Surprise and Delight

When you think of Disney World, what comes to mind? Perhaps it’s the delight of being totally immersed in an experience as characters in costume and fairytale cottages surround you. Or, perhaps it’s discovering moments of surprise, like a greeting from Prince Charming while dining in Cinderella’s Castle. To a child, what these moments have in common, is found joy in unexpected places.

In a Nutshell

In the event space, our job as planners, designers, entertainment providers, caterers, sound and lighting engineers, is to immerse guests in experiences that stand out from the rest; what we call, surprise and delight.

Surprise and delight engages guests and keeps them on their toes with high impact moments sprinkled throughout an event. Surprise and delight is also a nod to the experiential, that tells a story and supports a theme.

The Gifting Lens

Originating as a marketing tactic, this approach traditionally lends towards gifting, such as unexpected coupons, upgrades, or rewards. In events, that might be interpreted as welcome or turndown gifts in hotel rooms, or parties that conclude with a guest gift or ‘favor.’

Gifting often evokes feelings of being well cared for and thought of, especially if the contents of the gift are purposeful.

For example, a past client provided turndown gifts in guest rooms during a destination wedding in Italy. The nightly gift included a note that hinted towards an activity that guests would take part in the next day, paired with items for guests to use during the activity. One gift included driving gloves and hats for guests to employ during a classic car rally to a nearby lunch spot.

Click here to read more about Building the Perfect Welcome Bag.

The Activation Lens

While gifting is one way to go about surprise and delight, event professionals typically use the phrase when talking about how to incorporate it into the event itself. Once the general flow has been outlined, we brainstorm activations that take traditional concepts found in an event environment to the next level.

Take a photo booth, for example. One might think of a classic, rectangular machine that two to three people can fit inside to take several rounds of pictures that print onto a photo strip. Or, one might think of an open-booth, with a standard backdrop and camera kiosk positioned six feet away. But, a combined effort between an event designer, entertainment provider and a live photographer, can generate an activation that doubles as a design installation and photo opportunity.

The Vogue Booth from the 2016 Met Gala is a perfect example. Guest stepped inside a tunnel lined with neon light tubes and danced to a song while a videographer filmed, and sent the clip to editors who later gave guests their final GIFs to share on social.

Surprise and Delight at it’s Best

…Should support the narrative of the celebration. Aim for three of these moments during an event, with the goal that guests experience surprise and delight at the beginning, middle, and end.

As you brainstorm, measure and vet ideas against the storytelling perspective; how does this concept represent the narrative? The above videos represent a narrative of glam, high-tech, and pulse-of-the-industry (at the time). The concept was creative and innovative, perhaps two narratives the Met gala host committee sought to tell throughout the event.

…Feels authentic and meaningful. The more sincere the moments of surprise and delight are in representing the host or couple, and the reason for the gathering, the more likely that guests will feel connected and present in the event environment.

Lantern release
Photo by Abby Kihano on

It’s not simply about the wow-factor, it’s about authenticity, which is the heart of an event.

…Is at its peak when it’s interactive. Surprise and delight moments that guests can engage with are often more memorable than those that guests passively watch or listen to.

That’s not to say a destination wedding in Mexico shouldn’t employ a surprise Mariachi band or a trio of fire dancers, which are always well received by guests. But, would those guests be more excited about a tequila tasting or eco-friendly lantern release? Maybe!

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