Have you ever attended a conference by yourself and you didn’t know anyone there?
If you have, you’ve experienced a range of emotions from anticipation to anxiousness to concern.
If no one acknowledges or welcomes you when you first step onsite, you may feel like an outsider. Conferences can be some of the loneliest places in the world.
Tips To Encourage Connections, Intimacy And Participation
As conference organizers, it is our job to find ways to encourage participation and foster attendee engagement. It’s our job to create experiences that help others connect on more intimate levels.
We need to stop thinking we are done after securing speakers and finalizing schedules. We also need to focus on designing experiences where attendees transition from being passive spectators to active participants.
Here are nine tips repurposed from a 2010 post on how to encourage involvement, engagement and participation at your next event.
1. Communicate Early And Often.
Let meeting attendees know how they can participate and what to expect early and often before they arrive onsite. Use email, chats, YouTube videos and social networks to share these ideas and set the stage. Help them understand that the value of being a participant and that empowerment is connected at the hip with engagement.
2. Seek Buy In
Create and share your own COPA (conference organizer, presenter and attendee) agreement.
3. Ask Leadership To Set The Example
Ask staff and organization leaders to act as friends, partners and helpers to attendees instead of enforcers of rules. Get them to set the tone.
4. Adopt The Wal-Mart Greeter Strategy
Recruit organization or local volunteers to serve as greeters welcoming people at the doorway of each session. Ask them to greet everyone with a smile and handshake.
5. Seed Discussions With Facilitators
Secure leaders to act as facilitators, not experts, to help ignite and guide small group discussions. Remind these facilitators that it’s not about them talking, rather it’s about them getting others to talk by asking great questions.
6. Use Large Open Spaces For Serendipitous Connections
Create informal lounges in large open spaces where people can mingle, chat and greet one another comfortably. Benches, couches, groupings of informal seating along with recharge stations are great additions.
7. Encourage Exhibitors To Have Interactive Displays
Encourage tradeshow exhibitors to create open spaces that display their products or services in ways that can be used comfortably by large groups of visitors. Hands on, interactive exhibits will attract crowds. Are visitors seen as distracting others from the experience and therefore some are missing out? Or are visitors seen as partners helping others join in the participation?
8. Invite Informal Discussions With Social Objects.
Museum employee Nina Simon explains that artifacts and social objects foster conversations around attendees’ shared experiences. Create experiences and tradeshow floor events that attract crowds and invite group play. Consider an exhibit of artifacts from the past five, ten or twenty years of the industry. Place flat screens with rotating images in large open spaces near small group lounge areas to spark conversations.
9. Have Speakers Use Audience Participation Activities
You can read more about that here, here and here. Encourage speakers to start sessions by declaring them safe spaces to openly share opinions, ideas and thoughts. Then have them find places to stop chatting Encourage others to join in and share their voice.
What tips would you add to encourage participation in conferences and events? How could your encourage group play and use social objects at your next conference or event?