The Art of Hosting a Progressive Event Experience


Guest post by Kirsty Esson | Events Manager – NSW Attractions at Merlin Entertainments


As event planners there is a consistent need to offer new, different and unique experiences to our guests. In a world driven by social media, with an endless stream of picture perfect experiences, how can your next event compete? How can you ensure your event is the one everyone is talking (and posting) about? 

Guests in today’s culture expect to be wowed, at an event it is common to hear the phrase “what’s next?” or “it that it?” and that is the beauty of planning a progressive event. Here the focus is on immersive and unique experiences, WOW moments, and something new around every corner. Whilst the prospect can seem daunting, it is really a simple formula and much easier than you may expect. 

Our venues are some of Sydney’s most iconic attractions, where we specialise in creating unique journeys for visitors every single day. The Merlin Events team are experienced in transforming these attractions into progressive event experiences for our event guests.

So, here are our top tips to ensure your next progressive event experience is a success.

1. Defining your purpose

The biggest trap you can fall into when planning a progressive event is to get carried away with all your fun ideas, and lose sight of the bigger picture, it is therefore more important than ever to define the purpose of the event.

Your style of entertainment, the type of food and beverage offered and the quantity of WOW moments need to be curated to ensure your overall purpose for putting on your event is achieved.

Perhaps you are looking to thank your staff or treat you clients; if this is the case your approach should prioritise quality over quantity, focus on experiences that represent value and give you quality time to spend time with your guests.

If you are looking to showcase your brand or products, capture new content or promote your business on social media, then the focus should be on multiple branded pop-ups & unique (and shareable) photo opportunities. Some careful planning of each interaction will help to retain your guests’ attention and ensure maximum exposure of your brand or products.

Defining your purpose and keeping this in mind at every stage of the planning process with ensure your event is a success

2. Finding the right venue

Finding the right venue is more important than ever when planning a progressive event experience. Your venue needs to be able to offer multiple locations for you to utilise as the event progresses. We recommend utilising a unique venue, as this will allow you to deliver more WOW moments on a smaller budget. Utilise existing venue theming and multiple unique spaces to save money. A blank canvas venue can be amazing, but with a progressive event the cost of theming multiple spaces will add up quickly.

Here at Merlin we are lucky enough to offer 3 unique venues, each already perfectly designed for guests to progress from one experience to the next, this mean you spend less on decorations, giving you more to spend on food and drinks.

The Art of Progressive Events

3. Immerse your guests in WOW moments

Once you have a clear idea of your event purpose and have locked in your venue and purpose, it’s time to start thinking about how the journey from space to space fits together. Consider how to space out your wow moments, how to move guests from one moment to the next and include any formalities, all the while keeping your guests engaged in the moment, and yet excited for the next stage of the event.

Each highlight should be unique, highlight your purpose and enhance the experience of being at the event, whilst also offering a consistency so as not to confuse your guests or loose the message.

The Art of Progressive Events

4. Engage all the senses

It is easy for guests to get event fatigue, especially when an event becomes repetitive or stagnant. One sure way to combat this is to think about all the senses, and how you can engage these as the event progresses.

Sight – Ensure you’re offering visual wow moments; anything from a red carpet and media wall on arrival, to a branded / themed photo booth, to cohesive event styling and decorations.

Hearing – You may like to think about how you can play with the sounds at your event to enhance the experience as guests move from place to place. For example, as we move guests through our WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo venue they will experience a range of different sound scapes these help immerse them in the feeling of being in the heart of the Australian outback, exploring the Daintree, or daring to enter the territory of our massive crocodile, rocky in Kakadu George. These soundscapes will offer a more authentic and unique experience than simply relying on a DJ.

Smell – It is so easy to forget this sense when running an event, but utilising scents can instantly enhance the overall experience. As an example, the moreish (and recognisable) smell of popcorn will have mouths watering long before they spot its source, and will ensure they proceed to the next stage of the event with anticipation, perfect for a carnival themed event.

Taste – There is no doubt that food and drinks make or break any event. When creating a progressive event, think about how the food and drinks being offered can be part of the experience. Work with a venue to create custom or themed food and beverage menu which will have your guests leaving satisfied. Nothing beats an impressive cocktail on arrival and a photo-worthy dessert station at the end!

Touch – Guests want to be involved and immersed into the experience and being told “don’t touch” will not create the inclusion you have worked so hard to achieve. Instead find opportunities to include this sense. At Madame Tussauds Sydney we let guests get up close and personal with all our famous figures, at WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo we’ll surprise guests with animal encounters, and at SEA LIFE Aquarium there is a touch sensitive dancefloor, and of course the touch pool, offering the chance for guests to relive their childhood excursions. 

The Art of Progressive Events

5. Last Impressions

We all know to never forget the importance of a first impression, but at an event, especially a progressive event experience, the last impression is vitally important!

Whilst the purpose of a progressive event is to keep guests moving remember to give them some time at the end of the event to rest and get comfortable. This is your opportunity to let your guests rest, mingle and tie everything they’ve just experienced together.  Your final stop offers one last moment to impress your guests, and then allow them time and space to enjoy the remainder of their food and drinks in peace.

Perhaps offer a gift bag or item to guests as they leave, include in this the details for any social sharing you are hoping, or make one final thank you/speech. Make sure this stop, above all others communicates your purpose and goals for the event.

Final note + Event Example…

Overall remember a progressive event should be unique. Lean into ideas that may seem quirky and unusual, this is what will have your guests talking the next day!

Recently we hosted a progressive event experience through three of our unique Sydney venues in Darling Harbour; WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo, Madame Tussauds Sydney & SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium.

Starting at WILD LIFE Sydney with a VIP tour, guests were introduced by our experienced Keepers to some of Australia's most iconic animals, including having the chance to meet our adorable Kangaroo Joeys - Dawn & Dusk. The tour ended on the Koala Rooftop, with an exploration of Australian Wines hosted by Sommelier, Ben Moechtar as the sun set.

The party then continued in Madame Tussauds with a Moet Champagne Tower and tasting. Guests took their glasses through the venue, rubbing shoulders and snapping selfies with their favourite celebrities.

All before heading to SEA LIFE Sydney, where guests were wowed by our brand new Day & Night on the Reef Zone. After a stroll across our interactive moonlight beach, guests were treated to custom created Belvedere Cocktails followed by a delicious 2-course meal set against the backdrop of the Aquarium’s largest Ocean Tank vista with floor to ceiling viewing!

Check out more details of this event including images and a video here



For more information about their unique Sydney venues check out Merlin Entertainments on Event Birdie and let them help you plan an impressive progressive event.

Guest post by Kirsty Esson | Events Manager – NSW Attractions at Merlin Entertainment

Kirsty loves her job. From working with wild animals, sea creatures and celebrities, no day is the same at Merlin Entertainments. Her love of creating an exceptional experience for her clients is made easy by working in such amazing and unique venues. When Kirsty isn’t planning events, she loves to face paint in her spare time and help out amazing charities like Merlin’s Magic Wand.
Connect with Kirsty on Linkedin.