What we can learn from the world’s largest conferences

As seasoned event planners at a conference venue in London, we’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to planning large-scale events. Even some of the world’s most respected brands don’t always get it quite right – that’s why we’ve pulled together our greatest tips from everything we’ve learned along the way, taking leaves out of the books of some of the world’s largest conferences.

Registration bottlenecks and mass delegate management

There are a few simple considerations you can make when planning your event that will help to manage the flow of delegates and prevent bottlenecks in your venue.

If you’re using a large-scale venue, you may be able to arrange a dedicated entrance for your guests. This will help to keep your delegates together and stop them from getting lost in groups of strangers – especially if there are multiple events taking place at the same time.

Registration is a big bottlenecking opportunity at events with most of your delegates arriving within a short timeframe and signing in, collecting badges or using a cloakroom, for example. You’ll want to ensure that guests aren’t lingering within these areas and manning them sufficiently is essential.

Next, consider the timing of your day(s) very carefully. Ensure that you give people enough time to get something to eat or drink, take a break or use the restroom facilities without having to rush to their next session or activity. Include dedicated break times in your schedule and include ample signage around your venue to ensure that each of your different areas are easy to find and help to prevent people from wandering around.

Catering areas are usually also more difficult to manage and bottlenecks are likely. If you’re taking a self-service approach, try to reduce queues by pre-plating dishes and drinks so that people spend as little time as possible within your serving area, encourage them to sit in a designated area, and promptly clear away empties to encourage guests to move on, which creates space for others.

Networking space

Ensuring that you have enough networking space is something even some of the largest events don’t manage to get quite right. Knowing how many attendees will be coming along is one thing, but having them not crammed in is another.

Ask your venue about where they recommend your networking areas should be – they know their venue best and should be able to give suggestions or ideas on what has worked well for other event planners. It’s helpful to include electronic charging points in these areas as well as catering and seating – and yes, it may seem obvious, but we have to mention seating. It’s not always thought about!

Choosing suitable entertainment

Even when planning events for like-minded individuals within a specific industry, finding entertainment options that suit the differing requirements of delegates is a big ask. We’re all different, right?

Choosing something that is widely accessible is important – but so is knowing your audience well. If you’re hosting a conference for fitness fanatics, they might be interested in a lunchtime HIIT workout or yoga session, but otherwise think twice about this choice.

Surprising your delegates is a sure-fire way to raise their impressions of your event – conferences are stereotypically dry and providing something that people won’t be expecting is key for effective entertainment with widespread appeal. We’ve seen rappers take to the stage and perform off-the-cuff as directed by audience members’ requests – whoever you are, in whichever industry, you can appreciate the skill of this!

The timing of your entertainment is also an important consideration. If you’d like it to take place at the end of your event, will people stick around for it? Are they likely to have been drinking alcohol?

Choosing catering options

When choosing event catering options it is essential to include dishes that meet ranging dietary requirements: vegan dishes, vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free. Ask your delegates for their allergies and requirements when you invite them to your event and try not to go for dishes of too much of an acquired taste.

The same goes for your drinks lists: it’s surprising how many large-scale events don’t supply alcohol-free choices aside from water or cola or lemonade. If you’re avoiding alcohol because you’re pregnant, you probably also won’t want a vast amount of sugar – which leaves you with water for the duration of the event. Plus, drivers or people who just don’t drink or enjoy alcohol needn’t be left with few options, either.

Hybrid and virtual event options

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that your event probably needs a hybrid element. You might not want to host your event entirely virtually, but it’s beneficial in many ways to provide delegates with the option.

Hosting hybrid events enables those who want and are able to attend to come along and join you, and those who live further afield or on tight schedules to cut out the travel time and cost and still benefit from your event. It has benefits for you as an organiser, too – you’re able to reach larger audiences online whilst benefiting from the live event buzz. Win, win!