Having presented to nearly 1000 audiences, I have seen many live events. Some were great. Most seemed good. A few have been blah. Engaging conferences are what everyone wants. From planners to participants, nobody wants a blah experience.
To create engaging conferences there are a few things that can be weaved into the agenda that will allow people to network, learn, and share experiences that will make your event the best conference ever.
Four Tips for Creating an Engaging Conference
- Ask your speakers to make their programs interactive and engaging. While most professional speakers know they need some kinds of audience participation, not all of them have got the memo. When a few audience members add to the discussion in the presentation, everyone feels more connected to the content. The days of the “Sage on Stage” have passed. Interactive presentations are better. But remember, it is not about some silly “touch your knee” interaction. It is about getting people to lean in and feel connected. Also, laughter is interaction, so never underestimate the power of humor in a keynote.
- Select the right master of ceremonies. Too often groups get a board member or internal executive to be the onstage host of the event. While often the person who hosts the show likes the attention, rarely are they skilled at creating ongoing experiences for the audience. In talking to hundreds of planners there are two reasons they do not hire professional EmCee’s. It is either a way to save money, or to bestow the visibility on the person they have as host. Neither of these reasons are audience based. A professional master of ceremonies is a small investment and will ensure a more engaging conference. Many spend more money on desserts that are stale. Stale is okay for hotel catered cake, but stale is not what you want from your event host.
- Talk about networking. We all know that “networking opportunities” is a top reason people identify for attending a conference. But once on site few are really good at making the meaningful connections they desire. Weave the theme of connections into the whole conference. This is more than starting the event with people meeting the person seated next to them. Smartly placed reminders on how and why to put the electronics away and have live conversations will give people the permission they need to take the actions.
- Schedule longer breaks. 15 minutes is not enough time to get to the bathroom and find a seat in the next break out. Too often the agenda creates a race from room to room and allows no time for impromptu hallway conversations. Many say the best part of a conference is the engaging conversations they have with other event participants. Serendipity can only occur if time is provided for people to chat. Additionally people need time to think after learning to ensure they have digested the thoughts. Do not cram all the learning together or people will not retain very much information.
- Host a follow up webinar. At the end of an event there is much potential to keep people engaged. But few live events do anything after the meeting is over. If you have the right speakers and / or master of ceremonies, you have the ability to host a follow up webinar a few weeks or months after the event is over. If you created an engaging conference then people will be excited to keep the conversations going. Make the follow up part of the contract with speakers and get them scheduled far in advance.
Thom Singer is a funny keynote speaker and professional master of ceremonies / EmCee. He is the host of two podcasts (“Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do” and “the Digital Enterprise Society Podcast“) and the author of 12 books.