For years the event standard included a beige room with beige furniture, white linens, a plated chicken dish, and speaker after speaker at a podium. While the element of consistency held up for quite some time, the past few years have pushed meeting and event planners to think outside the box when it comes to creating an innovative event experience.

At a recent Chicago Planner Master Class, event innovation was heavily discussed by more than 75 experienced meeting and event planners during roundtable discussions. Here are five exciting ways that meeting and event planners are getting even more creative with their event experience:

1) Better Food, Better Event

Remember that plated chicken dish? According to our discussion groups, it’s done. Meeting attendees are now expecting more for their time and their registration fee and it starts with the food. Our planners have integrated more local cuisine into their event menus; if the event takes place in Chicago, deep-dish pizza, cheesecake, and a sizzling steak can be part of that. Even how food is being served is changing and becoming an experience rather than a logistic; food trucks, ‘Instagrammable’ platings, build-your-own experiences, and even classes where attendees learn how to cook a local meal have taken over as popular, memorable event meals.

2) More Things To Do – Besides Sitting in a Chair

Gathering your event attendees into a sterile-looking room to listen to a multitude of speakers makes for a pretty stagnant event. The meeting and event planners we talked to have been using on-site activations, games, and great keynote speakers to give their attendees something engaging and memorable during the event. One planner hosted a ‘Board Member Roast’ as part of their welcome session to break the ice and get the event started off on a fun – and hilarious – note. Another planner set up a golf simulator outside of the meeting rooms so attendees could compete with one another during breaks; at the end of the event, the winner received a prize. One planner found that their attendance was higher when they announced that their keynote speaker was an entertainer completely unrelated to the topic of the event.

3) Innovation Starts At Registration

According to the meeting and event planners at the Chicago Planner Master Class, sometimes innovation doesn’t mean lots of costly bells and whistles throughout the duration of the event. For many, the art of innovation starts right at the registration table. Oftentimes, the registration process (and the line!) is daunting, boring, and inefficient. Creating a quick and streamlined process kicks off the event in a positive note, especially in the eyes of attendees. One planner mentioned having monitors along the registration queue that played short, dynamic videos about what they could expect throughout the event – a move that was entertaining enough to make the wait seem much shorter while driving excitement and anticipation for the event ahead. Another planner had a team of personnel hand out water and snacks to those waiting in line which offered a personal touch and a way for attendees to get to know the facilitators.

4) Experiences Over “Stuff”

In an age where social media reigns supreme, people are always looking for exciting things to document. Meeting and event planners are leaning more towards fun experiences rather than things when it comes to creating an innovative event. What does this mean exactly? The planners we spoke to have steered away from giveaways like water bottles, T-shirts, and pens, in favor of off-site experiences like local shows, tours of the host city, and a casual post-work activity like renting out a bowling alley or going to a game.

5) Keep The Event Top Of Mind After Adjournment

An innovative event experience shouldn’t stop at the close of a door and a flight home. Our planners agreed that some of their most successful events (determined by how many guests are repeat attendees) were ones where a concerted effort was made to maintain communication post-event. Sending out post-event thank you emails, following up with phone calls over the next week, and administering feedback surveys to let guests voice their opinions are all easy ways to make attendees feel valued. According to the planners we spoke to, attendees who felt like their time and opinions were valued will keep coming back because they feel like they played a role in the success of the event.