In February Gallus Events organised the fourth annual conference for Europe’s largest blog for Personal Assistants “Practically Perfect PA”. Attracting over 150 attendees to the physical event in London and over 100 watching online, we created an event that was very different from any other conference for Assistants. In this post I’d like to demonstrate how easy it is to freshen up your annual conference using examples from the “Future Assistant” conference for Practically Perfect PA.
1. Choose a unique venue
One of the best ways to liven up your annual conference is to choose a very different venue. Out goes the hotel or conference centre and in comes a unique / creative space. We choose Proud in Camden which is “normally” used as a nightclub and cabaret venue. Our previous post on “What to look for when choosing a creative venue” has a lot more detail on the how and why you should consider this type of space. But as they say, a picture says a thousand words!
2. Turn your audience into participants
The normal format for your annual conference will probably have the audience sat fairly passive for most of the event. A huge amount of research has shown that attendees retain more of the information if they are actively engaged in the content. The best way to do that is to take steps to turn your audience into participants. As well as creating an environment where attendees feel more at ease asking questions, the event organiser can add in attendee discussion slots between sessions to positively power the interaction.
3. Open up all the knowledge in the room
Often an annual conference will be built around information dissemination from the stage. Most, if not all, of the content will come from the stage to the attendees. But what about all that knowledge in the audience? How can we use all that hidden knowledge? One of the best ways to open up that treasure trove is to have sessions which are “open” facilitated sessions. Rather than being speaker led, a great facilitator is able to bring out the knowledge from all of the attendees. These session are always exceptionally popular. Not only do you find a lot of extra information / tips / techniques but you also create a session that leads to much more attendee engagement (see point two)
4. Get your attendees out and about
Too often your annual conference will be confined to the venue you choose. Even if you choose a creative venue, you should try and allow attendees some time outside of the venue. During the Future Assistant we ran a breakout session in Camden Market. Under the title of “Problem Solving” we had a fun and very interactive treasure hunt. Although not as content heavy as the other sessions, we still tied it into our overall conference themes. But to be honest, the main objectives were to allow the attendees (especially the 25 attendees from outside the UK) to see a bit more of our host city and to network.
5. Get some help!
Events are becoming ever more complicated. As the understanding and awareness of how attendees learn and engage with content, as well as the importance of the design, venue, atmosphere and environment, event organisers should be open to asking for some specialised help. The best way to freshen up your annual conference is to have an event professional analyse your event with a fresh set of eyes. When Gallus Events do this we normally focus on how to make conferences more innovate, interactive and engaging. Conferences don’t have to be stale; they can be some of the best events your attendees will ever attend.