Conference audiences of days gone by were satisfied with the gathering of colleagues, a mediocre experience and a few useful tips.
Today’s audiences are more demanding and sophisticated. They expect to learn practical and useful information that solves their individual problems. They expect speaker presentations that are compelling and memorable. And they expect to be entertained while having fun.
Six Expectations That Develop Rapport
Your conference needs to have the right chemistry with its participants. Rapport is that mysterious chemistry that lets you know if your audience identifies with the experience.
In order to develop and calibrate good rapport with your audience, you need to attend to these six conference audience expectations.
1. Cutting-edge information
Audiences don’t want information that is outdated and regurgitated on the internet. They want the most current, cutting-edge information available. That means that speaker call for proposals and presentation deadlines need to change to allow speakers to craft current, up to date, real time information.
2. Customized information that solves their problems.
Audience members arrive at the conference with specific problems that they expect to solve. They are searching for answers to these problems. They expect your conference to deliver solutions customized to them.
3. Time for discussion
Participants need time to make meaning from the information. They need to own the concepts being presented. They need time to reflect on what is being said and how it applies to their situation.
Their brains are looking for meaning. The brain seeks associations, connections and patterns between the information presented and their own experience. Patterns that are identified add to the participant’s learning.
For learning to occur, they need to discuss the information, share ideas, make meaning of the content and dialogue with others as they deepen their understanding of the topic.
4. Time to create an implementation plan
Conference audiences need time in each education session to decide how they will apply what they just learned. This is a critical and often ignored part of most conferences. Every participant should walk out with a game plan on next steps for their success.
5. To be entertained
Audiences still expect to be entertained, regardless of the content. Some have dubbed this expectation “infotainment” or “edutainment.”
Ultimately, the conference content needs to match the participant’s world, aligning with how they see, hear and feel things on a daily basis. And it needs to do so in an entertaining way.
6. To have fun
Who said learning, education and information had to be boring anyway? It should be entertaining and fun. If not, it’s just a waste of time.
The Sum Of These Six Parts
Great conference experiences are an orchestration of many little things. From logistics to creating a unique experience to integrating these six elements, it is ultimately the sum of its parts.
When conferences present experiences and content using these six elements, participants feel good, excel in learning, remember more, are fired-up to take the next step and become your raving fans.
What are some ways to integrate these six expectations into the conference experience? Why is developing rapport with conference attendees so critical?
Jason Hensel says
I’m happy to see that fun made the list, as well as it should. Too often, I see that element not even discussed when planning events.
Jeff Hurt says
I’m with you Jason! More conferences and events need to be enjoyable with elements of fun. Thanks for reading and commenting too.
thom singer says
You hit on the point that I find to be very important… the mix of valuable information and the speaking skills that can captivate an audience must both be present.
Too often people get so focused on wanting fresh info that they forget the presenter must be experienced at speaking to an audience. Up front it is easy to claim you audience cares more about content… but once their butts are in the chairs they totally care about style. If the audience is bored or wants to leap off a building because the speaker is awful… everyone loses.
My mantra… “Just because someone is smart or has done something cool, it does not mean they belong on the stage”.
It is NOT too much to ask for both.
Kelly Vandever says
I love what you’ve said about processing time.
“Their brains are looking for meaning. The brain seeks associations, connections and patterns between the information presented and their own experience. Patterns that are identified add to the participant’s learning.”
So important for speakers to remember. I did gave participants in a breakout session I led today to spend some time to work thru their situations based on the context of the program, then asked them to discuss as a group. See where their past experience & the brain synapsis took them was fascinating!! I love it when I’m learning from the wisdom of my audience too!
Jeff Hurt says
Yes, yes, yes….an experienced presenter with a great delivery style is so important. I’m with you on that for sure! I love this statement, “Just because someone is smart or has done something cool, it does not mean they belong on stage!” Thanks for sharing, reading and commenting!
Great point that we can learn from the wisdom of the audience too. Conference organizers and speakers need to give participants more adult white space–time to process and think about what is being said. As you’ve experienced it makes education sessions so much richer!
Thanks for reading and commenting.
As an individual who started on the consumer show side of our profession, I believe there is much to learn from consumer shows when it comes to attendee experiences. Consumer shows provide education, entertainment, time to interact, social atmosphere plus the opportunity to buy. All the elements that belong in any B2B show. When I have added a keynote that was entertaining to any B2B show, the attendees help to create a buzz about your show amongst their peers.
Does anyone have any suggestions as to ways to incorporate and/or faciliate the use of “adult white space?”
I am a meeting planner with an event coming up in July. We will have a room that will be open at nearly every breakout session to be used for this purpose. But I’m looking for ways to ensure that attendees use and really take something away from having this time & space.
Jeff Hurt says
Congratulations for taking “adult white space” to heart.
How do you ensure that attendees use the space and time? Start educating your attendees about that space now. Let them know what’s it’s for, how they can use, when it’s open, etc. Let people know that they can have small informal conversations, discussions and meetings in the room.
Use informal seating such as couches, lounge chairs, ottomans, etc. if you can afford it. Set up several seating areas like living or family rooms. You might also include some highboys or cocktail rounds. Add some food and beverage to the room such as coffee and soft drinks.
Think about including some computers for people to check email. Make sure you have powerstrips for each of the areas so people can charge phones and computers. Free internet access is another plus that will draw people to the area.
Then make sure you have adequate signage for the room onsite, especially if it’s off the beaten path. Include inormation in the conference program. Have your speakers mention it from the stage.
What are some suggestions from others to ensure that this area is used by attendees?