How to subvert the conference format to surprise and delight

Let's face it. Conferences aren't always exciting.

At least, events that fail to push the boundaries of what a conference should be can very quickly become a case of "been there, done that". Your delegates attend numerous events every year and many of them may have also been attendees at your previous conferences. So stop relying on the same tricks to surprise and delight your delegates.

Creating a meaningful, lasting experience for your delegates means thinking outside the ballroom - away from the traditional professional format of your everyday conference - and finding new ways to connect with them that will have them longing to return in the new year.

At cievents, it's our remit to push for innovation at every opportunity. We don't just host conferences - we build experiences that inspire. Here are our tips on evolving your next conference.

1. Address the person, not the delegate

A personalised conference can feel like coming home to friends.

A personalised conference can feel like coming home to friends.

If your conference is number 12 on the long list of business events your delegates will be attending within the year, it's no surprise they might be getting a little tired of transactional experiences.

With thousands of guests coming and going from a busy conference, the individual can very easily get lost under the label of "delegate". By remembering that each guest is a human being with their own preferences, perspectives and experiences, you can more easily curate a personalised and engaging delegate journey. Even the little touches - a remembered coffee order or a "welcome back" message for returning guests - can make all the difference in setting your event apart.

Fortunately, personalisation is easier than ever when you can strategically weave the right event technology throughout the delegate journey. For example, your pre-registration platform is an opportunity to capture crucial information such as accommodation or dietary needs, and a beacon-enabled event app means they can be recognised by event staff at on-site registration without needing to fill out tedious forms.

2. Provide a new kind of networking

If you're planning an evening cocktail networking event, ask yourself why.

What is the express purpose of choosing to have an alcoholic event in a dimly lit cocktail room? Your everyday networking event may be suitable for your objectives, but does it inspire? Delegates attend networking events to establish new professional and social connections and unwind from a long day of learning.

Focus on a new kind of networking to provide a point of difference for your delegates.

Focus on a new kind of networking to provide a point of difference for your delegates.

In 2019, with the focus moving towards wellness, an alcoholic event may not be the right way to inspire your delegates to interact and engage. Without alcohol as a social lubricant, you'll need to consider how else you'll encourage attendees to start a conversation. Look for unique activities to break the ice - something many may not have done before. This could be axe throwing or a unique workshop. Maybe your delegates deserve a trip back to their childhoods and could be inspired by networking amongst carnival rides.

Whatever you choose, think about your demographic first and foremost and make use of pre-registration data capture to establish your attendees' preferences. When you can provide new opportunities, your conference will last in the minds of your delegates.

3. Break the keynote mould

Don't underestimate the role your keynote speaker has in a delegate's decision making process and event experience.

Your keynote sets the tone and trajectory of your conference, so it must be feature innovation and fresh perspectives.

A keynote speaker should be a core part of your event marketing strategy. In order to capture the interest of your audience, therefore, your keynote speaker needs to feel relevant and unique from the outset. Consider the core message of your event and reach out to professionals with fresh perspectives on this topic - not just another motivational speaker. Ideally, your speaker is someone your audience knows of and wants to hear from.

Remember to support your keynote speaker in creating a truly immersive audience experience. Say goodbye to the stock-standard slideshow and enable your speaker with live polling, video or other means of audience participation. You might consider unique delivery methods - such as a fireside chat or interview format, or even AR/VR-enabled presentations, where audience members can use a second screen or provided headset to experience the keynote as though it were a one-to-one conversation.

Ultimately, your keynote sets the tone and trajectory of your conference, so it must be considered a key area for channelling innovation and fresh perspectives.

4. Simplify the delegate experience

From registration through to wayfinding, travel and accommodation logistics, there can sometimes be a lot on your delegates' plates.

Minimising the administration and process that has to be taken on-site can turn your conference into an escape from the logistical hubbub of attendance. When delegates are allowed to focus solely on what's in front of them, rather than where they need to be at any given moment, they can truly become immersed. This is where event apps can play a huge role.

An event app can enable your delegates to enjoy a seamless experience.

An event app can help your delegates enjoy a seamless experience.

A specially designed event app can provide a live itinerary for your guests, ensuring they have quick and easy access to all travel and accommodation information they need. You might also load an app with an interactive map and conference schedule, simplifying wayfinding and timetabling for your delegates. By building a personal conference agenda within the app, your guests can receive notifications when a specific talk is due to start and easily refer to a venue map.

Beacon technologies, as mentioned above, can also remove tedious administration tasks such as on-site registration. With this function enabled, your delegates' device may be recognised and automatically complete a digital registration form, vastly improving queuing times and minimising the disruption to your delegates' day.

5. Forget everything you know about a conference

Stop trying to plan a conference.

Prescribing your event as a "conference" immediately places a number of preconceptions and expectations on it that don't necessarily help anyone. Instead, consider the strategic objectives of your event. It's possible the traditional conference format isn't suitable for what you're trying to achieve. Even if it is, by addressing your goals rather than checking the boxes of what a conference "should be", you can work more intelligently towards seeing a genuine return on investment and clearer messaging for your delegates.

Every part of your event is an opportunity to surprise and delight. At cievents, we're constantly seeking new ways to ensure our events are a breath of fresh air - not just another conference in your delegates' calendar. For holistic event strategy and production support, reach out to the cievents team today to find out how we can transform your next conference.