Your Conference Is Boring. But It Doesn’t Have To Be.

Picture this: You’re sitting in a dark room listening to a presentation, and your eyelids are so heavy they keep closing against your will. You are struggling to keep your eyes open. You look around desperately for the next caffeine hit. Your head hits your chest and you jerk it back up straight and look around sheepishly hoping no one has noticed… 


If you’ve attended a conference recently, I bet this experience sounds familiar to you.


The structure of conferences has stayed the same for years and they tend to go something like this: information session, coffee break, information session, lunch, information session, coffee break, information session and either a reception or dinner or both. Conference planners think they are feeding participants’ minds and bodies, but are they?


It’s time to change the way we design conferences, including everything from food to the schedule and the ways we present information. 


Here are four ways to shake up your next conference:

  1. Spice up your sessions. With so much information at our fingertips, most people have about a ten minute attention span.  Given that most conference sessions are 45-60 minutes, we need to constantly work to keep participants engaged. Reset your audience’s attention span with a video, a demonstration, storytelling, interactive question, or bringing new people out on stage.
  2. Switch things up. Change your conference design to intersperse shorter information sessions with interactive and hands-on learning opportunities. This could include a World Cafe or similar activity where small groups rotate through a series of questions, with each group adding to the solution, sharing ideas, and building on the day’s learnings.
  3. Think outside the conference hall. Include exciting activities like improv comedy or wine tasting that allow participants to have fun and network at the same time. Consider hosting brain date sessions or providing a connection board so that participants can find those with shared interests or common goals for meetups.
  4. Move beyond the sad salad. Food is the largest budget item at most conferences, so it’s worth making sure you are getting the best value. Ditch the traditional conference foods and ask your caterer to try something more Instagram-worthy. Most conference venues will work with you to come up with different options, so don’t be afraid to ask, and don’t just accept the standard offering. 


Conferences are a big expense for an organization and for the participants who attend them.  Let’s shake them up and provide everyone with the best opportunity to learn and network rather than nap. 


Allyson Chisnall  is the CFO and COO at MediaStyle

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