15 Creative Conference Ideas to Increase Attendance

August 11, 2021

15 Creative Conference Ideas to Increase Attendance

Conferences have long been lauded because they enable people to meet like-minded peers and advance their industry knowledge. The first international conference on the web was hosted in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1994. Already then the conference reinvention started. Now more than ever, due to the world’s “new normal,” conference organizers are seeking new ways to revitalize the industry and push the envelope when it comes to the expectations of attendees.

We’ve compiled a handy list of 10 creative conference ideas, as well as some valuable tips to help you pull off your next event like a pro.


Why are Conference Themes Important?

Conference themes are crucial as they set the tone, unify content, and engage attendees. They offer a focal point for discussions, making complex subjects more approachable. Themes also guide speaker selection, ensuring diverse perspectives. Furthermore, they enhance branding and marketing, making events memorable. A well-chosen theme can ignite enthusiasm, boost participation, and transform a conference into a cohesive, immersive experience.


Go Beyond a Traditional Conference

Do horrible Powerpoint slides accompanied by monotone lectures sound familiar when you think of attending a conference? With innovative techniques,  technology and creative event ideas there’s almost no excuse for a conference to bore attendees to sleep anymore. Over the past 20 years, experiential marketing has grown, as has our preoccupation with being online.  Attending a conference can be costly, and nowadays, people pay for the experience, not for a talk they can Google.

If your conference is innovative and wows audiences, it’s guaranteed that they’ll be more likely to attend your next one. Covid-19 has marked a more significant shift to online conferences with limited physical attendance. However, this should be regarded as an exciting time to innovate and develop more interactive conference ideas.

From how to make conferences more interactive by utilizing new formats to planning tips, here are some fantastic conference ideas to propel your event to greater heights. 


15 Creative Conference Ideas

Explore a world of innovative conference ideas, designed to infuse excitement and engagement into your next event. From interactive conference session ideas to fun conference activities and inspiring conference workshop ideas, we’ve curated a list of 15 creative concepts to elevate your conferences and transform them into unforgettable experiences. These ideas will breathe new life into your conferences, making them not just informative but also enjoyable and memorable for all attendees.


 1. Panel Discussions

Panels immediately eradicate the problem of boring lecture-style presentations. With some strategic planning, you can assemble between three to five experts to speak on a moderated panel. Questions are presented to the panel, and each member has a short time to offer their insights.

If your panel is effectively organized, you can offer guests dynamic and nuanced perspectives on any given topic. To boost interactivity, arrange a Q&A with the audience in the last 10-15 minutes of the discussion.


2. Structured Networking Sessions

A conference session set aside exclusively for networking offers attendees a welcome break. Networking is one of the primary reasons people attend conferences. And let’s be honest, the “mix and mingle” approach doesn’t always work effectively when people are left to their own devices.

Employing structured networking sessions makes it feel more like an experience than a chore. If you’re pushed for time, you could also accelerate the process with speed networking, applying the concept of speed dating to a business context.


3. Games and Giveaways

The easiest way to ramp up audience participation throughout your conference is to incorporate contests and prizes such as raffles, goodie bags and augmented reality scavenger hunts (AR).

With the help of AR, you can build an interactive scavenger hunt experience in and around your venue without having to place physical clues throughout the space. Scavenger hunts are one of the most interactive conference ideas because they offer a great mix of play and competition. You can even divide guests into teams for increased interactivity during this type of conference session.


4. Lightning Talks

If you’re looking for informative conference session ideas that are easier to digest, consider lightning talks.  These talks are no more than 10 minutes and are the perfect solution to maintain your audience’s attention span.

Each speaker is given 10 minutes to briefly discuss their ideas, allowing up to 12 speakers to be heard in one session. These talks can be themed around industry trends, and the format ensures presentations are succinct and to the point.


5. Live Polling

Polling is one of those great conference ideas with a variety of applications for the host and their guests. It allows presenters to pose questions to the audience and immediately see the results on-screen. Conference planners consider it a knowledge goldmine because it highlights learning objectives, gauges pervasive attitudes, and compares viewpoints, which can be useful for industry leaders and attendees.


6. Solution Rooms

If you’re arranging a large conference with hundreds of attendees and wondering how to make a session interactive, you could add solution rooms to your conference’s itinerary.  Designed to provide peer-supported advice to an individual or industry, they can address more pressing business problems.

