Conferences and Venues

6 Ideas to Enhance Your Conference

So here you are planning your conference programme and agonizing over what might make it stand out as a must to attend event and be talked about long after for all the right reasons. Here are some ideas you might consider:-

1. Encourage Networking

High up on a delegate’s list for attending a conference is likely to be the opportunity to network with likeminded colleagues. There are many ways you can encourage this including very simple things like the design of visually striking name badges. Make sure name badges have large fonts and are easy to read as people approach each other. Use innovative ice-breaker sessions that delegates are unlikely to have come across before and is there the possibility of theming them to the conference without being clichéd or cheesy? The use of a conference app can enable delegates build up social interaction prior to the conference and pre-arrange meetings with other delegates to take place at the conference. This can greatly enhance networking. The right number of breaks and opportunity to discuss ideas within the conference programme can be vital to its success.

2. Create an Inspirational Environment

This might be as much about your choice of venue as anything else. Have you ever noticed how different venues can subtly make delegates behave in a different way? Put delegates in a cathedral and they will most likely become quieter and expect to be lectured. Put them in a school classroom and don’t be surprised if they behave more childishly. Place them in a bar and they will feel more relaxed and open to social conversation. If your aim is to make delegates feel more inspired then the careful choice of a venue they are likely to find inspirational is important. Having chosen your venue you might further enhance it with how you choose to dress it for your event. Inspirational quotes and images on the walls from leading minds in the field of the conference for instance will impact your delegates and play a part it enhancing the setting. Careful attention to things like lighting and background music can support the desired ambiance and feeling of the conference venue.

3. Facilitate the Development of an Inspirational Programme

Consider where opportunities exist to circulate the latest ideas coming out of the conference from breakout sessions. Social media walls and, again, potentially a conference app could help but there are other lower tech and lower cost ways to achieve this including the creation of ‘ideas walls’ using post its. Be innovative, you don’t necessarily need a large budget to enable delegates to get the most from their sessions. Research and control your speakers with your format. Speakers who read out slides or talk without allowing time for interaction can kill conferences. An interesting example from Japan is the idea of each speaker presenting a maximum of 20 slides and commenting on each slide for no more than 20 seconds making a total presentation of less than 7 minutes. This enables time for discussion and the opportunity for different speakers to explain different perhaps competing ideas in an open forum.

4. Theme the catering

It might not always be possible to theme catering to the conference but it’s a wasted opportunity not to do something memorable. A health related conference might benefit from a health / nutrition based menu, a conference relating to global inequality might focus heavily on Fairtrade products, one on pollution might heavily utilise local suppliers and ingredients. Even where it isn’t possible to theme the menus to the conference there are still benefits to ensuring the menus are contemporary and extremely enjoyable. You might try and theme you menu in a novel time and place that somehow relates to the conference theme or location, perhaps a 1950’s diner, a British seaside feel if at a resort location, the possibilities are endless to create an atmosphere of fun with the food and a memorable talking point. Also consider your international delegates attending and what they might be hoping to experience in terms of national and regional delicacies.

If you can, seat people so they meet new people rather than sit with people they know so that they have the opportunity to create new connections. Alternatively you might consider using some key speakers as ‘table hosts’ so that if delegates particularly want to speak to them in an informal setting they can do so easily and informally over something to eat.

5. Disruption

Most delegates will have an inbuilt expectation of how the conference programme will pan out. The danger is that with the average human concentration span being around 20 minutes delegates can quickly become on ‘autopilot’ in a short time and a jolt of the unexpected can quickly bring them back to 100% attention. Consider the opportunities for disruption in your event. They will expect hot drinks and biscuits / fruit / pastries in their breaks, consider offering them something different. What opportunities exist to seat them in a surprising way or move them about regularly maybe to an unexpected part of the venue? How can you use music, art, even dance, actors perhaps to liven things up? What opportunities exist to invite memorable speakers on the border of the conference theme? How can social media be used maybe to build up anticipation and interest in things like question and answer sessions?

6. Research

Finally before you use any of these tips, as the world’s great entertainers always tell us, know you audience. In conference terms this means the profile of your delegates in terms of demographics, their preferred learning styles, their likely level of self-confidence and social interaction preferences. Can you segment your audience into different groups with differing reasons for attending? Are some more sensitive to costs and primarily looking to gain knowledge? Are some going to be more orientated towards the social side than the education aspects? How many are regular attendees versus first time attendees? How much help with they need to mingle? How likely are they to engage with the latest digital technology or would they prefer a more conventional approach? Is your programme and content likely to satisfy all segments of your audience?

Everything we’ve discussed so far should be interlaced and used appropriately from your knowledge of your audience and your conferences objectives and determined measurable outcomes.

Layton Quinton Marketing Manager Conferences and Venues

Layton Quinton

Layton Quinton

People networking at conference
Whitworth Hall dinner
Energiser menu

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