Stereotypically, conferences seem boring. They’re big rooms full of people in suits and skirts, learning how to advance their careers in accounting. There will probably be a buffet, everyone will wear a name tag and hardly move from their seats for the duration before getting back on to a commuter train and becoming zombies at the mercy of their smartphones. If you’re planning a conference in a typically dry industry, you might be doubly worried about the snore factor.
We all know this. We’ve all been there. But thanks to advances in technology and culture in the modern business world, it no longer has to be this way – and as experienced conference organisers, we’ve seen many examples of what works and what doesn’t.
Focus on top quality content
Remember that everyone in attendance is coming to your event because it affects them in some way, so there will be a basic level of interest there somewhere – it’s about how you take this from box-ticking to exciting.
Arguably, the most important element of any conference is its content schedule. Your content (and how it’s delivered) will be a major factor in how your guests feel about your event – and it doesn’t need to be all-singing and dancing.
Attendees will be interested in a few key things:
When you’re planning your conference content, think about these objectives and ensure that it meets them: what are delegates going to take away from this?
Choose the right speakers
If your speakers aren’t engaging or suitable for your audience, that’s difficult to come back from. Think about who your guests are and what they’re interested in, but also consider the best way to deliver that. You could be organising a conference about complicated maths equations and it would be engaging with the right speakers.
We’ve seen flash mobs and rappers and we’ve also seen a lot of pinstripe – it depends on who you’re hosting. If your audience is young, try to reflect this in your speaker line-up: we’re not saying that a young audience will only respond to a young panel, but make it relatable where you can. Is there an industry guru who has been in the shoes of lots of people in your audience when they started out in their career, for example?
Make it interactive
You can liven up conferences in dry industries with appropriate interaction opportunities. Depending on your event and your audience, this might be achievable with ample networking opportunities – other might require a little more creative thinking.
The words ‘game’ and ‘conference’ don’t often tend to fall into the same sentence and, when they do, it’s all too easy to imagine awkward icebreakers.
Making your conference more interactive probably isn’t as difficult as it seems: have your speakers kick-off their sessions with ‘two truths and a lie’, use technology to provide audiences with real-time polls, or introduce meditation breaks throughout.
Continue the discussion
Providing post-conference hospitality is a great way of encouraging delegates to continue conversations they’ve been having throughout the day – plus, it provides a bit more fun than everybody going their separate ways and heading for the train station bang on five o’clock.
Conferences in dry industries don’t have to be dry, too. Remember who you’re targeting and focus on high value content with some interactivity and you’re onto a winner.