Guest post by Aileen Pablo
If you’ve ever been involved in the organization of a conference, then you know how much work it can be. From finding the right speakers and hiring competent staff to securing a suitable venue and working out smaller details like meal plans and schedules, the to-do list can be endless.
One of the most important characteristics of a successful conference, however, is ensuring that your attendees leave feeling like it was time well spent. The best way to achieve this is to make them feel welcome, put them at ease, and most of all, keep them engaged and entertained.
Here are a few tips on making your upcoming conference a memorable event for all who attend:
Work closely with your speakers
Even if you are just the organizer, it is important to work together with your speakers to make sure that you will be providing the audience with real value, and also to prepare the speakers for what they can expect from their part in the event.
Let them know what sort of audience they will be dealing with and make sure they are aware of the specific topic and direction that you want your conference to take. Don’t just invite speakers and give them a vague topic to work with, as this could lead to misunderstandings or dissatisfaction on the part of your audience.
Take the time to go over their presentations, slides and anything else they are planning on covering during the conference. If you feel it will be off-topic or possibly even boring, you could suggest a few different angles or introduce visual aids that you feel might spice things up.
Encourage audience participation
The last thing you want is to have your attendees yawning in their seats or watching the clock. In order to keep your audience engaged, it is important to find ways to keep them on their toes and have them actively participate with the speakers.
Ask questions from the very beginning so that you can get a feel for what the audience is hoping to hear about, and encourage people to speak up with ideas or join in with a discussion.
If you are able to get people involved early on, they won’t feel as nervous about speaking up or asking questions later on, which will ultimately make your conference more productive.
Schedule plenty of breaks
People’s attention span is only so long, and no matter how interesting your topic or speakers are, interest will start to wane if they have to sit on a hard chair for hours on end.
It is advisable to schedule short breaks at least every two hours. This gives attendees time to stretch, use the bathroom, freshen up, get coffee and a snack and generally recharge their batteries so that they can give the next two hours their full attention.
Some organizers feel that in order to make the most of the time they have and give attendees what they came for they need to fit as much information into as short a period of time as possible.
Unfortunately, however, this leaves people tired, spaced out and looking forward to the end of the conference so they can get home and relax. By scheduling sufficient breaks, you are actually helping your audience get more out of the whole event.
Have question and answer sessions
It is important to open things up to the audience at some point during the conference and hear what questions or opinions they would like to voice.
The person hosting sessions should be able to keep the conversation going and get as many people as possible involved.
Don’t give abrupt “Yes” or “No” answers that end a discussion before it started, but don’t get so long winded that people can’t remember the question by the time you’ve finished giving them your answer.
If you notice that the questions are starting to go off topic, you can offer to answer those particular questions after the lecture or engage in an email correspondence about them with the person in question at a later date.
Try to work in an unexpected surprise or two
You don’t always have to stick to the program religiously; there are times when it may actually be a good thing to break people’s expectations with an unexpected surprise. A popular guest or speaker that wasn’t announced, for example, or perhaps an unexpected activity can be inserted somewhere if you feel interest is waning.
Have a backup plan
No matter how well you have planned things in advance, something is bound to go wrong on the day itself. For this reason, it is important to have a good backup plan in place.
Projectors may break down, equipment that was meant to be delivered may get lost along the way, key guests or speakers may not show up for unavoidable reasons, and you must be able to think on your feet and come up with a solution quickly.
Before the event, think about what could go wrong and then try to put some security measures in place to prevent a total disaster. For example, you could have a backup guest speaker ready to step in should someone fall ill, or organize some replacement equipment that can be delivered quickly if you should need it.
Of course, you cannot possibly plan for everything, but expecting the unexpected can certainly go a long way to ensuring that your event is a success no matter what.
About the Author
Aileen Pablo is a Filipina business and finance blogger. She works at Open Colleges, one of the pioneers of online education in Australia, and can be reached at aileen (at) oc.edu.au.