As companies roll out their back-to-office strategies, corporate event planners are primed and ready to plan corporate events for the ages. But you need impactful and exciting speakers, an impressive agenda, and unforgettable entertainment.
Whether your event is in-person, hybrid, or virtual, your choice of entertainment can make or break your attendees’ experience. If your entertainment is a hit, employees will be Slacking about the event for weeks and months.
Allied Market Research expects the U.S. corporate events market to reach $510.9 billion by 2030 — growing 17.3% yearly, so you must get your corporate event entertainment right! But where do you start? In this post, we’ll cover tips for planning a corporate event and 13 creative corporate event entertainment ideas as we gear up to bring back the fun.
4 Tips for Planning Corporate Event Entertainment
Corporate events can take on many forms, from corporate training gatherings and annual meetings to conferences and product launches. Whether your audience is employees only or an extended reach to customers, partners, shareholders, and your board, it’s crucial to balance the budget with the “wow” factor while being sensitive to current global financial challenges.
1. Focus on Creating Memorable Event Experiences
We live in a world where experiences are valued more than ever. At the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin, researchers found that people are happier with experiential purchases over material ones — no matter whether you measure happiness before, during, or after the purchase or experience. Researchers say this is likely because experiences endure in people’s memories while the value of material goods weakens over time.
Curate experiences that will stick with your attendees long after the event ends. Get to know your participants and what experiences resonate so you can plan your corporate entertainment around that.
2. Keep an Eye on the Budget
Entertainment can be expensive. Get started planning your corporate event by deciding on the format for your event and then map out a detailed event budget with a clear budget for every aspect of your entertainment. When you start investigating entertainers, get a detailed explanation of costs, including any supporting elements they may need, so you’re not surprised later.
For example, a live band may need a stage, lighting, crew, and specific type of sound system. A crew planning a drone display will need a specific amount of space, lighting, sound, and other things. The entertainer only sometimes provides additional supporting elements, so always check what is included while booking your event entertainment.
3. Choose Thoughtful Corporate Entertainment
With entertainment, it’s easy to get carried away with whatever entertainment is hot or trendy. You have to ask yourself:
- Why are you having the event in the first place? What are your goals?
- What is your theme and budget?
- What is the current employee sentiment at your company?
- What type of entertainment will resonate, and what would be tone-deaf?
- What are our “must haves” and what are our “nice to haves”?
For example, If you recently reorganized your company and dismissed employees, it’s probably not a good idea to book an expensive Grammy-award-winning band.
4. Prioritize Your Audience
When planning your event’s entertainment, consider your audience. Find out what they are doing before the entertainment is scheduled and what the demographics are like. Sending out pre-event surveys and mining your event software for analytics from previous events is a great way to determine what your attendees want.
If your attendees will spend the entire day sitting in breakout sessions, having them sit down and watch a performance for an hour is likely the last thing they want to do. In this case, something more interactive that allows them to move around will be more successful.
Planning a Corporate Event: Choose the Best Entertainment
Now that you have the basics of choosing entertainment, it’s time to get into some ideas to inspire your next corporate event’s entertainment.
1. Roll Out an Escape Room
Source: Outback Team Building & Training
Escape rooms have proved their staying power, and they’re great for corporate events because they’re the ultimate in team-building. Escape rooms require collaboration, thinking outside the box, and creative problem-solving. Whether you have 1,000 attendees or 25, there are escape rooms built for your next corporate event. And, thanks to the pandemic, there are virtual and hybrid escape rooms, as well as traditional in-person escape rooms, that come to your event and build the experience there.
2. Build a Rube Goldberg Machine
Let’s say you’re planning a corporate event that aims to foster teamwork, and your theme is inspired by science. Why not incorporate Rube Goldberg’s famous machine into your event? The Rube Goldberg machine is beloved because it accomplishes a simple task through a lengthy chain reaction (or domino effect), which offers a conversation-starting analogy for how many employees probably feel about the workplace today.
