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8 ways to shake up your annual conference

David Chalmers, marketing director, Europe at Cvent, reveals eight ways marketers can breathe new life into boring business conferences

Many dread attending annual conferences. Rather than seeing it as a unique opportunity to establish relationships with peers, clients, investors, vendors, and prospective business partners, it can be perceived to be a dull, routine event and even a waste of time. Today, however, we are seeing many ways in which organisers are shaking up their annual conference to make it more interactive, networking friendly, interesting and useful for all involved. Below are some tips to help breathe life into your annual conference and ensure it is a memorable experience:

(Flickr/ukgardenphotos)

Change the scenery
Host your annual conference in a location that contrasts with where you do business, to give a feeling of a fresh start. For example, if your office is situated in an urban industrial area, try hosting your conference at a forested retreat surrounded by wildlife and natural habitat. A change in scenery can transform perceptions, completely altering the way attendees approach business issues. 


Plan for free time
Try balancing out a lecture-heavy agenda by adding other non-traditional activities to the mix. Building excursions, recreation opportunities and friendly competitions into the schedule provides an outlet for creative thinking, giving attendees the chance to regroup and fully engage during traditional work sessions. Such activities can be as simple as organising a guided bike ride or providing interactive maps for attendees to discover the host city. 

 

(Flickr/Alberto G.)

Teach a new skill
Peer interaction is most effective when everyone learns together. For example, at the annual Cvent user conference in 2015 the company will give its attendees the unique opportunity to become a certified event management professional by offering a Planner Certification Exam – normally achieved via an online test. This is a great way of getting the group to interact and creating a shared interest.

 

(Flickr/Jason Howie)

Get to know your peers
Try to make it easy for people to get to know one another and start meaningful conversations. Many organisers are now creating mobile apps for events that can help to break the ice. Lists of names, along with simple tasks such as finding out about other peoples’ interests, can be made more fun via a mobile app. They also allow individuals to connect with peers via social media sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn.


(Flickr/Matt Madd)

Break from the classic break 
Sitting stationary for long periods of time is not good for the mind or the body. Take break time to a whole new level by inviting in special relaxation and movement experts to help loosen the tension. A few easy yoga moves in the fresh air will get people bending and stretching to increase blood flow and brain function, while a visiting chair massage specialist can ease the aches of sitting all day and give attendees a chance to temporarily zone out so they are less likely to do so in the middle of the session.

 

(Flickr/Hideya HAMANO)

Interactive food fare 
Food relaxes the atmosphere and helps sustain positive energy levels throughout a conference. Instead of opting for the regular tea or coffee and sandwiches theme, change it up a bit for a new spin on snacking. Offer diverse lunch stations with different types of cuisine available in each area. There can be an Italian-themed create-your-own-pasta station, a sushi rolling area, or a station offering food distinct to the area in which you are hosting your conference.


(Flickr/Ani-Bee)

Change the furniture
At one time, banquet chairs in meeting rooms were replaced by ergonomic seating. Now ergonomic seating is being replaced by bean bag chairs, overstuffed couches and ‘living room’ areas where groups can meet and talk in a less formal and more comfortable venue.

 

(Flickr/Contando Estrelas)

Make it local
If you are holding an event in an exciting location make the most of the destination. Take your attendees out of the venue and explore the local area, this will energise and spark creativity among your guests; making it an experience to remember. For example at Fresh; a three day conference hosted by the MDI in June 2015 in Barcelona, the organisers have arranged for attendees to visit San Juan; the biggest celebration in Spain that hosts beach bonfires and live music.