Webinars and podcasts are easier and often much less expensive than conferences, but not more effective. It is vital to take time to be with other professionals to advance your knowledge and skills in your chosen career. However, in today’s world, learning takes place in front of computers more and more. Because of this, conference planners need to offer creative ways to engage. If they offer creative methods that provide learning experiences in a group setting rather than at home in front of a computer, their conferences will prove to be relevant and desired.
"People don't need to wait for formal learning opportunities anymore," says Kathleen Edwards, president of The Learning Evangelist LLC, a Maryland-based consultancy specializing in effective learning environments and strategies. "They're driving their own learning, so where's the incentive to travel to a conference and spend the money if they can get what they need somewhere else?"
Here are 7 creative engagement ideas that will provide the incentives Edwards asked about. Being with other people who share your industry will become even more important when creativity is added to the experience.
1. Crowd Polling
Comparing opinions can start conversations and provide a fun way for your attendees to engage. Integrating real time polls into your conference content is easier with new technology. Poll Everywhere at www.polleverywhere.com offers an app that you can use with attendees.
2. Table Teams
Turn assignments into table team exercises. Kick off your event by having each team create a unique name and sign for their table. Implement activities like group discussions and problem solving scenarios into table time. This will develop a connection between attendees.
3. Scavenger Hunts
If your conference features an exhibit hall you can send the attendees on a race to match vendors with clues you provide. It will be fun for the attendees and vendors will get an additional engagement opportunity.
4. Graffiti Boards
Have a large whiteboard or cork board and design a space for your attendees to share messages, business cards and comments. Done well, this could be a centerpiece of your event.
5. Service Project
Inspire your attendees to give back to the community by assisting in a service project. Have a hands-on work day with a local charity or host a project in a particular room where attendees can go and put together bags for the homeless or another venture. Giving back will make your conference memorable and help your community.
6. Where’s Waldo
Send out clues for attendees to locate a particular person during a break. The successful sleuth wins a prize. Your Waldo can be a key sponsor or speaker. This could be an individual activity or a team game.
7. Hands On Learning
Designate a room or area of your event the hands-on learning space. In that area, offer attendees a way to use kinesthetic learning methods to experience a concept that your conference is teaching. By engaging your attendees this way, it will bolster the “learn by doing” strategy and make your conference memorable.
In order to compete with the vast list of classes and webinars that teach skills in the comfort of one’s home, a conference planner must be creative and offer experiences unique to the event. Try a few of these ideas and make your conference one that attendees will talk about after and plan to attend again.