Conferences can be really valuable for an organization or association. With hundreds of people under one roof, you have the chance to impart a lot of information quickly and efficiently. Plus, attendees benefit by sharing and learning from each other.
In my other column about conferences, I offer some tips on how to run a smooth conference. In this post, I dig deeper. It’s based upon my experiences attending numerous conferences over the years. In some cases the conference was well planned and executed. Other times the event left room for improvement. Here are more suggestions for you as you plan your next conference.
Incorporate sufficient break time between sessions. Fifteen minutes is reasonable. That gives attendees enough time to visit the restroom, check for messages, and still get to the next session. Anything less than that is cutting it pretty tight.
Have presenters set up at least 15 minutes early. Doing so should avoid the delays caused by those annoying and distracting “technical difficulties.” While the ultimate responsibility rests with the presenter, you as the event organizer may catch some flack. Anything about a conference that goes badly tends to reflect negatively on the organization.
Tell presenters to speak loudly. This is particularly important for break-out sessions, because audio systems are rarely used. Some rooms are very large and/or have high ceilings. Those environments call for extra energy on the part of the presenters. Encourage them to crank up the volume.
Offer appropriate topics. One break-out session during a Rotary conference discussed the value of tourism to the local economy. It was interesting stuff, but there was no connection to Rotary or its projects.
Presentations do not have to be tied directly to the event, but the information should still be valuable to the audience. This particular presentation was totally out of place, and I commented as such on the evaluation form.
Offer popular seminars more than once. Attendees won’t have to choose one over the other. You can usually tell which break-out sessions will be in higher demand. If the presenters are available, ask that they hold more than one session.
Create useful evaluation forms. Ask relevant questions such as, “What did you like or dislike about the conference? Which sessions were useful? What would you like to see discussed in future conferences? What programs should we offer?” These questions give you the information you need to plan an even more valuable conference next time.
Monitor room atmosphere. The temperature in meeting rooms can change as the seminar or speech progresses. I’ve also encountered rooms that were too cold initially. Make sure someone has access to the environmental controls to adjust the temperature accordingly. Attendees will find it difficult to concentrate (and even stay awake at times), and you’re sure to read about it on the evaluation forms.
Include downtime at end of day. Attendees like to relax and freshen up after a long and intense day. Schedule an hour or so of break time before the evening events begin.
Schedule a strong keynote speaker in the evening. A large meal can make people sleepy, especially after a long day of break-out sessions. Choose a speaker who can liven up the crowd. Humorous speakers are great, but someone with a strong inspirational message will hold the audience’s attention, as well.
As you can see, a little additional thought and planning can make a big difference in your next conference.
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