So many conferences fall short of their potential. And yet it is so simple to get a conference room buzzing with engaged participants, inspired by talks that matter, and memorable for the connections made.
Let’s start with Connections. Because connection always comes first.
Once, I walked into a conference lobby where I felt so out of place that I would have loved to walk straight back out through the revolving door. The topic was energy. The room was full of middle aged men in suits, standing in circles. I was a younger woman, working for an NGO and feeling utterly out of place and unwelcome. Circles are wonderfully inclusive when you are part of them. And they are exclusive when you are on the outside.
However, I was sent to this conference, so I had to swim. Hence, I stayed, buckled up, tried to get in a few conversations and brought home a handful of business cards — cards of people whom I never ever got in touch with thereafter. But they were a sign that I had tried. And today, this experience is a sign for me that the conference organisers clearly did not care about exchange between people who don’t already know each other.
The first thing that makes or breaks a conference is that whoever walks in feels that they belong there, no matter what they look like, no matter who they already know, no matter what their status is.
Conferences were broken long before we had to take them into the virtual space. For many participants, conferences have actually become easier to handle now: It’s easier to hide online when not knowing anyone. But as the conference host, do you really want window shoppers? Do you want attendees to be there with mike and video off, just passively consuming the content you provide? And how do you even know that they are actually listening, and not tuning in and out while responding to emails and messages? If they are not fully engaged, how will you make them part of your community?
For clients whose annual conference we co-design and facilitate, connection comes first. It does not matter if your conference is in person or virtual. What makes a conference amazing is the combination of groundbreaking content and the informal conversations that happen throughout the day: before entering the auditorium, during the lunch break, and most of all, at the evening get together.
Networking is relationship building, and these networking elements are critical for a successful conference. You need to create the participant experience as a constant dance between thought provoking content and experiencing meaningful connection amongst participants.
If you struggle with how to make that happen at your annual conference, then get in touch with us.
On Friday, the 5th of November we will offer complimentary 45 minute consultations. First come, first serve.