Most conferences lack basics: power, water, healthy food options, good coffee and reliable Internet.
How do you fix these? Add powering stations, more filtered water options, wholesome snack and lunch options, quality coffee stations (some people travel far and are jet lagged) and a good IT service to facilitate reliable Internet connection.
With a little additional time and investment, all of these are achievable. What takes a lot more time? Adding meaning to the conference and developing a community around it.
Turning your conference into a community
Those who have been to quality conferences feel like they’re part of something, feel like they’ve shared a special experience; they have gotten knowledge they’ll bring with them wherever they go and apply to whatever they do. They have a bond to those people they’ve shared the short time. The time was worthwhile, and they’ll always remember it.
Develop your conference community before, during and after the conference.
- Connect participants: Allow participants the opportunity to get to know one another so they know who to network with once they’re at the conference. Use Eventbrite, Plancast, or a private community.
- Implement hashtag: Begin a hashtag months in advance. With some fuel, participants will generate excitement together. A hashtag will enable them to have ongoing conversation. (This is also a great way to get those people who haven’t registered for the conference to register, as they will feel the excitement generating.)
- Introduce sponsors: Post sponsoring brands online. I know it is a value-add for the sponsors, but do not send an email each and every time a new sponsor signs on. This is considered spam and is deleted right away by participants. Instead, thoughtfully post sponsors in a place where participants know they can go when they are ready to determine with whom they’d like to network at the conference.
During the conference:
- Add networking options: Provide opportunities for participants to network in a variety of different settings. At BlogWorld LA last year, the best networking was done on the bus on the way from the hotel to the conference center. Don’t underestimate these situations. Create more of them (smaller = better).
- Continue hashtag: Maintain the hashtag that began months in advance. At this point, it will be commonplace for people to include it in tweets and Instagrams, but ensure consistency. Post the hashtag everywhere — on every slide in each presentation and on all conference-related materials. People have short attention spans and forget easily. Don’t miss the opportunity to connect people with the conversation via the hashtag.
- Require speakers to include Twitter handle: Twitter handles and hashtags are ways participants can engage with the speakers, and they can also engage with each other about what the speaker is saying.
- Aggregate conference content: Consider ways to aggregate the conference information. Stream all hashtagged info into a conference website, e.g., all tweets and Instagram pictures. Be the go-to source of all information regarding the conference, not only the basics of where to go for what session, but also the social/UGC info as well.
After the conference:
- Follow up with sound bytes: Send a follow-up email thanking people for coming, including the hashtag and some shareable bits of information to encourage people to do follow-up posts. Include photos, quotes, the hashtag, statistics from the conference, highlights, etc. People like to continue the conference experience, but are often too tired to do so; therefore, make it easy for them.
- Cultivate relationships: if you did a good job, people will want to maintain a connection. Contact people who attended the conference online via Twitter and social networks according to an established relationship-marketing plan. Most people are inundated with email and don’t want a million emails every other day about conferences. Tweets are easy ways to connect, stay relevant, present and top of mind without spamming (as long as they’re spaced out, that is).