The reality of hosting a conference these days is that you need to stand out from the crowd. Your marketing efforts, networking events, sponsorship program…and yes, your content, must be different. It’s time to get creative. Throw out the old idea of posting a Call for Presentations, sending out a postcard and email, and waiting for the submissions to roll in. Even if they do roll in this way – odds are that they aren’t as creative and engaging as they need to be.
To get great content – you need to develop a plan to receive, and in many cases, build great content. Putting effort into this process in the beginning will allow you to develop a program that your conference attendees won’t soon forget.
1. What does your audience want to hear? You may think you know…but you also may be wrong. It’s so easy to send out a survey to ask prospective attendees what they are interested in. Get their feedback then be sure to let them know that they were heard. Follow up to tell them what changes were implemented because of what they told you. It’s pretty easy to base the conference tracks on what your audience is requesting – then tell the world that the “industry” developed the tracks…not your organization. And take this opportunity to thank them for their involvement in making the conference a success!
2. Develop a Call for Presentations with explicit expectations outlined. Tell prospective presenters that you’re going to build the strongest program in the history of your conference. Let them know that the industry has already been involved, and you know what they want to learn. Then tell them that in order to do this, you need more from your presenters than just showing up to give a breakout session. You need them “engaged” from the time they are accepted. They may be expected to create a LinkedIn discussion around their topic. They will be asked what actions will take place on-site to insure engagement. Can they provide a 30 second video briefing on their session which can be used in marketing the conference and their session? They may be asked to complete a questionnaire as a speaker highlight, allowing the audience to “get to know them” prior to the conference. Whatever the plan – it should not be limited to showing up to present a one hour session, then going home until next year when they do it all again.
3. Use the final content well before the conference to engage your audience. Promote all of the LinkedIn discussions that your speakers start. Create a YouTube channel with testimonials, promotions, and yes – speaker interviews or snippets of content. Tease the content through emails and other marketing materials. Ask your speakers to place your conference icon on their signature – inviting their contacts to become engaged. There are so many ways to utilize content to engage your audience – take advantage of it. While it does take some extra time and planning – in many cases, it doesn’t take a larger budget.
4. Make the on-site experience memorable. Instead of the screen at the front of the room, place two screens on both sides and set the room in layers of circles (a type of “fishbowl” set up). Ahead of time – think about what you want attendees to “think” and “feel” when they enter the room. Something as easy as adding music to the room as people enter can change the entire feel. Also – make sure that people can share what they are learning. Set up a conference Twitter hashtag and encourage its use, show the tweets, and use this as a communication tool yourself. Use QR Codes and easy links to direct folks online for more details about the content, to download presentations and to stay connected though online discussions.
5. The experience shouldn’t end when the conference is over. Keep your audience engaged through the same online tools. Also, encourage your presenters to follow up with attendees to provide updates to the discussions that took place onsite. Make it easy for these things to happen, and appreciate those presenters who are proactive in going the extra step. These are the ones that you want back again next year!
So it’s not too difficult, but it does require a plan. Take a day, map it out, and ask for help when needed. You won’t regret it – especially when your conference attendees are completely thrilled by their experience!