As a speaker (and sometimes a host), I have had the chance to attend a lot of conferences. While some were very good, most were quite boring. What made the difference? Event organizers who paid attention to these three elements: Making sure people could connect, enabling them to share knowledge and experiences, and creating an atmosphere full of good “energy.” It’s not hard to do—even simple interventions can turn a boring, regular event into a great event.
I picked these solutions, all of which I have tested, because they are easy, don't take a lot of time, and don't require high-tech solutions, but they add value to the networking and sharing, and help create great energy.
1. Try the shortest networking exercise ever.
It takes just 33 seconds, and really helps to create an open and informal atmosphere. Ask your audience to shout their name, e-mail address, and phone number at the count of three.
2. Decorate the location with inspiring quotes and photos.
It’s quite easy to find and print some compelling quotes and pictures. Hang them at several places in the conference location—including the unexpected (think bathroom). Even better: Ask participants to bring their favorite quotes or pictures.
3. Organize business “blind dates.”
When attendees arrive, randomly divide them into small groups of strangers. They have the opportunity to briefly get acquainted with each other. Then, more important, bring them back together at three additional moments during the day to exchange their views and experiences at the event.
4. Book an unconventional venue.
Avoid the traditional conference rooms and hold your conference in a museum, a park, a swimming pool, a train station...
5. Invite speakers at the borders of your theme.
In every business, you will have the usual experts who give their opinion about the conference’s main subject areas. Dare to invite some speakers who are not experts in your meeting content but who can make a connection from their expertise to your topic.
6. Allow time for reflection.
Participants have to be attentive for a long time during a conference. Invite people to have one-minute slack moments between presentations so they can reflect/share insights/just wander off for a moment.
7. Close the event together.
End the event with an exercise or activity where all the participants can contribute in some way. Try the “one clap,” for example: Everybody has to stand up and clap exactly at the same moment—without making agreements about when that moment will be.
Bonus idea: Experiment
These are just a few examples of how you can create a more interactive event. I have collected 14 more on this Slideshare, called 21 Ways to Boost Your Event. Experiment with these ideas—and remember what author Elbert Hubbard said: “The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.”
I also would like to invite you to think about shaking up your event in more fundamental ways as well. Many in the event business suffer from what I like to call “the curse of knowledge”—the more experience we gain, the more we tend to organize our events in certain ways that we know worked in the past. That’s how we end up with meeting clichés such as: an event should be held in a fixed location; you should invite speakers, and people should listen to them; then you should plan some kind of networking moment before letting attendees go home. That's the old normal.
But we no longer live in the old normal. New Web sites, technologies, and social platforms are being continuously being created. Learning to adapt and creatively meet new challenges are what you need to survive in today’s events world.
It’s time to start playing with our fixed assumptions about meetings, testing them out. What would happen if we didn’t invite speakers? What if attendees decided what’s on the agenda? What if we went to a location that didn’t look like a typical conference room? What would happen if networking was stimulated from the start? Would the event be so much worse? Or would it be better and more surprising? We don't know the answers for sure, but we do know that some changes have to happen! While most event managers are still playing it safe, change is dripping in.
Does this mean you have to turn everything upside down? Of course not. Little shifts can make a world of difference. But change is hard. So I’d like to propose a little contest to help make it easier for at least a few people. If you would like to talk one-on-one about how to make your event more interactive, engaging, and creative, e-mail me a short description of your event. I’ll put the entries into a hat and randomly choose three organizations to receive a free one-hour consultation.
Cyriel Kortleven is the “master of interaction” with @21Lobsterstreet in Antwerp, Belgium. You can find out more about Cyriel on www.cyrielkortleven.com.