It’s all too easy for repeat annual conferences to become a routine. Sometimes ‘sameness’ can leave conference attendees feeling like they are visiting an annual conference or conference out of loyalty or obligation, rather than actually looking forward to going and enjoying it.
I don’t think that’s a great starting point for anyone involved.
Worse still, a lack of anticipation and excitement may mean many delegates are not coming back or exhibitors and sponsors are looking elsewhere.
So how can we keep repeat annual conferences fresh? Throwing more money at an conference is not usually a solution, or even an option for most of us. According to American Express’ Global Meetings and conferences Forecast 2018, half of survey respondents said their budget will remain the same this year as the year before.
Most often in the annual conferences that I see become stale, it is down to organisers sticking to what they know and feel comfortable with.
Keeping things fresh is not always easy, and today trends and expectations move at a rapid pace, so I have a few tips to share that will help provide a basis for creating new ideas, re-energising any repeat conference and most importantly, providing great value to the people attending.
1. Rethink the logistics
It’s time to rethink how we approach creating amazing conferences. Too often as meeting planners we tend to think of conferences in behind the scene segments, or as the logistical tasks that sit underneath any big event.
But what I think we really should be concentrating on is how these logistical components translate into brilliant attendee experiences.
The best way to keep any annual conference fresh is to be always thinking of those attending, and put them at the start and centre of your planning, and build from there.
What can you add that’s new? What surprises can you add to shock or wow delegates that come back every year? Word of mouth is still one of the best marketing tools available, and keeping a happy customer is much easier and cheaper than finding a new one. Creating an amazing, fresh experience is a great way to achieve both of these goals.
2. Choose a new theme, design or conference narrative
An obvious way to freshen up annual conferences is to reinvent a theme or narrative that the conference hangs on each year. Although this is fairly simple to do, I think it is very effective in drawing a line underneath the previous years’ conference and setting expectations that this year is something new and exciting.
Another option is to give your conference a completely new identity. Rename it, create a new logo, or add a themed title under the main brand name. Simple but a powerful way to communicate change.
3. Engage all the senses
If past conferences have taken the form of a presentation and dinner, or another kind of repeated routine, explore how you can engage more of the senses.
You may have covered sight and taste, but what about the other 3 senses? I think smell and touch are often overlooked and can have a big impact on attendee engagement.
Can you use a fragrance that fits your theme to engage smell? Can you use fabrics or interactive materials that introduce touch to your conference?
What audio and music can you use at different points in the conference to elevate the experience?
4. Personalise the conference experience with technology
Technology has made personalising conferences a reality. The end result of personalisation should be a better experience for attendees that makes them feel more connected and engaged with your conference. I have highlighted in previous articles the possibilities of AR, AI social media, apps and video.
What can be done with these technologies evolves all the time and should be an obvious way for you to add different if not completely new experiences to your annual conference each year.
5. Build a community
Building a community around your conference is a great way to keep things fresh. By constantly delivering fresh content or facilitating discussions and community engagement, you get insights and genuine feedback on what your audience enjoyed at previous conferences and what they want to see in the future.
One of the best ways to extend the life of your conference and build community is by making and sharing great content for your audience in the form of videos, articles, white papers and podcasts.
It can be easy to get stuck in a cycle of using the same kind of entertainment and conference structure each year, so I hope these tips help you envisage an amazing, fresh conference that really inspires your delegates and leaves them wanting more.