There are a lot of potential benefits to holding a conference, which is why many different organisations host them. A good conference can make a business seem like a leader in its industry. However, if you are to achieve this then the event that you put on must be memorable to guests.
Here are some ways in which you can produce a conference that will stand out from the crowd:
Here are the basics that can often be overlooked:
1) Have a welcome team: Giving some of your staff the role of welcoming guests as they arrive will help to make a good first impression. It's best to give this job to experienced staff who understand the nature of the event and its attendees. Receiving an official welcome from an attentive, knowledgable staff member will immediately make your guests feel that their attendance is appreciated.
2) Goodie bags: A bag of free merchandise is bound to put a smile on your guests' faces as they check in. Vendors at your conference are often a fruitful source of items for the goodie bag. Useful items like water bottles and a map of the conference centre are generally welcomed.
3) Ensure that everything is well-signposted: Given the size of many modern conference centres, it is all too easy for guests to get lost, even if they have been provided with a map. Ensuring that the different rooms and areas are clearly signposted will prevent attendees at your event from wandering around aimlessly feeling frustrated and confused.
4) Make your staff easy to spot: If an attendee needs help with something then having instantly recognisable staff members will allow them to get assistance quickly. Making your staff stand out could involve having them wear branded tops, badges or personalised lanyards.
5) Make a special effort with first time attendees: If you want people to return to your conference then it makes sense to acknowledge that they're attending for the first time. Badges will allow fellow first timers to recognise one another and help staff and vendors to direct extra attention in their direction.
6) Ensure that your wi-fi details are easy to find: The username and password should be included prominently within event collateral along with a designated hashtag for use on Twitter. This makes it easy for your attendees to communicate with one another and with the outside world. Getting your attendees online is essential these days but can also add a different dimension to your conference by including a twitter wall etc.
7) Provide plenty of charging points: There's not much point in having a rock solid wi-fi service if guests run out of battery charge mid-way through the event. A sufficient supply of charging points is something that attendees always welcome. There's nothing worse than running out of battery as you wait for someone who is monopolising the sole charging point in your area. Having a sponsor put branding on your charging points is often a good way to offset the cost of putting these facilities in place.
8) Have an engaging MC and captivating speakers: If you want your conference to stand out from the hordes that are put on each year then your speaker line up is crucially important. The MC has to be able to connect with both the audience and the speakers at your event if he or she is to fulfil the function of smoothing the transitions between different sections of the conference. The speakers must be engaging if their messages are to be remembered by guests. Having a series of unmemorable speakers is a surefire way to produce a forgettable conference.
9) Diversity is important: This is true of both the nature of the sessions that you put on and the people who speak at them. If you want a diverse audience to engage with your sessions then the speakers on panels should reflect the audience in their composition.
For the sessions, it is best to have around a quarter of them be a workshop of some description. Adults tend to learn better by discussing issues with one another rather than being lectured to by a speaker. Having a certain amount of interactivity at your sessions is almost always a good idea.
10) Don't overlook the food: In many cases, the food that is laid on at an event is one of the things that will make an impression with the delegates. Always try to sample the menu before committing to a particular caterer. Healthy options tend to be appreciated by guests. Dry ham sandwiches will create a bad impression.
11) Try to avoid running sessions in areas without natural daylight: Guests will start thinking about escaping after a certain amount of time spent in a basement. This hampers their ability to concentrate. If it is necessary to run some sessions in rooms without windows then try to make sure that guests will generally only be in there for one session before relocating to a better lit area.
12) It's all about gamification: including and interactive activity or challenge can be an excellent way to get people talking to one another. These can involve the vendors, which will help ensure that they receive a steady stream of visitors during the conference. Vendors and sponsors are also a good source of prizes for taking part, although buying your own prizes is a relatively cheap way of making your conference more fun and effective for all concerned.
Have a little extra budget or if you really want to make your conference stand out:
A) Increase the longevity of your event and allow ease of communication through a bespoke events app. You can even integrate the competition/engagement aspect of the conference through Gamification within the app, this will also allow further data collection.
B) Utilise beacon technology to engage attendees as they move around your event.
C) Why not select entertainment that is complimentary to your conference. It could be as simple as a branded photobooth that links directly to social media, an illusionist that engages with attendees in break out areas or why not celebrate the end of your conference with a themed party.
D) The use of augmented reality is a growing trend, could you liven up your event materials utilising AR or holographics? This would provide the wow factor and could be extended to those who were unable to attend your event.
The final thing to remember about running an engaging conference is to take the time to properly thank guests as they leave and by email once they have been at home for a day or two. By simply being polite you can leave your guests with a better impression of your event than they would have had if they were allowed to walk out unthanked.
By Anthony Kelly
Anthony began his marketing career back in 2008 after studying marketing & business management at the University of Stirling.More articles by Anthony Kelly