Over the past few years, there has been a qualitative transformation in the events industry, shaped by a growing demand for value and a focus on the attendee experience. While education remains important, interaction is now the lifeblood of events, from form to format and beyond. However, generating participant interaction remains one of the key challenges in meeting design. In this post, we look at several reasons to elevate interaction at events and how to unlock the value of interaction at conferences.
The What And Why Of Event Interaction
Engagement, involvement, active participation, however you want to define interaction, one thing is sure: it involves much more than keeping conference attendees awake. True interaction requires rethinking events so that every element fosters an ongoing two-way dialogue.
As organisers, we face a pressing need to plan interactive events since surveys have shown that young professionals are drawn to events that help them create a genuine connection with others. Even in our digital era, face-to-face interactions are irreplaceable. Moreover, younger generations choose events based on the perceived opportunities to express themselves, not just to sit back and listen. Millennials attribute high value to sociability, sense of belonging, and personalisation, so events should become experiences where value sharing replaces knowledge transfer.
Living in a digital era means there is virtually nothing that cannot be learnt online. As the event organiser, you need to give attendees a reason to be there in person. A multi-year study showed that a vast majority of conference attendees claim that networking opportunities are the number one reason to go to conferences. If planned well, these events can help them expand their professional network in a record amount of time. But how do we achieve that?
Ten Strategies To Unlock The Value Of Interaction At Conferences
To build interaction into the conference experience and increase the possibility of networking opportunities, organisers should change the event’s format, sequence, and technology, redesigning every function and its components with a focus on interactive practices such as:
- Content marketing and content curation can boost interaction when using techniques like live blogging. The key is to deliver content highlights in shareable format (e.g., presentation overviews, hi-res downloadable, etc.) that can quickly become viral in social media.
- Create seating arrangements that encourage communication.
- Reduce session duration (think about TED-style talks of 18 minutes) and encourage keynote speakers to be concise and feature interactive techniques throughout.
- Increase the number of panel sessions, or use a throwable mike to drive spontaneous participation.
- Generate anticipation before the main sessions by posting short 30 second interviews with keynote speakers.
- Make it fun using gamification techniques. For example, include a friendly competition in real-life scenarios where the winning team gets a prize. At an individual level, you can create a list of interaction-rich to-do tasks based on a points/reward system (e.g. speak to five people you’ve never met before, share three favourite event quotes on Twitter, answer X number of polls to get a badge, etc.)
- Include live polling, voting, and Q&A sessions using event technology and display the results in real time into a social wall.
- Let the audience schedule one-to-one meetings with other delegates. You can build this “matchmaking” functionality into the event’s app.
- Monitor social media mentions and respond promptly.
- Request content from the audience (such as guest blog posts) to be shared after the event. In short, you should aim for co-creation. This will give conference attendees a sense of ownership and help democratise event content. Moreover, recognising the skills, expertise, and talent of the audience creates the basis for genuine engagement.
To create a truly interactive conference experience, organisers need to bring the right mix of tools and techniques and take an integral approach to interaction driven by a participatory event ethos. In the experience economy, interaction-rich events that incentives the audience will become the new normal, so don’t be afraid to experiment with innovative ideas that can help you come up with a new paradigm for event planning — something that genuinely unlocks the value of interaction at conferences.