These sessions range from 90-120 minutes, whereby each group member has a turn to present their challenges before everyone brainstorms together to come up with solutions. Solution rooms are most suited to conferences aimed at consolidating research or finding solutions to common industry issues.


7. Social Media Walls

No conference is complete without a personalized hashtag and social media marketing strategy. Social media walls are one of the more fun things to do at a conference and are highly interactive. A media wall screen functions as a newsfeed, and displays photos, videos, and other digital content related to the event. It’s a great way to encourage people to post about the conference and provides you with free marketing.


8. Brain Dates

Keynote speakers can’t impart all their wisdom in a single session.  Even with a dedicated Q&A, there may be instances where you can’t get through everything. Brain dates allow each participant to book a 30-minute one-on-one conversation with speakers via an app, offering a personalized experience. This usually works well for smaller conferences. If you have an extensive list of attendees, you can consider breaking them into smaller groups.


9. Oxford-Style Debate

Invigorate traditional keynote addresses with an expert debate. While not all topics warrant polarizing perspectives, debate does tend to pique audience interest. During the debate, you can collect audience questions for your facilitator to weave into the Q & Q&A. Live polling can also be incorporated to gauge audience opinion and determine a debate winner.


10. Reverse Pitching

One of the newer conference ideas is to focus on investors, especially when developing business conference activities. More often, conferences tend to highlight trends and address industry-specific challenges. Inviting investors gives attendees insight into the industry’s financial aspects and provides an opportunity to assess how they could address common issues together. It promotes greater transparency and a holistic way of working. To ramp up the fun, you could let attendees vote for the best pitch. 


11. Live Art Creating

Live art creation at ideas conferences is a unique and captivating addition to the event landscape. As artists bring their creative visions to life during presentations, discussions, and workshops, attendees witness the birth of visually stimulating works. This dynamic visual element not only adds an aesthetic dimension but also inspires conversations and creative thinking. It creates a synergy between the art and the conference theme, fostering a deeper connection with the content. Attendees can observe the artistic process, ask questions, and even participate, making conferences more immersive and interactive. Live art infuses energy, sparks dialogue, and transforms conferences into visually enriched, multi-sensory experiences.


12. Crowdsource Brainstorming

Encourage participants to share their ideas and solutions to industry challenges through digital platforms. The collective brainstorming process can lead to innovative solutions.


13. Open Space Technology

Open Space Technology (OST) is a participant-driven approach that breathes life into conferences and gatherings. In this collaborative framework, attendees self-organize into discussion groups, selecting topics that resonate with them. This flexibility and participant-driven nature foster dynamic, in-depth conversations on the most pressing issues and ideas. OST encourages diverse perspectives, sparks creativity, and empowers participants to take ownership of their learning experience. With no pre-set agenda, OST is a catalyst for meaningful discussions, spontaneous collaborations, and knowledge sharing. It’s a potent tool for unlocking the collective intelligence of a group and making conferences more engaging, productive, and relevant to all participants.


14. Improv Workshops

Incorporating improv comedy workshops into conferences fosters creativity, teamwork, and adaptability. These sessions encourage participants to think on their feet, promoting spontaneity and boosting problem-solving skills. Led by experienced instructors, improv workshops create a safe space for attendees to step out of their comfort zones. Through various exercises and games, participants learn active listening, quick decision-making, and effective teamwork. This not only adds an enjoyable element to the conference but also equips attendees with practical tools they can apply in their professional lives. Improv workshops are about laughter, building confidence, and fostering a positive, open-minded atmosphere, enhancing the overall conference experience.


15. Hands-On Tech Demos

Hands-On Tech Demos are a dynamic and immersive tool and therefore cannot be missed in our list of fun conference ideas. By dedicating specific areas for these demonstrations, event organizers offer participants the opportunity to get up close and personal with cutting-edge technology and gadgets. This hands-on approach transforms passive spectators into active explorers, allowing them to touch, test, and experience innovative products and solutions.

The benefits are twofold. Firstly, it provides attendees with a tactile understanding of how technology works, making complex concepts more accessible. Secondly, it fosters in-depth discussions about the practical applications and potential innovations that these technologies bring to the table. It’s an environment where questions are encouraged, and curiosity is celebrated.

