What makes a conference stand out from all of the rest? We spoke to a range of event professionals from agencies Top Banana, Cue, DRPG and Julia Charles Event Management to help you achieve that ‘wow factor’ for your next conference.
As you can imagine, engaging delegates can be a challenging task. Our modern technology is constantly evolving which means that we have access to information in flashes, at home or on the go. Whether this is through social media or the news, the never-ending buzz of the world limits our attention span for specific content and prevents us from simply sitting still and listening.
Many believe that conferences rely on exactly this from delegates, but they don’t have to, which is why picking up a pen and paper appears more daunting than picking up our phones. Conferences must engage an audience, like our phones have engaged us. The only way to achieve this is through human interaction and the ‘wow factor’ stems from getting it right, as participating in a conference will leave more of a lasting impression on delegates.
Across the board, event professionals say that you must first understand both your clients and audiences’ expectations, in order to successfully interact and wow them. Craig Ewan, project manager at Cue, stresses that you have to “ask the right questions from the get-go.” For example, who is the targeted audience? Why are they attending? What is the key message and the desired outcome? Katie Doughty, a producer at DRPG, provides the answer that delegates attend conferences to “learn and gain something from the experience.” You need to ensure that attending a conference is more valuable than a day in the office, especially when delegates have emails to catch up on. Knowing the answers to these questions allows you to tailor your event to “suit the business message but also the audience,” adds Jemma Peers, client and commercial director at Top Banana, who says that one cannot exist without the other.
Now that you have done your research, the communication style is key. Michael Charles, director of Julia Charles Event Management advises to “keep your session short and to the point” by suggesting the ‘seven- minute rule’. This ensures that you have the perfect amount of time to educate, entertain and energise
your audience, without the risk of overloading them with content.
Most importantly, think about your delivery. Your enthusiasm should help the audience forget about their mundane work schedule and be thankful they have ventured out of the office. Don’t talk at 100 miles per hour which leaves your delegates frantically trying to write notes or speak in a monotone voice. Present clearly and concisely at a conversational pace, and you will naturally be more engaging. Charles continues that delegates who attend conferences want the “highlights and headlines,” and suggests avoiding minute detail; keep it simple and allow delegates to think for themselves. It’s always better to leave them wanting more, not less.
Your delegates must also have the opportunity to be both “participant and/or spectator,” says Ewan. Doughty agrees that delegates don’t want to be “passive spectators”, but instead want to feel that they can “control and influence their learning.” This doesn’t mean dragging a delegate on stage and into the spotlight, but suggests to “keep delegates on their toes,” Ewan adds. Invest in fun tools like interactive apps such as Catchbox or Eventpal or throwable microphones to maintain their engagement and ensure the audience has their say (if they want to) instead of talking at them. Alternatively, host a panel of speakers where delegates can partake in a Q&A, or simply encourage delegates to discuss ideas with one another and feedback.
Here’s the exciting part, it’s time to get creative! Forget the standard PowerPoint slides and remove the bulks of text. Bring to life your event by adding snappy visual designs and relevant event themes paired with high quality AV which involves all of your delegate’s senses and create an experience they’ll never forget. Peers reminds us that “‘wow’ moments don’t have to come with a hefty price tag.”
Technology can be fantastic, but not everyone has the budget for it. If you do, consider that it could also overcomplicate or take away from your key message, which is the most important aspect of your conference. It is up to you to find the balance between being “daring” and “safe”.
The ultimate ‘wow’ comes from the “emotional connection” made with your audience Doughty and Peers add, which can be achieved without the gimmicks. Your delegates can also be impressed by elements such as an intimate outdoor venue, fun team building exercises or be shocked by an appearance of a relevant guest speaker. Craig says that “delegates can look back on their experience, associating their sense of joy and excitement with the event and its purpose,” which in turn “guarantees the retention of information.”
So, tune into your audiences’ emotions if you really want to not only wow them, but ensure that they remember your content, and are ready to apply it themselves.