We’ve all been to that one conference that was really good. We raved about it and couldn’t wait to go back each year. The conference left such an impression that we signed up again the following year. It may have been the speakers, the great contacts you made, or maybe the warm chocolate chip cookie you received just before your eye lids fluttered closed for the tenth time. Whatever it was that grabbed your attention it was due to good planning. Here are a few ways you, as a conference planner, can help ensure that your attendees come back year after year.

1) Invite Great Speakers

Make sure that your speakers are relevant to the industry and will speak on topics that are timely and applicable. You will want to find strong, dynamic speakers who will motivate, inspire, and make the audience beg for more.

2) Involve the Audience

It is key that speakers and moderators involve the audience. Nothing puts a crowd to sleep faster than someone who gets up on stage and talks at the audience. You want to engage the audience with questions, comments, and conversation. Get them to participate, volunteer, and laugh and you’ll steal the show.

3) Open a Hallway Track or Lounge

Everyone needs a little down-time to get to know one another. Give your attendees the opportunity to network. Perhaps have mini refreshment breaks or 10-15 minutes between each session. If your attendees get to know one another they start to relax. They will get involved and start to enjoy themselves.

4) Make It Personal

Encourage personal interaction during sessions. Have speakers break out the audience into focus groups. Let them talk about their personal experience with each other. Everyone has a story and most are eager to tell it. Encourage the group to talk about how they can take what they learn at the conference and implement it in their community. Have them exchange contact information and encourage everyone in the group to keep in touch.

5) Offer Intuitive Processes

How easy was it to find the registration table? How easy was it to find the schedule? Or find the bathroom? Make sure that your logistics are in place and that there is a nice, even flow to your conference. This takes practice to see what works well for each venue, so start early.

6) Serve Good, Simple Food

The food doesn’t need to be fancy It just needs to taste good. Make it easy to eat. People are generally talking to one another while eating so have things that are easy to eat and satisfying. A warm chocolate chip cookie with a cold glass of milk at 3 pm will help attendees late in the afternoon power through till the end.

7) Provide a Comfortable Environment

There is usually not much you can do about the temperature in hotel rooms. They are just plain cold. But you can prepare your attendees. Remind them to bring a sweater or jacket to the sessions. Have hot tea or coffee on the tables or in the back of the room. If given the chance, choose seats with cushions and backs to them. Chairs around tables are sometimes more comfortable for the audience then a bunch of chairs lined up in front of the podium. Having a table to rest your elbows, store your belongings, or to write upon helps to keep everyone’s attention span fresh and alert.

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published by Heather Myklegard

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