From virtual reality experiences to the latest in wearable tech, Hands-On Tech Demos turn conferences into interactive hubs of discovery. Participants leave with not only a theoretical understanding of technology but also a genuine feel for its capabilities, enhancing their learning experience and sparking creative ideas for the future.


Tips for Planning a Successful Conference

1. Scheduling

A good conference schedule is dynamic and peppered with talks and sessions of varying lengths throughout the day. If you have important keynote speakers, you probably won’t schedule them to speak all on the same day. Scheduling a keynote speaker at the start of the day can set the theme for workshops and interactive sessions later on. If you have more than one keynote speaker per day, you should schedule one at the start and another at the end to maintain audience participation. 


2. How to Attract Attendees

Attracting attendees comes down to innovative conference ideas, the quality of your speakers and itinerary, as well as your marketing strategy. Market research and polling to find out what kinds of topics your conference should cover are hugely beneficial. If your conference addresses common industry pain points, you’re more likely to attract attendees. Your venue’s accessibility and marketing strategy also play a massive role in securing attendees. 


3. Collect Useful Feedback

Conferences occur for people to attend, so gathering feedback from your guests, speakers, and team is vital to improving your next event. Always be specific about the kind of feedback you’re looking for. For example, an attendee who says that overall the conference was “great” doesn’t provide much constructive feedback on a specific conference session.

You can use conference management software like EventX or Whova to create specific surveys, which attendees can fill in on their devices. Competitions and giveaway incentives also improve the chances of guests completing your surveys.

4. Choose Your Suppliers Carefully

Shop around before settling on the first vendors and suppliers you find on Google. Venues often have relationships with independent suppliers and can forward you a list of recommendations. It’s also important to hire people who have specific experience in running the type of event that you’re planning, as well as other events of the same scale.  Be sure to brief them on your challenges and objectives so they can work together with you to find solutions.


How to Make Conferences More Interactive

There are loads of creative conference ideas that organizers are using to invigorate their events. Audience participation and inclusion is the key to making conferences more interactive. Developing conference-specific apps will personalize your attendees’ experiences. You design a specific application for your event where attendees can log in, upload profiles, complete surveys, plan their day, and connect with others.

Steering away from a string of boring lecture-style addresses and incorporating smaller participatory sessions can also help. Taking a break from keynote talks and unpacking content in smaller groups creates a participatory, inclusive, and stimulating experience.


Plan Your Next Event with SmartWorks

At SmartWorks, we have over a decade of conference event planning experience. We have wowed clients and audiences from all over the world with our unique conference ideas.  We can make your interactive conference planning easier by handling all your logistics, as well as leveraging our expert team of audio-visual specialists and design artists to create a top-notch experience. Start planning your event with us today!


FAQ: Conference Entertainment

What are some Good Entertainment Ideas for Conferences?

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Entertainment at conferences can help break up the agenda, engage attendees, and create a more enjoyable and memorable experience. Here are some entertainment ideas for conferences:

  1. Keynote Speakers: Inviting renowned speakers or industry experts to deliver inspiring and informative keynote presentations can be a highlight of the conference. Choose speakers who can share valuable insights and engage the audience.
  2. Live Performances: Consider incorporating live performances into the conference, such as musical acts, comedians, or dancers. These performances can entertain and energize attendees.
  3. Interactive Workshops: Offer workshops or breakout sessions that are hands-on and interactive. These could include team-building exercises, innovation labs, or skill-building workshops related to the conference theme.
  4. Panel Discussions: Organize panel discussions with experts to explore current trends and issues in your industry. Encourage audience participation with Q&A sessions.
  5. Virtual Reality (VR) or Augmented Reality (AR) Experiences: If applicable to your conference theme, provide attendees with the opportunity to try out VR or AR experiences. This can be engaging and forward-looking.
  6. Networking Events: Create structured networking opportunities, such as speed networking sessions, roundtable discussions, or industry-specific meetups. These events can help attendees connect and build relationships.
  7. Gamification: Incorporate gamification elements into the conference, such as a conference app with a points system, contests, or scavenger hunts. Attendees can earn rewards for participating in various activities.
  8. Photo Booths: Set up photo booths with fun props and backdrops for attendees to take pictures and share on social media. This can add an element of fun and encourage social sharing.
  9. Art Installations: Showcase art installations or galleries related to your conference theme. Art can inspire creativity and provide a unique atmosphere.
  10. Cocktail Hours and Receptions: Host social gatherings with drinks and appetizers, allowing attendees to relax, network, and unwind in a more casual setting.
  11. Exhibitions and Product Demos: Allow sponsors and exhibitors to showcase their products and services through interactive demonstrations or mini-exhibitions within the conference venue.
  12. Mobile Apps and Interactive Tech: Use mobile apps or interactive technologies to engage attendees. For instance, you can have a conference app with live polls, surveys, and real-time feedback features.
  13. Team Challenges: Organize team-building activities or challenges that promote collaboration and problem-solving among attendees.
  14. Customized Entertainment: Tailor the entertainment to the interests of your specific audience. Consider cultural performances, local artists, or entertainment options that align with your industry.
  15. Themed Parties: If your conference spans multiple days, consider hosting themed parties or evening events. Themes can be related to the conference content or inspired by the host city.
  16. Motivational Speakers: Invite motivational speakers who can inspire attendees with personal stories of success and perseverance.

