Thinking of organising a conference or a workshop? Want loyal fans who buy your products or services again and again?
Have you attended events that just seem to be about the presenters? No food, no real interaction, very little opportunity to work the room?
Do you want your event to be memorable for the right reasons?
Before you set about organising your next event, here are five proven ways for you to consider that will add that special spark:
1) If your event has guest presenters, try to invite them out for a meal together beforehand. It’s truly amazing how the atmosphere of the conference is even more welcoming and inclusive because the speakers are relaxed and confident enough to exchange friendly banter. Dinner is also an opportunity to find out what else is on the horizon which could mean new opportunities for your organisation.
2) Feed your audience and feed it well. There are too many events where lunch is not supplied, nor is there a one-place location for attendees to dine together. This leads to a series of missed opportunities:
- no lunch triggers the temptation to go back to work and miss the afternoon session (lost sales)
- people attending on their own don’t get a good opportunity to network
- a group lunch provides the opportunity to network and to get feedback and ideas for the next event
For us, the lunch and dinner menus were vital components of the planning. Participants expected to pay for lunch in their fee, so we made sure we gave them a positive gastronomic experience – no sausage rolls or vol au vents in sight. Even if the expectation isn’t there, at least make an attempt to get as many people as possible to dine at the one place. Take a chance and book a table or three beforehand.
3) Despite what they say, people love to leave with information. It doesn’t have to be a heavy package of papers – although it is worth considering sending them away with some paperwork relevant to the topics being discussed. You don’t have to spend hours filling conference packs these days. Save the trees and send out links to useful ebooks, reports ….
even copies of the presentation slides. How annoying is it to be on the receiving end of unfulfilled promises to send out the presentations afterwards? As an attendee I’ve taken to taking photos of the important slides, but mindful not to use the camera flash.
4) Get the balance right. Our formula for conferences was simple – the speakers focussed on policy or new information delivery which we balanced with practitioners with authority usually following up the messages of the speakers in interactive workshops with participants. Don’t waste your workshop time on presentations – at this point the audience is ready to talk out loud, explore what it means for them and ask questions – they don’t need to hear yet another person talking at them. This is their time.
5 Don’t be afraid of feedback. Focus on it. If we were delivering training workshops, we’d always send out pre-course questionnaires to get an idea of what the participants were looking for. We used this information to adapt the delivery. In those days it was the fax machine that was whirring for days before the event, today it just takes a survey link on the internet. Don’t waste the opportunity.
The jewel in the crown was our end of event evaluation form. We aimed for at least 85% of participants returning their forms before leaving. We did get some come in afterwards but not many – the key was to get people before they left. We didn’t induce them with door prizes, just asked.
Don’t take negative feedback personally, consider the trends and messages coming through.
However, the treasure trove in the feedback forms lay within two questions – one was to find out what they wanted next (follow up) and the second was asking them if they wanted to be informed of future events and in what areas (we supplied a list). We produced a ‘master list’ – a list of people who had given us permission to contact them directly with news of future events. Every year we would attempt to cull that list, but it only grew. These people supported our events again and again, and when they were promoted to management, they sent their staff. We also got a new generation of experts to present at our conferences or lead our workshops.
What did all this mean for us? We were consistent. People knew what to expect. Our conferences attracted people from 13 European countries at a time and when we organised four venues per term for each training program we offered, we knew that we would have to deliver eight. We were constantly busy. Don’t scrimp. Value-add. It works.