I went to a conference recently that will remain nameless (for the sake of trying to protect the spurned) and I experienced some, um, interesting events that I didn’t think I’d ever encounter at a conference. Let me preface this by saying that the speakers were overall fantastic. I really enjoyed the majority of their presentations, and I felt like they had some great insights to share.
What I’m referring to is the conference organization itself, and things I didn’t find necessary or appealing. Everyone is different, and some people might have enjoyed the parts of the conference I disliked. But this is my two cents on things I could have lived without.
Don’t let the razzle dazzle detract from the main event. Sit back and let your speakers shine.
If you put time and energy into recruiting the right talent, you don’t need to go overboard on all the extras. I don’t think that blaring entrance music and emcees offering comedic relief have a place at a professional event. Know what else I think is unnecessary? A DJ – who plays Ke$ha, no less. Let the talent you recruit speak for you and your conference. Gimmicks don’t lead to return attendees.
People are paying you to teach them something. Deliver.
Regardless of how cool your swag is or how fantastic your conference website is, at the end of the day, people want to attend because they need to learn something new. They’re either attending because they are interested in the topics your conference will cover or want to hear what your speakers have to say. Make sure your speakers deliver. I understand that speakers probably don’t do a full run through of their presentation before they get up on the stage, but stress to them that the most important thing attendees want to learn is how. Luckily, the majority of speakers I heard did a fantastic job of doing this, but a few missed the mark and were slightly disappointing (and other attendees felt this way as well).
Don’t make your attendees do the heavy lifting. We’re here to learn, not work.
Something I really didn’t care for was spending two-plus hours out of a half day session in a group activity, brainstorming marketing tactics for a third-party organization. I was there to learn from experts, not use my knowledge for someone else’s benefit – for free, no less. I didn’t choose this conference based on what I could contribute; I paid to learn. If I wanted to work, I would have stayed at my office. Don’t make me do the heavy lifting here.
A few other general tips for people planning conferences:
Feed people – regularly. If you are putting people in a room for several hours on end, at least give them snacks. People will get cranky without food for long periods of time (read: hangry). The last thing you want to worry about is hangry conference attendees glaring at your speakers, wondering where their next meal will come from.
Recognize other things are going on in the world aside from your conference.
If breaking news is happening at the same time as your event, expect that attendees and even speakers might be slightly distracted. Maybe you shouldn’t ask them not to stream news video for fear of bringing down the wifi (especially when the wifi was already shoddy and not their fault)? Also, don’t be callous and clueless enough to request that people help get your hashtag trending while a major news event is unfolding. Your conference hashtag is not more important than the Boston Manhunt. Get a clue.
What are some of your biggest conference gripes? Sound off in the comments.