5 top tips for improving conferences

Conferences are part and parcel of the business world, but there's no reason these meetings can't break the corporate mould to add interest and value for delegates. If you want to know how to improve your conferences, keep reading.

Focus on storytelling

Conferences typically comprise back-to-back meetings over an entire day if not longer, which isn't always the most appealing prospect for delegates. Instead of sticking to a traditional programme that often overwhelms attendees with information, give your conference a storytelling aspect so that the day runs with a clear start, middle and end.

Build anticipation and excitement over the course of the conference to keep delegates interested, breaking up the story with moments of calm, but ensure the conference follows a structure that makes sense and helps delegates take in the information.

Rather than having a single speaker, shake things up by having a few different people speak over the course of the day. Different departments should have the opportunity to tell their own unique stories where relevant to the theme of the meeting.

Encourage interaction

Show your delegates that you value them by encouraging interaction during the conference. It might not be ideal to have a question and answer session going on during a presentation but there are options that work well in getting delegates to participate, such as panel discussions.

Set some time aside during the conference for dedicated sessions where delegates can ask questions, discuss issues and have the opportunity to become really involved in the event.

It's a good idea to appoint a representative of the attendees to act as a master of ceremonies for the conference; they can put forward questions on behalf of delegates, start up discussion and generally pull the conference together through summaries and direct interaction with both the speakers and those in the audience.

Try a new technique

Rather than opting for a traditional conference in a hall where delegates sit around a stage area and listen to a speaker, you could try out a new approach, such as the 'world cafe' methodology. This sort of conference style centres on delegate participation; cafe-style tables are set up to seat a number of people along with one facilitator, who introduces topics and questions. Those present at the table make note of the key ideas.

When the conversation round has been completed, the delegates move on to the next table, where the facilitator updates them on ideas from the previous group, bringing up questions and starting discussions.

The conversation rounds are followed by a debriefing, during which the main ideas and themes of the conversations are presented and an action plan can be drawn up.

Make it about the delegates

The delegates attending the conference are arguably the most important component of the event; you need them to absorb information or share ideas, thus the conference should be organised with the delegates in mind.

When delegates confirm their attendance via your online registration system, set the system up to take additional details such as any special needs or requirements they may have, and send over pertinent information like a map or directions to the venue.

At the event itself, have ambassadors to greet delegates, hand out welcome packs and invite those standing alone to join in a conversation. All these little touches will ensure attendees feel valued at the conference, which will create a good impression and enhance their overall experience.

Follow up online

A conference needn't be over as soon as the venue doors close - harness the power of social media to continue your meeting online. Posts on Facebook or Twitter, live streams on YouTube, images on Pinterest and other content will all catch the attention of your followers.

Recap on the event by posting some of the most pertinent questions or stats from the conference online to encourage interaction and potentially build your audience.

You could also host some live webinars after the conference to go over the most pertinent points or answer questions or, if you made a video of the original conference, make it available to view online for anyone who wants to refer to the event or who missed out.

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