By Suzanne Malhotra of live events agency 4D
If you think about it, Christmas mainly revolves around eating. All other activities; family arrivals, present opening and watching films, occur in the gaps between Christmas breakfast, dinner and tea. And it’s glorious. Who doesn’t like a day built around chocolate and turkey sandwiches?
Unfortunately, many conferences are built in the same way.
How many times in the past year have you been to a conference that holds the traditional model of keynote-break-sessions-lunch-breakout-drinks? The chances are, all of them. More importantly, how many times has, this preconceived idea of what you need and when at a conference, not quite suited your needs? Perhaps you weren’t hungry for lunch, or the afternoon break seemed an hour too far.
We live in a world where emerging forces such as the Internet of Things, mobile devices and big data, are creating lives that are personalised down to the last detail. Where we can put the heating on before we get home, make spa appointments while on the tube and work with colleagues halfway across the world. It seems odd, that in such a hyper-aware, hyper-personalised era, many conferences are failing to recognise the potential of the personalised experience.
The power of personalisation gives power to the attendee and allows them to make their own decisions about the schedule of the day. When given the choice, most will choose structure, but perhaps it won’t be the exact same structure as the other 8,000 delegates at your event. That is what will make all the difference.
It is the common festival that has this process nailed. If you think about the end-to-end journey, a festival delegate is allowed to experience the event in the way they see fit. Whether it’s a burrito at 10am, or a band at dinner, the festival experience is designed as a series of pods, which the attendee can visit at any time. This allows the organisers to create an experience that is fully tailored to individual needs and fluid to changing desires. No wonder so many festival goers, old and young, return each year.
Conferences have undoubtedly become more dynamic and innovative over the years – you only have to look at the technology used and the way social media and other online channels have been integrated into the offline arena to see that.
But for conferences of the future, segmenting audiences and trying to identify the relevant contextual fit for them will be key to retaining engagement. If some of your attendees are visual learners as opposed to auditory learners, create an experience for each. If some delegates want to brunch at 11am and others hold off until lunch, create food satellites that are kept available all day.
Track, track and track your key metrics, then track them again. Use sophisticated engagement and sensor software to see the popular points of your conference and the ones where the delegates dropped off. Perhaps the keynote you spent so long procuring would have been better replaced with six or seven short fire Q&A sessions with industry experts?
More importantly, embrace the innovation and creativity that allows you to disrupt the traditional conference format to think about what your attendees really want. We are all programmed to be masters of our own destinies and to have information, news and communication at our fingertips. By embracing this, rather than shying away from it, conference organisers will create a dynamic, potent mix of experiences that will become memorable in the attendees mind. Then, and only then, will you give them a reason to come back for more.