What makes a great conference?
I have had the opportunity over the last 15 years to be part of some great conferences and also have seen some pretty average ones.
Over the last year, I have been involved with some great ones that still stick in my mind. I have sat through some real clangers as well. What made the great ones great?
I thought I would share some recent examples of conferences that stood out.
This was where delegates had won the right to be there from outstanding performance but was also an important avenue to drive key business messages to the delegates from across Australia. There was a large number of presentations and keynotes, (which can often be a conference downfall) but this was not the case. What made these presentations and keynotes great? The biggest thing was that the presentations were designed to give the delegates tools, tips and the right behaviours to grow their business. Everything was about the delegates and what the company could do to help them. Because of this, everyone was tuned in and scribbling down as much information as possible. This made the Q and A great because there was real interest, not awkward silence. What’s more, the presentations were short and punchy. Everyone was able to stay tuned in and engaged, thus enabling the conference to have a nice finishing time. PowerPoint slides were powerful points – pictures and videos only. What’s more, every presenter and senior leader was mixing and connecting with all of the delegates and available to chat. How often do you see that?
- Make the content useful for your delegates
- Make the conference about them not you
- Make your PowerPoint slides “Powerful Points!” not bulleted lists and spreadsheets no one can see
- Delegates have a short attention span. Short and punchy works. Do you need 60 minutes to say what you could in 30?
Conference 2: This was for a large team within a very large organisation. The team was made up of 10 – 12 smaller teams that made up a team of 120 people. Some of the teams were small, others around 25 people and they were spread far and wide with various roles, functions and locations. The key aim of the conference was to connect the teams on both a professional and personal level and to ensure that every team knew what the other teams were doing and how they contributed to that success of the larger team and organisation. This would enable all of the teams to work together better and to also enable greater sharing of information post conference.
What made this conference great? In the morning, each team gave a short presentation about what they did. The afternoon was about drilling down and giving greater detail about the teams and the services they provided. With 12 separate presentations, this was a potential for disaster but it worked amazingly well.
The guidelines for the morning presentation were:
- No more than 10 minutes long. This was timed with a 1 minute and a 30 second counter
- No PowerPoint slides unless pictures or film
- Engage all of the senses of the audience
- Get all of the team involved in the presentation
- Do something different and creative
- Make it enjoyable for the people in the audience
The presentations were fantastic! There were skits, plays, game shows, talk shows, photos, documentaries, singing, comedy, animation, films, Most importantly each presentation told a story. Everyone loves a story. Everyone listened, everyone laughed. Messages were strong and clear.
In the afternoon each team set up a stall (as in a county fair) that told more about the work that they did. Each team had to make their stall as interesting and attractive as possible and get as many people as they could to visit. Budget for each team was $50. Each team had giveaways, games, competitions, food, colour, music, lollies, banners, streamers and colour. The energy in the room was amazing! At the end of the day there was a vote for the best stall (any stall other than your own) which was a great experience as well.
- Set the bar high with what you expect: We all have a great amount of creativity and drive once we get out of our comfort zones
- Make the audience the centre of your conference. In this instance, the audience was the content.
- Presentations don’t have to be a “I stand, I talk to slides, you sit, you sleep”
- Movement and interaction: When people move, their energy rises
One of the true measures of a successful conference is how long people are talking about it AFTER the event. The buzz for both of these conferences are still through the organisation 9 – 12 months later. Everyone remembers them for the right reason and most importantly the key messages are still alive.
Conferences are such a huge investment of time and energy. It may be the only chance you may have in the year to get your key messages across. You need to make it impactful, interesting and engaging.
What are you going to do to make your next conference outstanding?