How to make your conference more like a rodeo

So in February I went to a rodeo in Texas. This means there is one less thing on my bucket list. And what a hoot it was! So with tongue slightly in cheek I thought I’d look at how and why we can make our conferences more like the rodeo. Get ready for the ride.

1. Background staff taking centre stage

Before we got underway we met every one of the Rodeo background staff and of course their horses. It was strange to see the “organisers” ride around the ring, strutting their stuff before the audience and I must say I kind of liked it. Sometimes we organisers are thanked at the end of the event but to really say “well done” how about a stroll round the conference room and the exhibition hall, hat being doffed and all the attendees clapping. Oh yes, that’s more like it!

2. Texturisation 

A Rodeo has a lot going for it. Loads of different events from trickster kids spinning on galloping horses to 250lb men leaping at bulls from their horses. Everything moves very quickly and crucially (despite it all being about horses and steers) there was something different about every event. This really kept you engaged and wondering what was next. This is for sure something every eventprof can learn from.

3. Interactive pre event voting with some gamification

I absolutely loved this idea and it is something I might just add to an event. Speakers be warned! Before the bareback horse riders took to the ring the audience were asked to go online and predict their score with prizes to be won. How about doing that for speakers? That would add a bit of excitement to the proceedings with everyone in the audience voting on your session BEFORE you spoke. And then of course posting your actual score after the session.

4. Refreshments delivered to your seat whenever you want 

You see this at most US sports occasions I guess: you stay still and the refreshments (corn dogs, hot dogs, popcorn, candy floss and even beer) come to you. No getting up and nipping away from your comfortable seat. So how about we have the venue staff rolling through our isles dispensing refreshments crucially when the attendees want their refreshments not when the organiser decides they do (I am of course talking about the almost ubiquities 11.10am refreshment break). I love it. Especially the beer part.

5. Continual commentary 

The rodeo has a chap (it probably is always a chap) who kind of acts as the Chairman. He keeps things ticking along and introduces people. But boy does he blabber on! And again I kind of like it. He had a personality and we heard it. Too many conference Chairman sit behind their desk and appear as stiff as the stage set behind them. Let’s use this inspiration to make our Chairmen loosen up: that would make a very nice change. Maybe even get them into a stetson and cowboy boots.

6. Extra personal info on the cowboys

The Cowboy wasn’t just a “cowboy” (or please read “speaker” for our purposes) he was a person. As well as the victories and qualifications for falling off farm animals (which is basically what most of them did at some point) we were leaked little nuggets about their family, their past times and some rather personal stuff including their weight. Apart from the last bit it would be nice if we did introduce and speak about our speakers a little bit more so they appear to be more than stuffed shirts.

7. It was very serious (there was $100,000s of dollars up for grabs) but it was fun

Ask any Texan; this rodeo is serious stuff and especially so at one of the biggest and the oldest rodeo in the US – The Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo. But this didn’t stop everyone having fun. Every piece of research tells us that we retain more information when we are relaxed and enjoying ourselves. Let’s not shy away from moments in our conferences which are fun. Just to make sure, although watching 15 kids chasing 6 small calfs was fun I am not suggesting this at your next conference – but if you do PLEASE INVITE ME!

8. Everything was sponsored 

People had paid a fist full of dollars to attend but this didn’t stop the organisers maximising revenue from sponsors. At some conferences you could think that everything was already sponsored, but trust me until you’ve sat through an hour at a rodeo you have no idea. It seemed liked almost every 5 minute section had a different sponsor. Not only did we see the advert for “Exon Oil, your very best neighbour” on all of the screens but we had Mr Compere reading out a script. So maybe (just maybe) there is more room in your event for sponsorship than you think.

9. Engagement of the audience

The camera zooms in on one person and lingers. We then hear the compere welcoming “Mr So and So” to the event and then telling us a bit about them. One particular chap was a “Rodeo Hall of Famer!” no less. As befits someone in a hall of fame there was no problem with the gentleman standing up, hat in hand and taking a bow. I often talk about audience curation and this is a great example of how to involve the audience. I loved this. We should point out the people in the audience who know what they are talking about and can add to the content.

10. It was clear you were in Texas

If somehow you just magically appeared in the stadium it would have taken you about 2 seconds to know that you were in Texas. Just think about what would happen if one of your conference delegates or exhibition attendees was plonked into your event space? Would they have any idea where they were? In most circumstances they wouldn’t and that is a real opportunity missed. When we talk about creating experiences it is a real shame if you don’t do the simple stuff and make sure you make the most of the venue, city, state and country. You maybe don’t need a six piece student A Capella group perform their up and down version of the national anthem but hopefully you get my point.

The key thing for me is that we rarely take our meeting inspiration from other places. After my time at the rodeo it seems as good a place as any to lasso some new ideas for you next conference.

The Fort Worth Stock Show is an annual event which takes place every February.