How to give your conference the X Factor

Got a conference to plan? Arranging an identikit hotel and predictable itinerary is one sure-fire way of provoking a lukewarm response. If your aim is to create a buzz before, during and after the event, you need to offer your potential delegates that certain special something. Here are some tips on how to do just that…

The golden rule: a tempting venue

It’s probably a safe bet that your potential delegates are a pretty jaded bunch – and, of course, yours won’t be the only conference invite they’ll receive this year. Face-to-face marketing may be booming (with the UK conferences and meetings industry valued at £19.9bn) but what this means is there are likely to be plenty of other attractive-sounding events vying for your customers’ limited budgets.

Also, don’t forget that when it comes to conferences centered around training and professional development, many of your customers will be questioning the whole point of having to attend anywhere in person. Why spend time and money on a ‘same-old, same-old’ day away from the office when you can learn just as much from a webinar?

That’s why choice of venue is crucial. Turn your conference into an occasion and make attendance an enticing prospect. Move away from generic hotels and conference centres and towards fun conference venues: e.g. museums, stately homes, and iconic sports locations. After all, attending a seminar on the latest regulatory changes becomes a much less yawn-inducing prospect if it’s set against the backdrop of a Grand Prix circuit. Better still, if your conference is to be rounded off by a dinner, such venues tend to have extra dramatic appeal. You should also find that the costs for these alternative locations are highly competitive compared to more traditional spots.

Making it memorable: pre-conference participation

Generating the X Factor is all about creating a memorable experience. What’s more, the events that stick in the mind tend to be those in which we’re involved as participants rather than spectators. On booking, encourage delegates to set out their particular areas of interest. An interactive delegate list makes it easy for attendees to hunt out fellow-attendees with similar areas of interest and make contact with each other pre-conference. You can also actively encourage pre-conference dialogue by posting conversation starters on Facebook and Twitter. How’s the debate going? After looking at what your delegates are talking about pre-event, you might wish to make some clever itinerary tweaks.

Making an entrance: first impressions count.

From the moment they walk into the venue for registration, your delegates are making up their mind about your conference and weighing up whether to book for next year. A strong first impression doesn’t necessarily mean having a show chef cooking breakfast rolls to order – but it does mean doing what you can to put your guests immediately at ease. Setting out ‘topic zones’ outside the main auditorium is one cheap, easy and effective solution; areas where delegates with similar interests can meet, mingle and network right from the outset.

Something out of the ordinary when they’re least expecting it…

An element of surprise never goes amiss. Either lunchtime or that dead zone after lunch when concentration spans are starting to deteriorate can both be particularly good times to pull something special out the bag. This is where your venue can come to your rescue: archery and hog roast if you’re in a stately home, a tour of the pitch and changing rooms, a spin around the circuit… Use what’s at your disposal and get people talking.