Source: Dina Belenko
For example, you could use a Rube Goldberg-inspired contraption to serve coffee or alcoholic drinks, build a substantial eye-catching centerpiece in the main event space, or host a team-building challenge with incentives for the most successful machines.
3. Go Big with Augmented Reality (AR)
Augmented reality (AR) continues to grow in popularity — particularly for those not keen on going fully virtual in their reality — and can create a rave-worthy experience for your attendees. Popularized by games like Pokémon Go and social apps like Snapchat, AR is used by big brands like IKEA, Amazon, and Target to help shoppers visualize products in their spaces. But you can also bring entertaining AR experiences to your next corporate event.
Add excitement and a level of engagement you won’t get just by having the attendees sit the whole time by creating an AR scavenger or treasure hunt with prizes for those who collect the most points or items. You can also engage in-person and virtual audiences with augmented reality experiences through mobile devices, AR glasses, AR headsets, or AR projections. The best thing about AR is that the technology is advancing so rapidly that many deem 2023 the “year of AR/VR technology.”
4. Take a Chance With Virtual Reality (VR)
Whereas augmented reality uses real-world settings, virtual reality (VR) occurs in a completely virtual environment while the individual wears a headset for complete immersion. The great thing about virtual reality is that it is a form of entertainment because of the novelty aspect — even if you’re using it to deliver engaging, immersive training sessions with a fully “hands-on” experience.
Here are some ways to use virtual reality at your next corporate event:
- If you’re opening a new office or manufacturing plant and want your employees to experience it as realistically as possible without having to fly everyone there, use virtual reality at your event.
- Did your company donate money to an organization on the other side of the world? Allow your employees to visit the city or people who benefitted from the experience with VR.
- If you have new products you’re rolling out and want your sales and customer success teams to get a hands-on look at them — but they’re too big to transport to your office or venue — use VR for a hands-on, immersive demonstration.
- Rebranding and need to roll out the new brand experience to your entire company? Use VR to showcase new products, services, and brand messaging in a memorable and engaging way.
Obviously, AR/VR technology is still relatively expensive and may not be an option for your corporate event entertainment this year. As AR/VR tech gets cheaper and more readily available to the general public, we anticipate seeing AR/VR become more accessible to the events industry.
5. Hire a Live Band
While this idea isn’t groundbreaking, live musical acts are a tried-and-true source of corporate event entertainment. It may be enticing to pull in a Grammy-award-winning artist or heavy-hitting band. Still, in these uncertain times, we recommend looking for a home-grown local artist to save on costs, offer your audience something a little different, and support the local economy where your event is taking place.
If your event is virtual or hybrid, consider crowdsourcing the musical entertainment with your attendees to ensure you give them what they want. If you opt for a prominent name at your event, consider finding a way to tie the experience to giving back so that it doesn’t feel tone-deaf in the current economic and global climate.
For example, Dolby Laboratories kicked off the first night of the 2023 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) with a private, live performance by Imagine Dragons that benefitted the Tyler Robinson Foundation, which fights pediatric cancer.
6. Bring in Visual Artists
Live artist Jenny Leonard, for example, does live illustration for in-person, virtual, and hybrid events and has worked with companies like Google, TikTok, BP, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), Oracle, and more.
7. Get Interactive With Mixology Class
Source: The Cocktail Guru
During the pandemic, virtual mixology courses took the interwebs by storm. They were showing up at family gatherings, team-building events, and more. But mixology classes can be fun for any format of corporate event. Mixology is great for morale-boosting corporate events, small departmental gatherings, intimate events with key customers or investors, and other events.
The Cocktail Guru, for example, unites teams live, virtually, or a mix of both. The company adapts to your venue, no matter the size, and provides all the ingredients, materials, and instructions. Yes, they’ll even send a goody box of liquors, mixers, and garnishes ahead of time to ensure everyone can take part in the fun.
Note: It’s essential to ensure everyone attending your event feels comfortable with a mixology event. You may have recovering alcoholics, individuals who don’t drink for religious reasons, or folks who just don’t like alcohol in attendance. If this is the case, check with your mixology class partner to see if they can do virgin drinks — or you may want to skip the mixology entertainment altogether.
