With the UK’s conference industry more valuable than ever, organisers are busy strategising how to claim a bigger piece of the pie – but how can you make sure delegates are on the edge of their seat before your event even opens.2017 was the year events industry experts finally celebrated a full recovery from the market crash of ‘08, with the UK Conference and Meeting Survey 2017 showing the number of events held at venues in the UK had reached a 10-year peak.
Despite plenty of reasons to cheer (like the value of the conferencing industry growing to over £19bn), the party was short-lived for many conference professionals – with the pressure to build on those successes already palpable.
Similar growth is predicted for this year and with so many events packed into the conference calendar, it’s harder than ever to excite delegates about being a part of your audience.
Making sure delegates are engaged and enthusiastic is a key aim for every conference organiser and one of their biggest responsibilities. To help lessen the stress and kick-start your planning process, here are a handful of our best tips for making sure delegates are excited about your event:
1. Make Diversity a Priority
Obviously, the issue of representation is anything but funny. However, some conference panels are so utterly absurd that you’ve got to laugh. For example, here are a couple that would feel perfectly at home in a Monty Python sketch – the recent Women in Business: A Man's Point of View panel and the equally ridiculous diversity panel at Davos, featuring only white men.
In 2018, choosing the right speakers and ensuring a diverse programme is absolutely key to engaging a wide audience. And avoiding yet another all-male, all-white, all-cishet, all-able-bodied line-up is vital to avoid killing delegates' excitement.
If you do ignore our advice, keep in mind that accidentally booking an all-male panel is actually statistically impossible, so there is no believable excuse to prevent you being mocked on the internet.
2. Empower Delegates Who Want to Get Involved
Modern delegates aren’t excited by the idea of listening to “thought-leaders” for 90 minutes. Instead, the majority of delegates want greater interaction with speakers, so if you want an enthusiastic audience you’ll need to provide a platform that empowers delegates to:
- Take part in votes
- Ask questions
- Comment on presentations
Smart use of digital events technology, like social media or event apps, makes it possible to increase interaction between speakers and delegates in real-time. And attendees will likely be far more excited at the prospect of meaningful engagement with you guests.
If delegates have thoughts they want to talk about, they should have the opportunity to voice them. If they want to create breakaway groups for discussions, there should be space for that to happen. If there are new ideas to be workshopped, resources should be available.
3. Avoid Boring Conference Spaces
2018 is predicted to exceed the estimated 1.45m conferences and meetings held in the UK last year. It’s no wonder then that delegates are doing their best to avoid events that at first-glance fit the cliched PowerPoint-driven snooze-fest stereotype of a conference.
One sure-fire way to ensure your conference doesn't fall into this bracket is simply to host it at one of the UK’s more unique venues. Choosing something unexpected or unusual can disarm delegates the second they Google the location of your event and ensure they’re immediately paying more attention when they arrive.
Last year saw a 3.8% growth in demand for non-traditional events spaces, but at Penguins we’ve been setting this trend for years. We've managed a wide range of extraordinary events that are perfectly tailored to the client – from a sports-themed night at the Emirates to a conference in an old industrial dockyard.
4. Invest Time and Money in Your Event App
Too many conference organisers treat event apps as an afterthought or an excuse to introduce trendy tech. Ultimately, these apps either don’t get used or just end-up as glorified event programmes.
Making an event app central to your conference experience is a great way to deliver something far more well-rounded and empower you to:
- Better connect delegates
- Facilitate greater interaction with speakers
- Include unique AR or VR content
Perhaps the most meaningful function your app can provide is capturing data from every tap, scroll and swipe your delegates perform. This will provide unparalleled insight into audience behaviour at your conference and enable you to continuously improve your event at every stage of its lifecycle.
And if you’re worried about spending money on something “ancillary”, just reflect on the fact that 91% of event managers who’ve invested in their app have gone on to see positive return on their investment.
5. Embrace Virtual Conferencing
Getting delegates excited about your conference doesn’t always need to be about getting people through the turnstiles. In 2018, it’s time event organisers started taking advantage of the fact that we’re never more than a few clicks away from an audience on the other side of the planet.
And with the virtual event market predicted to grow from $14bn in 2018 to $18bn in 2023, you should already be planning how to include remote access to your conference.
Thanks to the widespread availability of high-speed broadband, live video streaming and VR technology, anybody with a smartphone can attend your next conference. Which is huge news for anybody who might be excited for your event but held back by geography.
It also opens the door to hiring speakers from across the globe who otherwise wouldn’t be an option, as well as expensive speakers that you might be able to stretch your budget for because you aren’t paying for their travel or accommodation.
6. Create a Vibrant Conference Community
You know what gets delegates more excited than any speaker, conference venue or event-swag ever could? The prospect of hanging out with a group of people they genuinely like.
That’s why the months surrounding your event are a huge opportunity for conference organisers to engage delegates and transform an audience into a community. Social media, online forums, event apps, and even real-world meet-ups all provide opportunities to connect with delegates, as well as connect them with each other, long before your doors open and long after they close.
While you might think your audience would probably rather shut themselves away from their co-delegates, 80% of millennials actually say they attend live events to connect with a wider community.
7. Capitalise on FOMO
It’s like the old saying goes: “If a conference delegate falls at your event but it hasn’t been live-streamed, meme-ified and plastered all over social media, did it even happen?”
In recent years, experience has been everything in the world of conferencing and it’s your responsibility to create the little touches that deliver moments delegates need to share – because there’s little of greater value (to delegates and an event) than being able to say: “I was there, and you guys weren’t!”
If there’s a perfect area to capture a 360-degree photo of your conference? Signpost it. Is there something interesting going on backstage? Live-stream it. An opportunity for a conference-specific selfie filter? Build it.
Social sharing might not seem like a big deal, but it’s a huge part of promoting your event and developing your community – for example, after watching live video of an event, viewers are 67% more likely to buy a ticket.
Too many conference organisers, especially those with a captive audience, forget how important it is that delegates are actually excited to be a part of their event. After all, a successful conference isn’t just about the size of your audience, but also how engaged and enthusiastic attendees are.
There’s undoubtedly a link between delegates going into an event excited and leaving it feeling inspired – just think about how you experience something you’re attending out of obligation compared to events you couldn’t wait to attend.
With so many other conferences competing for attention, creating genuinely meaningful experiences for delegates is increasingly difficult and requires an understanding of what they really desire.
Read our guide on organising a successful conference to explore new ways of educating, inspiring and engaging your delegates in 2018.
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