As much as meeting planners strive to deliver experiences that leave attendees with strong recollections of an event’s content and interactions, one element that could help achieve that goal is seemingly underutilized.
Specifically, the use of scents in an event space can deepen attendees’ recall, according to Tiffany Rose Goodyear, president of Scentex, a firm that develops scented experiences at meetings. “The sense of smell is the strongest of the five senses, and can trigger a detailed memory and strong emotions,” she says.
Her contention is backed by science; according to this article in the Harvard University Gazette, “odors take a direct route to the brain’s limbic system, including the amygdala and the hippocampus, the regions related to emotion and memory.”
While Goodyear has made a career out of augmenting special events with fragrances to create strong memories for attendees, the post-Covid revitalization of the meeting, convention, and trade-show markets sees her now working more with meeting hosts to make educational and networking sessions more effective by helping attendees recall the information they’ve absorbed in the weeks and months afterward.
Previous engagements for Goodyear included bringing scents into an event known as The Hot List, operated by noted experiential-event production veteran Michael Cerbelli. There, Goodyear spread a tobacco-leather fragrance throughout the space using commercial diffusers to complement the atmosphere of the venue, which was a refurbished 100-year-old New York City firehouse in Manhattan. At another social event in Los Angeles that had several photos booths with different filters and backgrounds for small-group photos, Goodyear used a yuzu-citrus fragrance that “was really bright and reinforced the interactive energy of the event.”
On the other hand, for a few learning-session spaces at the 2022 annual meeting of the Professional Convention Management Association, Goodyear infused those areas with peppermint, a fragrance known to sharpen attention and recollection. She notes that the scents that work best for driving alertness and focus “are called aldehydes, which are large molecules that have a ‘top note’ scent, including the famous perfume Chanel No. 5. Many of them are effervescent and bubbly, like a champagne.”
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Another tip Goodyear has for planners who might use this tactic in general sessions or breakout rooms: Providing a small sample of the scent for take-home use might deliver some more return on investment. Why? Because when attendees must remember information from the event in their day-to-day work, smelling that same fragrance as they are doing that work can produce a more detailed recollection—something to consider not just for those who attend branding events but also for participants in training sessions and sales meetings.
In contrast to peppermint and citrus, Goodyear says that lavender is a natural choice to relax people’s minds in break areas, meditation spaces, or lactation rooms.
Things to Watch Out For
When it comes to using fragrance at events, subtlety definitely matters. “You absolutely want to use just the right amount of fragrance for the size of the space you’ll be in,” Goodyear says. “Work with the hotel’s operations team to see how the HVAC system moves air throughout the space, and think about how much your attendees will be moving around during the session—the more they move, the more the air will move around the room. Then you can plan out where to place the diffusers.”
The good news is that fragrances are not allergy-causing. “You need to ingest or touch something to have an allergic reaction,” Goodyear notes. So, while a scent in a given space might be off-putting to a few attendees, it is not going to produce a physical reaction that would require medical attention.
One final case for using fragrance in meeting spaces, according to Goodyear: “Your event is not in a hotel lobby, so it should not smell like one. Match the scents you use with your food-and-beverage offerings and you’ll create deep memories of the experience.”