the senses.


Want to know more?

Read the insights of Jennifer D. Collins, CMP, in her book, Events Spark Change: A Guide to Designing Powerful and Engaging Events.