Creating Compelling Irresistible Social Conference Experiences

Diversity Discussion April 27 2010-36

Social. It’s a word that strikes fear in some and excites others.

Today it seems that everything is social. From social media to social networking to social technology to social business, the trend is all things social. It’s the new black.

Defining The Social Conference

So what is the social conference?

Does it mean adding more social media efforts to our event marketing? Is it allowing people to use social networks to communicate with speakers during the event? Is it integrating face-to-face audiences with live streaming remote audiences?

For me, one of the most critical things a conference organizer can do to appeal to our increasingly sophisticated audience is to design experiences that are more engaging, participatory and social.

People are not coming to your conference for the content. (They can get that online.) They are coming for the conference experience. So make it social and less independent!

We Are Social Beings

Humans are essentially social beings. Our meetings and events are complex social experiences. And our conference experiences have the power to alter our attendees’ minds.

When we require our attendees to sit passively and quietly in rows with little or no social interaction, we work against the brain’s natural social systems. We rob attendees of the chance to engage, interact and learn. We create social isolation in the midst of a crowd.

Read more at Connect Meetings Intelligence Blog starting with the fourth paragraph.

What’s one thing conference organizers can do to create more onsite social experiences? Why are we stuck in an outdated model of the sage on stage talking head that stands and delivers?

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  1. Jeff, I agree wholeheartedly with this! I’ve experimented with using modified Open Space techniques in previous conferences with some decent results. I’m also exploring how to use other models, like World Cafe and Art of Hosting ideas.

    One thing I’ve found is that changing people’s expectations for what happens at a more conversational/participative conference can be challenging. We are really wedded to the idea of conferences as a place where “experts” are sharing knowledge, even though people will often complain that they don’t like “talking heads.” I think there needs to be pre-conference conversation to help people get into a different mindset. But when we do this kind of thing, I think it’s far better than our old paradigms!

    1. Jeff Hurt says:


      Thanks for reading and commenting. The formats you mentioned are great ways to move in the direction of being more social. Or it can be as easy as just creating peer conversations in general sessions and breakouts.

      Here’s a tip I’ve learned that works for me. If the person introducing the opening general session starts off by asking everyone to introduce themselves to those around them. Then I announce that they just met their learning buddies. I set the tone that this is about learning. The next step is critical. After I list my learning outcomes, I ask the audience to turn to a learning buddy and tell them which of my LOs are the most important to them and why. That seals the deal that this is about learning, cues them into my presentation and sets them up to look for something specific.

      It’s an easy thing to do helps people understand that “insight is more important than knowledge” and often insight comes from thinking and talking with each other.

  2. Terry Coatta says:

    I think part of making conferences more social is to stop thinking of them as isolated occurrences. Your conference should be an extension of the interactions that your members engage in year round. Conferences have unique characteristics — most significantly that attendees are devoting themselves full-time over a few days to the process of engaging/learning. But, I think that experience is far more compelling if it can be seen as part of an ongoing process of meeting people, exchanging information, and learning that can now happen 365 days a year via the social networking/online community platforms that we have access to.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for pointing out that conferences should not be isolated occurrences but seen within a larger ecosystem of customer touchpoints. So it’s about a “both/and” situation where the face-to-face experience becomes more social and the before and post conference experience does as well.

  3. Completely agree that attendees are coming for the conference experience more than the content. They want to connect with and learn from each other as much as from the speakers. We were amazed at how few organisers use online networks to help delegates connect online before and after the event – so we set up to try and help.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Yes, the conversations can start way before the event begins and continue after the event ends. That’s a step in the right direction and will take a fundamental shift in thinking both on the planning and implementation side.

      What I am advocating for is that more social experiences happen during the conference instead of transferring of information from the speaker to the audience. If we can get that down, then it seems the next step if starting the conversations earlier and maintaining them after the event.

      Thanks for reading and commenting too Francis.

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