Raise your hand if you have been through at least one of these situations: in a session that eats into your 15 minute coffee break, listening to a guest speaker that seems to be speaking to the wrong audience, and my favorite, sitting next to the attendee that answers their phone during a session only to tell the caller, “I’m in a conference, I’ll call you back”. Awkward.
These situations can be avoided if planners plan with the attendee and speaker experience in mind. Here are the three most common mistakes I see in conference planning and how to avoid them.
Not setting your speakers up for success
Bringing in guest speakers is always a great idea. Its a draw for your attendees and a boost for your brand. No matter the field or subject matter, attendees enjoy hearing from experts that are not associated with the host organization. But in order for this to work, your guest speakers need to know who they are talking to.
How to avoid:
Take as much guess work out of prepping for your guest speakers as possible. Provide all of your speakers with an individualized brief. This brief should include background information about the conference (number of years its been held, number of attendees, number of speakers, program agenda, logistics and an attendee profile). This brief should be as detailed as possible so your guest speakers knows exactly who to tailor their message to. It should include the attendees age range, knowledge level, key issues to address and how much time they have to share their remarks. This individualized brief should be written so they have a copy but I also recommend communicating this information over the phone or in person (if they are local). This additional communicate helps to review the contents and make sure expectations are clear. Yes, this requires a lot of behind the scenes prep work but if your speaker comes across well on stage, you and your organization will come off well too! Its worth setting them up for success!
2. Not keeping time
I don’t know about you but I am stickler for time. I am guilty of always being the first to arrive at brunch with my girlfriends! Likewise when I attend an event I expect it to start and more importantly end on time. Sure, not everyone will be as strict about their time but you don’t want to give the impression that you don’t value someone’s time. So while running 10-15 minutes behind schedule is acceptable, running 30 or more minutes behind schedule is a no-no.
How to avoid:
Sometimes going over schedule is hard to avoid so in the planning phase pad the agenda with additional time for those sessions that you predict will go over.
As you finalize your run of show, discuss with your planner or team spots in the agenda where you have leeway to go over and where you absolutely don’t. This way everyone on your team is on the same page.
While some people will be good about sticking to time, others will get caught up in the content and lost track of time. Make sure you assign the role of time keeper to someone that can signal to the MC, moderator or guest speaker to begin wrapping it up.
Not giving attendees enough down time
I get it, there is a lot of content to review and the time you have together is short. But here is what happens when you don’t include enough “down time” people leave sessions to check their phones, take calls or just take a mental break.
How to avoid:
Schedule breaks every two to three hours. Give people coffee breaks ranging from 15 to 30 minutes and 30-60 minutes for meals. These breaks give attendees the chance to process information and catch up on life.
In addition to providing content free breaks and meals, consider hosting a networking hour. This is especially important for events that draw attendees from several geographical locations. It could be an optional breakfast reception or a post conference cocktail reception. While it may not be possible to offer both, find ways to make “free time” a priority. When you protect that time, you will find that your attendees will be fully present because they know you value their time.
If you and your organization can master these challenges you will be in great shape! And if you need help planning your next conference or special event, give us a call! We would be happy to help.