Winning Applause From Conference Delegates: An Event Management How To

So you’ve booked the conference venue, all the speakers are lined up and you’ve issued invitations to attendees. Your conference is off the starting blocks and you can heave a big sigh of relief. But the next consideration could determine the make-or-break of your event’s success. The value of the event will be largely measured on the satisfaction recorded by its attendees.

One of the biggest challenges of a conference organiser is to shape the agenda in such a way as to keep the audience engaged and enthused throughout the day. Here are a few tips to ensure no yawns, no empty seats and a large round of applause at the end.

Variety is the spice of life: if you’ve ever had to sit through a full day of PowerPoint presentations, with no opportunity to actively participate, and just the most cursory Q&A component, you’ll know how dull and uninspiring the experience can be. Small wonder that attendees emerge tired and grumpy, having learned little and enjoyed less. And yet it’s easy at drawing board stage, to suggest an agenda with rich and varied content. Of course you’ll need presentations, but why not build in an engaging team building activity such as a treasure hunt, a workshop or even an exhibition, one or two interactive sessions along with an ice breaker should break the day up comfortably, helping conference delegates maintain concentration.

Short and sweet: 20 minutes is probably the longest period that any of us can maintain active concentration. After that, the mind wanders, thoughts turn to lunch or the brain gently slides into neutral. Speakers are understandably keen to share their insights in great detail but research shows that delegates actually appreciate shorter and more concise presentations with the opportunity to submit their own questions and comments. Whenever possible, ask speakers from the outset to bear these two points in mind when planning their content.

Ask your Events Company how best to achieve the longest period of engagement.

We’ve been in Events Management for over 20 years and audience engagement technology has evolved massively in that time. We are finding that conference delegates love to be involved in two-way dialogue instead of being passive listeners, and the latest conference apps allow questions and comments to be submitted from the floor. We’ve recently developed our own event apps, which enable members of the audience to put live questions and comment to speakers as part of interactive business sessions. The great bonus is that group conclusions can be reached on the day and feedback obtained while delegates are still experiencing the event.

Active learning: Once the key conference messages have been conveyed in the meeting room, why not reinforce them via a team building activity? We all assimilate information in different ways, so the inclusion of quizzes or challenges can help to ensure understanding in an interactive, entertaining way.

Ice breakers: Energy levels tend to slump immediately after lunch, so we recommend that our clients energize their delegates and get the oxygen flowing. A quick 10 minute ice-breaker works wonders before the start of the first afternoon presentation. Not only will your delegates thank you, but their memory recall of that first session will be so much stronger.

Controlling the clock: In a perfect event management world, speakers would religiously stick to the timetable but it’s not unusual for sessions to either finish early or over-run. And in every event organiser’s memory there are instances where speakers had to pull out on the day. So it’s a good idea to plan for the worst and ensure your agenda has built-in flexibility. This way you’ll be able to adjust the length of refreshment breaks to either catch up from the over-runs or fill-in some unexpected free time.

Give us a break: Research has shown that conference delegates really appreciate the opportunity to network with other attendees or catch up on their e-mails, so it’s not a good idea to pack the agenda too tightly. And if you do get a last minute speaker cancellation, what may seem like a crisis to you could turn out to be a welcome gap for them.

Bright eyed and sharp-witted: Conference venues used to provide stodgy traditional meals but in recent years there has been a revolution in menu design. But if you feel the options are lacklustre, don’t be afraid to ask for healthy alternatives, such as fresh fruit smoothies and raw vegetable canapés. That way your delegates will be saved the mid-afternoon blood-sugar crashes which are so detrimental to concentration and problem-solving.

And for overnight events, late-night alcohol binges can be a disaster for attendance levels on subsequent mornings, so the inclusion of a coffee bar as an alternative option may yield dividends. Guests really appreciate the extra choice and will be far more alert the following morning.

Our clients have found that putting themselves in the delegates’ shoes and imagining what would create an inspiring, upbeat day for them, is the best way of ensuring enthusiastic feedback at the end of the event. You want your delegates to go home happy, and so do we!

Speak to us if you need some help planning your next conference or team building away day.


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