Conferences can be an incredible experience for everyone involved. They are unique opportunities to be near other people or brands interested in similar pursuits and get incredibly valuable face to face time with influencers you normally would not have the chance to. However, in my time as a conference attendee, there have been consistent issues that detract from the overall experience.
These are generally small things that end up having a huge impact. Fortunately, however, there are also very simple fixes for these issues. If you are organizing a conference, take some time to consider these things beforehand, and find ways to fix them. By doing this, you are giving your conference a much higher chance of success.
At every conference I have been to, I have found myself incredibly uncomfortable at some point. Whether this is because of an uncomfortable chair, the temperature in the room, or a bright glare from the window shining in my eyes, when I am uncomfortable, it is practically a guarantee that I will struggle to pay attention, and I know I am not alone in this.
You need to consider these things while you are planning for the conference and have options available to address any issues that may arise. It’s better to spend a little extra time preparing than to lose large portions of your audience because all they remember after the fact is how uncomfortable they were.
It’s important to remember that people of all shapes, sizes, and physical needs may attend your conference, and that, while it may be impossible to ensure 100% of them are perfectly comfortable, you should still do what you can to accommodate as many people as possible. Seating is especially important in this regard. For instance, while getting as many seats as possible into a room means more people are able to attend a specific session, the close seating may make the experience uncomfortable for a larger attendee.
You may also have some people in attendance that have difficulties sitting through the entirety of a longer presentation, or left-handed people that might have issues in lecture hall environments with built in desks. Consider these possible issues before your conference and offer alternatives such as some more spacious seating, standing areas, and ensuring that left-handed desks are available. You should also actually think about your seating when planning the entire format of your conference. Test out how long it’s possible to sit in your chairs comfortably, and do what you can to give people short breaks frequently enough so that they do not reach this point.
Temperature is also a frequent issue at every conference I have attended. It’s important to remember that having a large number of people in a room will make it warmer, so setting the temperature when there is nobody in there is likely to result in a warm room full of sleepy, uncomfortable, and unproductive people. If possible, test what happens to the room when it’s full and adjust as needed.
Better Use of Technology
You can’t control all of the factors that play into your audience’s attention span. Even the most dynamic, engaging speakers will occasionally have someone fall asleep on them, especially if they have traveled there for the conference. This is especially a danger when a presentation is highly data-driven because of how difficult it is to deliver large amounts of data in a dynamic way. However, instead of simply presenting the information, finding a way to make it more interactive for your audience makes keeping them engaged a much simpler task.
Fortunately, there are now many different ways you can go about this, as well. Offering printouts of presentations is a really simple way to do this, especially for a smaller audience, but this can quickly become expensive, and isn’t nearly as interesting or engaging as other options you have. A less cost prohibitive solution would be to offer them online to your attendees. This way, they can either print it themselves or access it on a device such as a tablet, laptop, or smartphone. Considering how massive mobile use has become, this nearly ensures that your attendees will have easy, instant access to any conference materials they may want. This opens up other options for you, as well.
If you are concerned at all about your audience skipping ahead in your presentation and seeing information before you want them to, then there are a variety of applications like GoToMeeting that allows your audience to view your slides as you present them. If you do this, however, you should make your slides available to attendees after the fact so they can reference them later. If this isn’t a concern, however, allowing attendees to download your slides opens up the ability for them to make notes as they go along that will be easier for them to use later, since they will be more directly connected with the section they are about.
If possible, recording the audio of a presentation and making it available to attendees later can also be incredibly helpful, especially in conjunction with slides. This way, your audience can clarify or recall something a speaker said after the fact. Your audience can only remember so much information, and this will help them have a greater amount of take home knowledge.
You should also make sure to integrate your use of technology into how you plan and promote the event. Think about what people consider when deciding which conferences to attend. One way is to look at which presentations people were most interested in downloading the slides or audio for, and try to bring back similar speakers or topics for future conferences. By finding what your audience is actually interested in, you make your conference a much more enjoyable experience for attendees, and are more likely to have them refer others.
Technology can also make things like Q&A sessions more engaging, while also making it possible to promote your own event. Create a specific hashtag on twitter to cultivate questions from your audience, and then answer them during your normal Q&A time. This way, your audience can ask questions as they come up, and you are also able to continue the conversation after the conference is over. This helps everyone in attendance feel like their voice is heard while also giving you the ability to publicly showcase the kinds of influencers you had at your conference. If the conversation continues, it also makes a longer-term impact on your attendees.
About the author: Zachary Evans is a freelance writer from Boise, Idaho who covers a wide variety of topics he is interested in. He graduated from Boise State University in 2013 with a Bachelor's Degree in English with an Emphasis in Creative Writing. He now spends his time writing, reading, playing music, and daydreaming about UFOs and Aliens. Follow him on Twitter.