Attendee engagement at conferences is everything.
After all, today’s world moves fast. It’s filled with distractions. Many of your conference attendees will struggle to stay focused on your event.
If you don’t pull out all the stops to keep your attendees engaged, many of them will tune out. They will walk away with neutral memories of your event, and think twice about attending your upcoming events.
So ask yourself…
“What can I do to keep my attendees deeply engaged in every hour of my conference?”
To answer that question, here are 12 of our favorite conference engagement ideas.
1. Allow Your Attendees to Participate by Submitting Session Proposals
Engagement starts before your event.
It begins when you plan your event and pull together a set of speaker topics that your attendees will find fascinating.
And if you want to know what your attendees really find fascinating, all you have to do is ask them during your planning phase.
Ask your attendees to submit their own speaker proposals, research topics, abstracts, and presentations. As you collect your attendees’ own submissions, you’ll start to see what ideas really excite them. Even if you do not accept any of these submissions, each of your attendee’s ideas gives you topics to shape the sessions you do build, and content to publish through your event page, social media, and online communities.
Basically, you’re crowdsourcing to uncover interesting industry content.
You can do this easily with Slayte. Our Submissions App gives you an end-to-end solution for collecting content ahead of your next event or academic conference. We designed our Submissions App to give you seamless, effortless access to a complex, multi-stage review process, all through a simple form that casts a wide net and collects massive amounts of new topic ideas.
Just set it up, let our workflow management tools automate the idea collection process, and focus on your other event management tasks while your attendees tell you exactly what ideas will keep them engaged during your event.
2. Diversify Your Topics, and Leverage Your Top Keynote Speakers
Follow our first suggestion, and you will be sitting on a stack of ideas that will keep your attendees deeply engaged with your event.
Now, you want to make sure you and your attendees haven’t left out any great ideas that people will expect to explore at your event.
Take the topics list you generated from your attendees. Pull together a list of common research themes and discussion ideas related to your topic. Then combine the two lists into a comprehensive collection of topics that cover everything your attendees could hope, and expect, to see at your event.
Finally, assign your best speakers to each of your topics to make sure every idea gets brilliant representation. Slayte makes this easy. Each user—including each of your speakers— can have their own account. Run a custom report, and create a custom dashboard, to see all of your highest-rated speakers, and slot them into the times and topics where they will really shine, and really draw your attendees in.
3. Encourage Visual Content
Even the most fascinating topics will fall flat when they are presented poorly…
And if academic conferences are known for one thing, it’s for sub-optimal presentations.
Most often, an academic conference session is little more than a speaker stepping on stage, loading their presentation, and then scrolling through what feels like an infinite number of slides.
Now, it’s 100% normal and expected that academic speakers are going to share their latest findings in their area of research. But we can also raise our expectations a little, and ask them to present their exciting content through exciting, visual content.
Videos. Infographics. Charts. All of these forms of visual content let your speakers captivate their audience, instead of drowning them in a sea of words copy-and-pasted into PowerPoint.
Ask your speakers to step up their presentation game. Encourage them to prepare visual representations of their findings ahead of time. Even ask for these visual documents as part of their submission. Just use Slayte to collect proposals, and make whatever form of visual file you desire from your speakers a mandatory attachment in their submission.
4. Create an Enticing Agenda
You’ve pulled together a complete list of session topics that you know your attendees find fascinating and can’t wait to discuss.
You’ve assigned those topics to an exciting and diverse set of speakers who you know will keep your attendees glued to their seats.
Now you just need to organize those sessions in a compelling manner:
- Mix it up. Alternate hot new ideas with more common—but still critical—industry ideas.
- Make every track compelling. Give your attendees on different tracks exciting new ideas to discuss and debate during breaks.
- Build to your keynote. Start with smaller topics, and increase the size of each session’s ideas until you build to a groundbreaking end-of-day keynote.
- Publish your agenda early. Give your attendees a taste of what to expect, and get them talking ahead of time.
With Slayte’s Sessions app, you can easily craft your exciting, diverse agenda for your entire event. See which sessions were rated highest and schedule them appropriately. Carefully arrange your tracks, sessions, and rooms to optimize flow. Highlight and disarm conflicts. And do so through a simple, intuitive user interface.
5. Pay Attention to Session Durations
By the way, here’s a quick tip: number one when creating your enticing agenda— don’t let any one session last too long.
Remember: You want your attendees always wanting more, not waiting for it all to end. And even the world’s most fascinating ideas and speakers will drag on, and on, and on if you don’t set limits on their time-on-stage.
Keep your sessions relatively short. Keep your breaks coming. Give your attendees dynamic bursts of interesting content for as long as their attention span can hold up, and then give them a proper break to digest everything they have heard.
Schedule each block of sessions for 45 minutes to 1 hour (regardless of whether you schedule one person to talk the whole time, or if you break that block up between multiple sessions) then layer in a nice long break before you launch your next block of sessions.
Give your attendees a chance to regularly disengage, and they will maintain the energy and focus they need to stay gripped throughout the whole day.
6. Alternate Solo Speaking Sessions with Interactive Q&A’s and Panels
And here’s one more quick tip to creating a captivating agenda— if you do schedule long speaker sessions, stop the speaker at regularly-scheduled intervals, and invite your audience to ask questions about everything they’ve just heard.
You don’t want to derail your speaker’s momentum. But you do want to bring your attendees out of their state of passive listening, and to bring them back into a state of active engagement with the ideas at play. Note these Q&A opportunities in your published pre-event agenda (we’ll get to this in just a minute). This gives your attendees the chance to prepare their questions ahead of time, and keeps them at the edge of their seats, ready to jump at the chance to engage.
