Organising a conference takes a lot of time and effort and so naturally you (and your speakers) will want to get as much out of the event as possible. Having an engaged and receptive audience is key and so we have put together some useful tips to help you maximise delegate engagement at your next conference.
1. Create an engaging environment
Creating an engaging environment for your delegates starts with selecting the right venue and conference space. It also includes other aspects such as your arrival/registration process, audio visual production, and breakout space.
At some point we have all walked in to a dingy conference room and felt the energy drain out of us like someone has pulled the plug out of a bath. When organising a conference, we are looking for the exact opposite effect – we want people to walk into the conference room and be filled with energy and excitement. We want them to be buzzing inside and desperate to hear what your speakers have to say!
As we all know, first impressions count so it’s important to get your arrival and registration process spot on. This might seem out of place when talking about delegate engagement but having a slick, well planned arrival and registration process for your delegates will mean that they arrive in the conference room relaxed, stress free and ready to absorb what you have to communicate.
When it comes to the conference room itself, a lot can be achieved with clever audio visual production. A bland, boring conference room can easily be transformed in to an engaging space that delegates will love. A striking conference set, smart lighting effects, clever branding and appropriate background music can all help to achieve an energising environment that your delegates will be happy to spend their time in.
Hopefully at some point you will allow your delegates to have a well-earned break therefore it is important to think about where this is going to be held. An area with plenty of natural daylight and even better, easy access to an outdoor space should be the first priority when it comes to a breakout area. We all know how a breath of fresh air can reinvigorate and recharge the batteries.
Also consider what refreshments you will serve during the break. Try to avoid providing irresistible high sugar snacks as after the ‘sugar high’ comes the dreaded ‘sugar low’ and the inevitable nodding dog syndrome!
2. Understand your audience
Hopefully this goes without saying, but understanding your audience and tailoring your content to them is vital to ensure you get your message across and your delegates take in what you have to say.
For example, if a dinosaur expert was asked to give two separate presentations, one to a group of fellow dinosaur experts, and one to a group of 10 year old children, the content of the presentation would (we hope) be very different. If our dinosaur expert gave the presentation designed for the school children to his fellow ‘dino’ experts, it would be too simplistic and they would lose interest. Likewise, if he/she delivered the ‘experts’ presentation to the school children, they wouldn’t be engaged because it would be too complicated.
Consider age, gender, role, and seniority and make sure presentations are relevant to the group. If your content is too detailed or not pertinent to the audience, they will likely lose interest; likewise, if you are being too general and not providing enough or the right sort of information, this could have a similar effect.
3. Communicate your message with interesting content
Wherever possible, try to incorporate engaging content in to your presentations. Using videos, photos, and infographics are great ways to communicate information to your audience and can be used in a variety of different ways.
Video content can be used very effectively at the start of your conference to grab people’s attention and set the scene for the rest of the event. Videos, images, and infographics can also be embedded throughout presentations but make sure the balance is right. Too many can detract from the overall message and take away from the smooth running of your conference.
4. Use a professional conference host
Using a professional host for your conference has lots of benefits and can really increase delegate engagement. Conference hosts bring an extra ‘dynamic’ to your event and are able to provide a change of pace and tempo that will help to keep delegates alert and prepare them for the next session.
As well as linking all of your content together and providing some additional structure to the event, a conference host will be able to introduce speakers, inform delegates of pertinent points, and facilitate Q&A sessions.
5. Make it fun and interactive
Involving your delegates and introducing some interactive elements to your conference will see your engagement levels go through the roof. Whether its Q&A sessions, interactive ‘breakouts’, a quick energiser, team building activity, live voting, or short, sharp competitions, they will all have a huge impact.
Sitting through hours upon hours of presentations where delegates have no input or interaction with the speakers or their fellow delegates can be mind numbing. Make sure you break up your conference with some sessions that allow your delegates to get involved, ask a question, offer their opinion, win a prize, and have some fun – the results will speak for themselves!
6. Include a guest speaker
Incorporating a guest speaker into your conference can really increase delegate engagement and can also add real kudos to your event.
When choosing a guest speaker it is (of course) important that they are relevant to your conference or the message you are communicating, but try to think outside the box a little and not choose someone too obvious. Again, remember to consider your audience and think about the type of person they would be interested in listening too – a business person, sports personality, adventurer, or politician.
There are lots of different aspects to think about when it comes to planning a conference and maximising delegate engagement. Remember that any conference is about ‘communicating a message’ so it is crucial that your delegates are engaged and in the right frame of mind to absorb what you have to say.
When it comes to planning, prioritise the elements that are important to you and take a methodical approach to ensure nothing is missed.