I recently attended a conference – the topic and location have been redacted to protect the guilty – and came away with a few observations:
- I should have known it was going to be a struggle to stay awake by the ponderous description in the program.
- The dark glasses were great for helping me sneak in a little extra sleep, but the snoring gave me away.
- There was disappointment on the faces of the session organizers at no questions during the Q&A, but what did they expect after a 60 minute soliloquy?
After shaking myself awake, I pondered what it takes to make a conference both informative AND engaging.
Certainly, conference organizers set forth with the best of intentions – and generally speaking, they have important information to convey to their attendees. But it’s human nature to need stimuli that will help battle the blinkies and manage the monotony.
According to a study funded by Expo, an internally-known conference organizer, a variety of factors – including the rise of social media – are providing event organizers with “more opportunities, but also challenges for audience development.”
With this in mind, I wanted to share some tips and tricks that we can employ – both as conference organizers, and as attendees – to inject some life into the event and create a more interesting, valuable and effective presence for your company or industry:
- Only go to the presentations or sessions that you know will be of specific interest or value to you in your job/role. If it’s not in your core area of interest, consider another option. However, if you DO decide to attend a presentation and find it’s not delivering you the right return, then…
- Don’t feel obligated to sit through a presentation if it’s not of value. Simply leave the room and seek out something more productive -- networking with another attendee skipping out will be more valuable than sitting through another talking head.
- Play Buzzword Bingo with a colleague(s). When that keyword is spoken, mark it on your sheet. We are all naturally competitive beings – you won’t want to snooze if you want to win at Buzzword Bingo!
- Be sure to set aside time to meet the speakers after their presentations or during other times at the event. You will find that most speakers appreciate an attentive fan asking insightful questions. Plus, these subject matter experts can be a great resource for the future.
- If you know that you are not a great learner in plenary or breakout sessions, simply skip the presentations altogether. The slides will most likely be available online for you to consume at your leisure. Instead, take the time to schedule meaningful meetings with colleagues, clients, prospects and other thought leaders at the conference.
- If you are truly enjoying the presentation and think you may have some insights that can enhance the content being delivered, seek an opportunity to interact, on the spot. Ask provocative questions of the speaker, so you can keep the conversation going beyond the confines of the scheduled format. As a conference organizer, consider making such interactive elements a part of the program.
- If you are hosting a conference, consider ditching the talking heads for at least some of the presentations and run interactive workshops instead. You will find that such interaction leads to a more engaged audience, who will appreciate your efforts to depart from the expected.
At the end of the day, it’s human nature in today’s world to want to be entertained while being informed. By adopting some of the techniques above – or, as an event organizer, being mindful of the types of alternatives presented here – you can deliver quality over quantity, and earn the reputation for hosting something other than “another boring conference.”