On a related note, you should also include a few sessions where a panel of speakers voice a range of opinions on one of your hottest topics. Lectures can be powerful. But diverse speakers debating each other shakes things up and gives your event an even more dynamic rhythm of engagement styles.
7. Release Your Event Agenda Early
The best time to build engagement is before your event even starts.
Give potential attendees a taste of what to expect, and get them talking ahead of time, by publishing your exciting agenda ahead of time.
And then, once you have your potential attendees’ attention, make it as easy as possible for them to sign up for your event and lock in their place. Use Slayte’s Events app to publish all of your conference’s information in a clear, clean, and easily-accessible manner using generated exports.
8. Help Your Attendees Connect Between Sessions
You’ve crafted and published an exciting agenda. You’ve pulled in a host of excited attendees. The day has arrived, your event is about to launch. How can you continue to keep your attendees engaged throughout the event itself?
Here are a few of our favorite tricks.
One of the first, and most valuable, things you can do is encourage your attendees to connect deeply with each other during break sessions.
Get a little creative here. Don’t just default to laying out tea and coffee with the hopes your attendees will mix and mingle on their own. Host ‘Meet the Speaker’ sessions. Design light, interactive workshops. Open up pre-organized networking sessions around specific industries, topics, and communities your attendees identify with.
And if you want to give your attendees every opportunity to connect deeply with each other, use Slayte’s Reach app. This simple app will automate most of your attendees’ networking activities— matching them according to their priorities, automatically scheduling high-priority meetings during their down-time, and opening up pre-event platforms and networking opportunities.
9. Keep Your Event Interactive with Live Polls and Competitions
Here’s one of our favorite things to do at a conference.
Hold live polls during your event. You can base your polls around the exact ideas that your speakers have discussed during the event. Or you can pull out new, ancillary ideas that came up during your submissions process that didn’t quite make it into the main programming. Actively encourage group-level discussions, calculate and show results in real-time, and even host dedicated sessions towards the end of each day that discuss that day’s poll.
People come to an academic conference to discuss major new ideas. But too often these events are structured in a manner that just leads to passive consumption of ideas. A live poll offers a structured way to break through that malaise. It provides an anonymous approach to discussion that lets attendees answer tough questions honestly. And by aggregating and presenting the poll’s results, attendees develop a clear understanding of what they truly feel as a group, and gives them the opportunity to debate what the poll’s findings truly mean.
10. Shine a Light on Your Member’s Achievements
And here’s one last quick tip to maintain engagement during the conference itself.
Is your upcoming conference open to the public, or are you hosting it for a closed, members-only society?
If it’s the latter, then your event gives you a great opportunity to highlight and honor some of the top developments and achievements your community has brought to life since the last time you all got together.
Just set up a few sessions to:
- Inform all of your members of recent developments within your group
- Give members a chance to share their own recent accomplishments
- Present awards to your members who have achieved truly outstanding things
Remember: Everyone wants to belong to a group doing great things, and everyone wants to be noticed for the great work they have achieved on their own.
In Slayte we created a full suite of features around presenting awards. Our Awards app streamlines the whole process of creating awards criteria, accepting nominations, selecting winners, and hosting awards-driven sessions— making it easy to remind your attendees of the important accomplishments their membership contributes to.
11. Gather Feedback After the Conference
Ultimately, your conference itself is just the tip of the iceberg. So much of your engagement efforts occur before the event takes place. And you have so much work to do after your conference to ensure your attendees maintain a positive attachment to your organization, and that they feel excited to sign up for your next event.
With that in mind, there is one thing you should do as soon as you end your event that will immediately elicit positive feelings in your attendees… just ask them how it went.
Everyone wants to be heard. And your attendees want to know that you really care about their experience, and that you didn’t just collect their fees and forget about them.
Send them a short message that thanks them for attending, that lets them know you care about how the event engaged them, and include a link to a short form that will collect their feedback.
Collecting and analyzing this feedback will go a long way towards giving you the information you need to create an even more engaging event next time. But simply asking is also a great way to once again engage your attendees in a manner they find meaningful.
(And by the way— Slayte’s Submissions app also lets you collect feedback from your conference attendees without the hassle of manually sending out feedback surveys, manually collecting the responses, and manually deriving insights from the data.)
12. Offer Key Take Away Notes by Email
Finally, here’s one of our favorite conference engagement ideas, and perhaps the simplest way to continue to engage your attendees with your conference’s ideas after your event ends— share as much of the event’s content as possible.
Remember: Nobody got the chance to attend every session. Most of your attendees would love to see what they missed. And many of your attendees would love to revisit the ideas of the sessions they did attend, to derive fresh new insights from the material presented.
To help them out, publish videos of each speaker session and provide written summaries of the key take-away points from each talk.
Post the content publicly on your organization website. Or send the content out to a private email list of your paying attendees. Or release it as promotional material ahead of your next event.
No matter what method you choose, just be sure to leverage the material you have already worked so hard to put together to re-spark your attendee’s engagement after the event has passed.
What are Your Best Conference Engagement Ideas?
You’ve heard from us. Now we’re going to follow our own advice, and ask for your thoughts. Which of these tips have you used effectively? Which didn’t work for you? What did you do to maintain sharp engagement at your past events?
Shoot us a message, and let us know how to make a conference fun.
And if you’d like to give Slayte a try, and to see first-hand how our simple app can dramatically increase engagement at your next event, schedule a free demo by clicking here.