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10 Creative Conference Ideas to Increase Attendance

August 11, 2021

 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. 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.

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 and technology, 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. 

10 Creative Conference Ideas

 

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. 

Tips for Planning a Successful Conference

 

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. 

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. 

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.


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!