Remember to choose entertainment options that align with the conference’s goals, audience, and theme. Entertainment should enhance the overall conference experience and contribute to the event’s success.

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How do you plan Entertainment for Large Corporate Events?

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Planning entertainment for large corporate events requires careful consideration and strategic planning to ensure the entertainment aligns with the event’s goals and audience preferences. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you plan entertainment for a large corporate event:

  1. Define Event Objectives:
    • Start by clearly defining the objectives of the corporate event. Are you aiming to reward employees, celebrate achievements, foster networking, or launch a new product? Understanding the purpose of the event will guide your entertainment choices.
  2. Know Your Audience:
    • Understand your attendees’ demographics, interests, and preferences. Consider what type of entertainment will resonate with them. Take into account factors such as age, industry, and cultural diversity.
  3. Budget Planning:
    • Determine the budget available for entertainment. This will influence the scope and quality of entertainment options you can consider. Make sure to allocate funds for talent fees, technical requirements, and any additional expenses.
  4. Event Theme:
    • If the corporate event has a specific theme, select entertainment that complements the theme and enhances the overall experience.
  5. Entertainment Options:
    • Explore a variety of entertainment options that suit your audience and objectives, such as:
      • Live bands or musical performers
      • Comedians or stand-up acts
      • Keynote speakers or motivational speakers
      • Interactive games and contests
      • Magicians, illusionists, or mentalists
      • Acrobats, dancers, or other performing artists
      • Celebrity appearances (if within budget)
      • Virtual or digital entertainment options
  6. Booking Entertainment:
    • Research and contact potential entertainment options well in advance to secure their availability. Consider working with entertainment agencies or talent brokers who can help with negotiations and contracts.
    • Check references, read reviews, and watch performance videos to ensure the quality and professionalism of the chosen entertainment.
  7. Technical Requirements:
    • Determine the technical requirements for the chosen entertainment, such as sound, lighting, staging, and special equipment. Ensure the event venue can accommodate these needs.
  8. Logistics and Timing:
    • Plan the entertainment schedule, ensuring it fits seamlessly into the event’s agenda. Coordinate load-in and load-out times with the entertainment to avoid disruptions.
  9. Audience Engagement:
    • Consider how the entertainment will engage the audience. For example, interactive elements, Q&A sessions, or audience participation can enhance the experience.
  10. Rehearsals and Sound Checks:
    • Schedule rehearsals and sound checks to ensure the entertainment runs smoothly on the day of the event. This is especially important for live music acts and complex performances.
  11. Promotion and Communication:
    • Promote the entertainment in event marketing materials and communication to build excitement among attendees. Share information about the entertainers and what to expect.
  12. Contingency Plans:
    • Prepare for potential challenges or issues that may arise during the event, such as technical difficulties. Have backup plans in place to address any unforeseen issues.
  13. Feedback and Evaluation:
    • After the event, gather feedback from attendees and event stakeholders to assess the success of the entertainment. Use this feedback to make improvements for future events.

Remember that the success of entertainment at large corporate events depends on thorough planning, effective communication, and alignment with the event’s goals and audience. Careful consideration and attention to detail will help create a memorable and engaging experience for all attendees.

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