Making Conferences Interesting

Written by Paul
Jan 05, 2016

Making Conferences Interesting

There’s more pressure than ever for event planners & organisers to provide a good return on investment from their events. This means there is a greater need to ensure that conferences are worthwhile, productive and enjoyable. A delegate sat in an underground, strip-lit conference bunker listening to a dull speaker with a stale ham sandwich for company is not likely to be a happy delegate. Below we outline some of the key areas to consider when creating a memorable conference with happy guests.

Each of the following topics is probably worthy of it’s own book, however in the interest of your sanity (and mine) we shall be as concise as possible.

Objectives - No event planning should commence until you are clear on your objectives. These should then be used to shape the rest of the event, from the venue and the food, to the content and the speakers. Objectives could be as broad as to turn attendees into customers, or teach staff better communication skills. Of course the more specific you can be the better as it will give you a clearer understanding of how to shape and plan the rest of the event.

Venue - Well I suppose it would be biased of me to claim that the venue was the most important part of the event, however it does play a big role. We always advise our clients at to pick a venue that reflects your company image/brand, or the message of the event. If you’re hosting an event discussing constitutional reform you may want to create a sense of occasion, in which case look towards the traditional/historic venues with high ceilings and period features. By contrast if you are holding an event aimed at inspiring creativity then somewhere with great views and bright, modern decor would be perfect.

F&B - While the buffet lunch is unlikely to make or break a conference attention should be paid to what’s on offer for delegates. There’s be a noticeable trend in recent years of making conference food interesting and energising. Many venues offer refreshments such as smoothies or healthy juices, designed to boost concentration. Venues are also cottoning on to the fact that most of us can tell a decent coffee from an instant one, and good coffee is never more important than when you’ve just spent 3 hours on a hard chair listening to a dull speaker. For larger conferences most venues will offer pre-event tastings so you can try the food on offer. Likewise a good site visit will include an opportunity for samples, even if it is just a scone.

Content - Content falls into two categories, firstly the content itself and then the presentation. Content should be shaped around the objectives and how you plan to achieve them. The presentation is arguably more difficult and should consider the companies branding, the demographic of the delegates and the speaker delivering it. Thankfully most of us have moved on from text heavy Powerpoint presentations with cringeworthy special effects. Good presentations deliver information in an interesting and memorable way, think photos, graphics, music, film and some (only some) text. A great example of a perfect presentation would be one of the Apple Special Events, where their new products are launched. You’ll never see Tim Cook standing in front of a screen of text, instead they rely on image and film heavy productions to showcase new wares. For larger events it’s worth bringing in experienced production companies and look at how modern AV technologies can enhance presentations.

Apple Launch Event

Speakers - Be under no illusions, a speaker will make or break an event. Of course there is a balance to get right, you don’t want to speaker to be so good or enthusiastic that they overshadow your content. Likewise you could have the best content imaginable but a dull speaker will ruin it. When looking for speakers make sure you get references from previous customers and request they send through videos from events they’ve presented at before so you can judge whether they are the right person for your event.

Interactive - The best conferences are those which encourage delegates to engage at every opportunity. Whether that be by holding votes on various subjects or using apps to that allow delegates to ask questions and give opinions to speakers anonymously. Technology is continuing to enhance and develop the possibilities of engagement, there are now numerous apps that allow for immediate feedback to be gathered from seminars as well as some that facilitate online and face-to-face networking between delegates.

Energising - Sitting in a windowless room for 8 hours listening to talks is draining even for the best of us, however delegates can be re-energised in various ways. A short sharp team building activity that gets people moving about works well as a pre-conference ice breaker or mid afternoon event. We love things like Clap Happy, a short 5-30min activity that an unlimited number of delegates can do from their seats. As mentioned before food & drink has a huge part to play, serving wine at lunchtime may increase the conversation between guests, however talking could easily turn to snoring in your afternoon sessions.

Follow Up - I’m afraid events don’t finish at 5pm when the delegates all depart. Following up is crucial for two reasons, firstly to find out if the event was worthwhile and secondly so you know what needs changing next time. How you measure return on investment will depend on what your objectives were i.e. if it was an event attracting new clients ROI will be measured as the number of guests who become customers. Some objectives are harder to measure, for instance how much did delegates learn from the event. Finding out what was good and bad allows you to improve next time, only the very complacent would believe they have organised a perfect event. Post event surveys are the best way to gather feedback, often a free prize sweetener will encourage delegates to complete them. Questions need to be short, impartial, clear and easy to answer.

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