Many of your delegates will attend multiple conferences this year, so it's vital your event stands out from the crowd if you want your message to truly be heard. Understanding what your audience wants and expects from their experience is a great first step to preventing your event from fading into the crowd of copy-and-paste conferences.
To help you deliver exceptional delegate experiences, we've been gazing into our crystal ball, brushing up on our palmistry and combing through the latest industry trends to help you decipher what attendees want from a conference in 2018.
1. Inspiring Environments
If you've worked in events for more than five minutes, it's likely you understand how cliched or tired conference venues can make a day feel impossibly long.
Overdosing on beige and bland is enough to convince anyone it's time to inject some variety into event venues and this year is actually the perfect time to begin.
In 2018, organisers will need to deliver conference environments that are inspiring, memorable, and, perhaps most importantly for delegates, Instagram-worthy. This was a big trend last year, when bookings for non-traditional venues like urban rooftops, art galleries and countryside retreats, increased by 3.8%.
This literal change of scenery marks an important moment in the conference industry as it moves away from traditional lecture-led events.
2. More Interaction with Speakers
In the age of YouTube and live-video streaming, the traditional keynote conference address is dead, with extraordinary speakers and presentations taking its place. Today, you need to deliver a more engaging experience that makes use of the unique opportunities inherent in having a live audience.
As a conference organiser, you should be empowering delegates to:
- Ask questions
- Take part in an audience vote
- Be a part of a presentation
- Step on stage
- Address the crowd themselves
Simple conference technology like social media and event apps, can help turn lectures into conversations and conversations into breakaway activities. All you need to do is provide the functionality and some space, then let your audience dictate how interactive the event gets.
3. Food for Thought
Despite coming a long way from warm beer and salted peanuts being the sole sustenance found in conference venues, some organisers still aren't aware of how important food and drink can be.
Trailing only to location and price, catering is now ranked the third-most important factor in choosing a site according to the State of the Meetings Industry survey – driven by a huge new demand for health-conscious cuisine.
And with 57% of attendees admitting they struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle at events, your audience is sure to appreciate the assistance.
As the link between concentration and "brain food" like avocados, quinoa, blueberries and kale becomes more explicit, organisers are jumping on the bandwagon in an attempt to improve delegate engagement.
In fact, according the Trends in Nutrition & Delegate Wellbeing survey, 38% of conference venues already offer specific “brain foods” and 88% have adapted their menus because of wellness trends or stakeholder feedback.
4. Wellness-Centred Conferences
As well as being more mindful of diet, modern delegates are now increasingly concerned with nourishing their well-being. And, as the “work hard, play hard” ethos of the last 40ish years fades, conference organisers need to shift focus towards facilitating attendee wellness.
With over half a million workers in the UK suffering from work-related mental illnesses, it’s safe to assume the conference trifecta of extreme hustle and bustle, large crowds and unfamiliar locations, isn’t the easiest place to be for some delegates – many of whom might feel obliged to attend.
Offering quiet areas, nourishing food and opportunities for relaxation might have once set a conference apart, but today organisers are expected to make wellness a priority. Simply making space for attendees to take a much-needed break can be the difference between a great delegate experience and an anxiety attack.
5. Better Access to the Essentials
Whether you’re organising a beautiful countryside retreat or a VIP rooftop garden-party in the heart of the city, it’s important to recognise that if you fail to provide the essentials, delegates are less likely to engage with your event.
What good is a relaxing rustic getaway for showing your delegates you appreciate them, if it feels more like Cabin in the Woods because they're 20 miles away from civilisation and reliable transport links?
Likewise, a rooftop rave might make your brand seem cool, but parking in central London and sharing a single toilet with 50 other people is only going to get delegates hot under the collar.
Staying connected digitally is equally as important for some attendees, who might need to check in with the office, be easily contactable in case of a family emergency or even just post that perfect conference selfie! And, who wants to rack up huge data-charges using bandwidth chomping event apps?
It’s hardly surprising then that on-site technology like Wi-Fi plays a key role in today’s conferencing industry, with 61% of conference organisers ranking it 8, 9, or 10 out of 10 in terms of importance for conference planning in 2018.
6. Delegate-Led Content
One sure-fire way to guarantee delegates get the conference experience they desire is simply to ask them what they want. Consumer surveys and feedback forms are common in everyday life, and, with so many tools at your disposal, there’s no excuse for not performing at least cursory research before planning your event.
Social media, event apps and survey tools make it easy to gain delegate insight during the months before your event and the weeks after. And the widespread adoption of digital goods means you can even reward delegates who participate – letting them trade digital kudos for real-world rewards at your conference.
Events technology is also a great way to include delegates in conference activities. There's no better way to give your audience a voice than empowering them to take part in open mic events and soap box discussions.
As you can see, none of what modern conference delegates want is a huge departure from what you're providing. There's no need for organisers to start from scratch, instead you should focus on carefully tweaking plans to better capitalise on the "live experience".
This includes finding ways to make conference moments more shareable on social media, facilitating more interaction for delegates and frequently including your audience when planning your event.
One element that is key to a great delegate experience, is ensuring all the small things are taken care of. Delegates are much more likely to hear your message if they aren't worrying about their parking ticket running out, obscene data charges or finding a quiet space to catch their breath.
If you’d like more information on how to organise your conference to create a great experience for modern delegates, click here to view our new infographic guide and discover the trends you need to be aware of when planning your event this year.
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