Updated: Feb 10
Hands-on learning and lecturing are both important parts of conference programming. And at a time when online conversations, virtual meetings, and remote workforces are at an all-time high, hosting conferences that allow attendees to engage and interact in an effective way is more important than ever before.
So it’s no surprise why we're starting to see a shift towards searches for more interactive conference session ideas. Today’s conferences are all about creating an experience, not just organizing an event.
In fact, according to a study by IACC, 75% of participating meeting planners said their job duties involve more “experience creation” than it did just two to five years ago. And 53% said access to interactive technology would become more important in the next three to five years.
So what does that mean? It’s time to get going! The science is in!
Here are 4 ways to engage your audience and offer more interactive conference sessions.
1. Structured networking sessions:
Networking is often the number one reason people attend conferences and annual events. But mix and mingle events don’t always get the job done when it comes to helping attendees feel engaged.
Implementing more structured networking sessions can help networking feel like more of an experience, rather than just a time to socialize. Structured networking is also much more effective at increasing the number of new connections and strategically bringing certain people together.
Speed networking, for example, is an accelerated one-on-one networking format designed to make networking more efficient, effective, strategic, and fun.
But it’s not just an accelerated way to help your attendees increase the quantity of connections they make – technology can be used to improve the quality of connections at your conference too.
SpeedNetworking.com is an event technology company that combines the traditional value of face-to-face networking with an advanced matching software to create highly targeted networking events, where your attendees can actually pre-select the types of people they’re interested in meeting. It’s every event planner’s dream.
When attendees register, they fill out a quick, online survey where they can rate their level of interest in meeting people from specific categories—categories, that are customizable for each event planner’s need, no matter the industry.
The survey is then run through an advanced matching algorithm that pairs like-minded professionals together. At the session, each attendee receives a customized meeting schedule with other attendees whose interests and experience align with theirs.
2. Round table discussions:
Round tables are the perfect way to bring attendees together in a way that promotes connection and collaboration. Oftentimes, event planners overlook the value of round table discussions. Sometimes, they can feel outdated, overly academic, or just ineffective.
But when round table technology is used to create strategic seating assignments among attendees, event planners can take the randomization out of group networking. Instead, they can control exactly how attendees are grouped together to help better facilitate meaningful connections.
Some suggested ways to group people include: industry, experience, geographical location, and interests.
This way, instead of having tables filled with people who have nothing in common, each person is surrounded by people with shared interests.
While round table discussions can certainly be a dedicated conference session, we know that you don’t always have time to reinvent the wheel.
Consider implementing round table technology to improve sessions you already have scheduled if you have limited time or resources—including luncheons, dinners, welcome receptions, or even traditional round table networking events.
With targeted round tables, you get to work smarter, not harder.
3. Live polling:
Live polling is a practice that has been growing in popularity over the last few years. It can be used to directly interact with your audience by asking questions, gathering feedback, and increasing participation among attendees.
The best part? Most attendees already have the tools and technology needed to participate. With most live-polling software, all it takes is a smartphone or tablet, so it can be an inexpensive way to offer a more interactive conference session.
Companies like Mentimeter offer a mobile app designed to make presentations, speaker sessions, workshops, and meetings more engaging. They offer real-time voting so your attendees can interact, engage, and see the results live with customized charts and graphs. And with capabilities to handle more than 30,000 votes in a minute, it can be used for extremely large events.
Mentimeter provides a variety of question formats, including multiple-choice, sliding scale, word clouds, and more, so that event planners can effectively energize their audience and increase participant engagement.
If your audience is a little less tech-savvy, Power Vote provides participants with a voting keypad to make it easier for people who might not have smartphones, or know how to use them well.
With Power Vote, you can create questions, receive instant results when people vote, and display them directly on PowerPoint. For those of you who also want to gather feedback and be able to dive into event data, their platform also allows you to export the results in an Excel spreadsheet so you can analyze your participants’ answers.
Need we say more?
Event gamification is a great way to generate high-quality experiences for your attendees. It can also be a nice break in the day from sessions that are more focused on lecturing rather than hands-on learning.
While there are an abundance of ways to integrate gamification into your event, there are a few things many successful gamification strategies include, no matter the industry: a way to collect (and keep track of) points, levels that need to be reached to “win”, and badges or prizes that are given for achievements within the game.
If you’re unsure where to start, treasure hunts have been a popular way to introduce gamification into conferences and tradeshows. Event Mobi has an event app that is able to send participating attendees on a treasure hunt to collect points for prizes, thus boosting the number of booths they would visit.
Another option is to simply hold photo contests. Everyone loves visual content, and in today’s social-media-centered world, it’s a win-win. Attendees can interact and engage with sponsor products or services, and you can highlight all the unique event features at your conference.
Encourage attendees to upload photos in your event app and then vote on their favorite submissions. Photo contests can increase awareness, build brand exposure, and help your attendees position themselves as industry leaders. Plus, this way, you have a whole content library filled with photos from your conference to use towards marketing and promotion for next year’s event.
As we said, it’s a win-win.
Whatever you do, do your best not to be boring. Your attendees deserve to feel involved and engaged. Events aren't always cheap, and you want to make sure they are getting the best bang for their buck.
And at the end of the day, it’s important to remember that in an industry that evolves as quickly as ours, staying up-to-date on ways to wow your audience is one of the best things you can do to ensure your conference or event will be a success.
If you have any other interactive conference session ideas (or just want to share your own experiences), we would love to hear them! Comment them below if so.