13 Mistakes Conference and Event Organizers Just Keep on Making
I love the events space. My job allows me to travel the world and speak for a living and, more often than not, I feel like the luckiest guy alive.
With such a profession, I get to attend 50-75 conferences and events annually, the majority of which are great experiences for the attendees.
Notwithstanding these things, there are still a surprising number of conferences that hinder user experience simply because they miss the little things that make all the difference. And what are those “little things?”
Music should be a rule. Every break. Every intro. Every close.
It sounds obvious, but it’s not. Music can completely set the tone for an event, a talk, and certainly a speaker’s presentation. Not only can it invite energy and excitement into a room, but it can also be used as a psychological signal to the to do certain things– like return back from a break. Yet sadly, at least 40% of the events I attend either don’t use music at all, or only use it partially in terms of its full potential.
Name tags should be double sided
This one gets missed about 90% of the time by event organizers. I’m sure you’ve attended a conference before and, upon trying to read someone’s name tag, it was flipped around so that you could only see what was on back, right? Yep, we’ve all been there, which is exactly why double-sided name tags are the answer to every nameless conversation had at an event.
I’m serious about this one. The #1 complaint in almost every conference I attend is Wifi (or lack-thereof). But it’s not like organizers don’t prep for it, because they almost always do. But the fact is, you simply can’t do a wifi “dry run” unless there is a room full of people. By setting the bar up front, and explaining to attendees what went into the wifi efforts combined with what the potential outcomes may be, at least the bar has been lowered at the forefront.
Session descriptions do not show the true “level” of the content.
As a speaker, it’s tough discussing sales or marketing when some in the room have 20 years experience and others started last week. Yet, notwithstanding, this happens all of the time in conference settings, with one reason being that event organizers generally don’t rate the difficulty or experience needed for each session. For conferences that offer more than one tract, this element is essential.
The crowd needs to be closer to the stage!
I have never understood why there is a need by some event organizers to place the first row of seats 30 or more feet from the main stage. The simple fact is, the further the speaker is from the audience, the more difficult it is to connect with them.
Can we please stop putting projectors in the middle aisle?
This mainly applies to smaller settings (less than 100 people) but too often event organizers place the projector in line with the first row of audience members, just at the beginning of the center aisle. Doing this is bad for two reasons:
a. The speaker cannot stand in the center of the staging area, as he or she will now be in a direct path of the projector’s light.
b. The speaker will now have more difficulty moving up and down the center aisle to engage the audience (as they’ll need to “go around” the projector each time)
Round tables and chairs aren’t meant to have chairs all the way around them, and, generally speaking, are the worst way of promoting engagement.
I know many organizers love the round table set-up, and yes, although they do have their benefits, they aren’t great for a keynote hall due to the fact those not facing the stage either have to pick their chairs up and turn them around (so as to face the speaker) or they have to uncomfortably turn their head the entire time. Furthermore, because these tables create greater spacing between groups of audience members they can hinder the “mood” and “electricity” created by a tighter audience.
Panels should be eliminated from the face of the earth.
(That is, unless of course, if the moderator is great and the panelists agree not to sing “Kumbaya” while telling each other how much they agree with what the person just said.)
It’s not about the slides. Ever. Never ever. Never ever never ever.
It’s crazy how much some event organizers obsess over slide decks as well as the projection screen. For example, last year I spoke in a room for an audience of about 1000 attendees. In it, the projection screen was the “hero” of the stage, dead center and the size of a movie screen (no kidding). And the speaker? Well, if you guessed in the corner of the stage, behind a podium, with no ability to walk left or right, you’re correct.
Slides don’t make standing ovations. Humans moving other humans is what makes a standing ovation.
The first break must occur within 90 minutes of breakfast.
Too often I see events start at 8:00am and the first break scheduled for 10am or even 1030. Fact is, humans weren’t designed to make it that long before needing relief.
Case in point, I was once keynoting a conference in the morning and I was the 10:30am speaker. There was about 600 people in the room and because no one had been given an break since 8am, as soon as the other speaker finished and they were introducing me to go on stage about 30 people got up to run to the restroom.
Not only is this distracting to any speaker, but it also makes it difficult for the audience to remain focused as well. Simply put, take a break every 90 minutes if possible.
If you know attendees aren’t going to fill the room…REMOVE THE CHAIRS!
Even the best speakers don’t get a standing ovation when a room is 50% full. This is especially true on the afternoon of the third day of at three day event, when so many leave early and head to the airport after lunch. Great event planners understand the importance of attendees being shoulder to shoulder, and therefore don’t hesitate to remove or rope-off chairs so as to eliminate any spacing and ultimately create the most engaging and intimate experience possible.
Speaking of filling the room, don’t use caverns for keynotes. Tight is better than loose. Less space is better than more.
Just like the chairs, the total space in a room has a major, major impact. If attendees feel they are in a massive cavern, then it will be more difficult to create a magical experience. This is why experienced planners use curtains and dividers to give the appears the room is at capacity. This is especially true for large convention centers.
Practice the speaker intros. Really.
Intros can be the perfect spring board to set the right tone (or wrong tone) for a speaker. This exactly why the person doing the introduction should practice it, and treat it like a mini speech in and of itself. If I had a dollar for every time someone fumbled over my intro, I’d be a wealthy man. (Well, maybe not wealthy, but I bet I could at least fill up my gas tank) 🙂
So there are my thirteen. Most certainly, there are more. What would you add to the list?