8. Feed the Senses With Cooking Class
Another corporate event entertainment idea popularized during the pandemic? Cooking classes! Yes, we were all at home baking sourdough and watching TikTok recipes take off (anyone down for some baked feta?) and fell in love with online cooking classes. Why not bring a cooking class into your next in-person or virtual corporate event?
Like so many corporate entertainment activities, a cooking class gets everyone on the same page and working in sync to follow detailed instructions while creating something delicious. You can even have your attendees break into teams for a competition in the spirit of Chopped with mystery ingredients galore.
Cuiline, for example, offers corporate cooking classes and specializes in team-building events, ice breakers, and recruiting events, diversity and inclusion events, and client entertainment. With clients like Pfizer, CNN, the U.S. Airforce, and Intel, you can bet you’ll give your attendees a delicious, engaging, and entertaining experience.
9. Host a Roast
Who doesn’t love a good corporate roast? In 2022, She Runs It held a roast of MediaLink founder Michael Kassan with roasters from Disney, Lowe’s NBCUniversal, and more. Poking lighthearted fun at the head of the company or a retiring tour de force can be a great way to lighten up a corporate event, whether the roast is part of the dinner entertainment or held separately.
It’s vital to ensure everyone is onboard — particularly the person being roasted — and that you know where the lines in the sand are so there are no uncomfortable moments, humiliations, or post-event grumbles.
10. Bring in a Corporate Comedian
Source: Clean Comedians
If you want to deliver laughs, you can’t go wrong with hiring a comedian or comedy troupe to entertain the crowd. Choosing a comedian who gets your audience, event goals, and the theme is essential so they can tailor their show with relevance. Agencies like Clean Comedians and Funny Business Agency have comedians who specialize in PG comedy — “no politics, no profanity, no prejudice” — and are familiar with the corporate world.
11. Capture Memories With a Photo Booth
Photo booths can be an endless source of entertainment and a great way to give attendees something to take home to relive the event for months to come. There are many types of photo booths on the market today for corporate events, including the following:
- Augmented reality photo booth
- Green screen photo booth
- 360-degree photo booths
- Glam photo booths (think Glamour Shots but 2023)
Companies like Outsnapped offer all of these in-person options and much more, including options for virtual and hybrid audiences worldwide. With all of the photos you can capture at your corporate event, you’ll have plenty of visuals for social media, your careers page, and more.
12. Put on a Light Show
If you’re putting on an in-person event, you can take your event up a notch by using wearable event technology like Bizzabo’s SmartBadges™. You can use the badge’s ability to light up in different colors to deliver myriad attendee experiences and entertain the crowd while you’re at it.
For example, HubSpot used the SmartBadge solution at INBOUND 2022 for light cues and to delight attendees. Right before former President Barack Obama took the stage for his keynote address at the event, the badges lit up in a rainbow pattern, illuminating the room and impressing attendees who rushed to capture the moment with their smartphones. The badges illuminated similarly during comedian Jimmy O. Yang’s standup set.
13. Create Small, Entertaining Moments with Activations
Not all entertainment needs to stop programming or big flashy to be entertaining; you can create small moments throughout the event and venue to delight attendees. Here are a few event activations examples to consider:
- A pianist in the cocktail area at the reception
- A portrait artist or cartoonist in near the coffee cart
- A photographer taking impromptu headshots
- A coffee artist doing portraits on lattes
Wrapping Up: Choosing the Right Corporate Event Entertainment
We hope these corporate event entertainment ideas have inspired you to plan your next corporate event. Here’s a quick recap of some of the takeaways we’ve covered:
- Consider what your audience wants. Validate your entertainment selection with pre-event surveys.
- At the end of the day, your entertainment should tie back to your event brand and, by extension, your event goals.
- Keep your event budget in mind. How much will entertainment cost? Are there any hidden fees? Can you negotiate?
Planning a virtual or hybrid corporate event? Get tips for maximizing the experience in our article, “Guide To Planning the Best Hybrid and Virtual Corporate Events.”