Design Your Conference with Your Guests in Mind


Organizations spend time and money to send their people to your event, and you don’t want them to leave just satisfied—you want them to be better for the time they spent with you. You may be tempted to cram your conference with experts and platform speakers to achieve that, but remember—your guests are experts, too. You want to design your conference in a way that ensures they leave your event feeling energized and engaged.

But what does that look like? Some events are naturally more content-driven, so it’s easy to forget that you should be incorporating guest-driven elements, no matter how much content you need to push out. After all, what’s the point of meeting face-to-face if your attendees aren’t interacting with each other?

Think of the 70:20:10 rule. A body of research spanning three decades, conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), uncovered that:

  • 70% of our learning happens informally, either on-the-job or through practice
  • 20% of our learning happens through peer relationships (coaching, personal networking, collaboration)
  • 10% of our learning happens in a formal classroom or meeting presentation

At any given conference, you’re essentially working with that small 10% slice of learning opportunity. You can tap into the additional 20% to take advantage of peer and self-directed learning, but you must be intentional about it. You should maintain a guest-oriented element in every aspect, from pre-pro to digital execution.

Here are some ways to be intentional about your conference design in order to take advantage of guest-driven practices.

Cover the Basics

All the strategies in the world amount to nothing if they are not properly executed. Poor communication—both behind the scenes and with attendees—can undermine your goals, because all those little distractors and irritations can compound to sabotage an event. Good people and good communication behind the scenes doesn’t just guarantee a smooth conference; it helps you hit those goals and ensures your guests are well taken care of. A skilled production crew can meet a variety of event needs, as well as troubleshoot any conflicts that arise, so those minor distractors are addressed and no one loses focus on the real goal.

Trained facilitators can help lead discussions, set boundaries, and invite responses from the audience to promote engagement. If it’s a longer conference, daily meetings with the conference team and producers help with event assessment, allowing you to see how attendees are responding. You can then make adjustments accordingly.

Digital Solutions Execution

There are a thousand ways to inject digital solutions into your meeting, but they must have purpose, value, and ease of use. If your cool app doesn’t support a specific goal of the meeting, and/or wasn’t tested for usability and user-friendliness, then your attendees might not even use it.

If your event is content heavy, you can still encourage engagement through interactivity on the ground. Use an audience response system (ARS) to both reach your attendees and keep a finger on the pulse of attendee engagement. Let guests in on roundtables or side meetings they couldn’t attend through slide sharing. Have your keynote speaker take a live poll, or give attendees the power to input questions so they can engage with speakers in real time.

Another way is through a robust social media strategy. Build a community around the conference, digitally. This keeps guests in the loop, invites them to contribute, and sets up space for people to connect. To be most effective, make sure you have a team dedicated to monitoring, managing, and responding to guests on these platforms. This is a great way to connect before, during, and after an event. Take advantage of that!

What About Your Experts?

Your experts and speakers are no doubt an invaluable resource, but if your main sessions are their only platform, you miss out on learning opportunities for your guests.

Creating space in your event for breakout sessions and roundtables will give attendees the opportunity to have meaningful discussions with your experts and speakers, but also amongst themselves, to share ideas and problem-solve together. Make sure, however, that these sessions have a theme or a topic to help drive the conversation.

For internal meetings, make space in the schedule for top leaders to interact with other employees in the room. A traditional Q&A session might not always be feasible (especially with bigger events), so why not have separate “meet the expert” luncheon Q&A sessions?

Ground-up, guest-driven strategies can keep your attendees on their toes for even the most heavily content-driven conferences. Your attendees will learn just as much from talking to each other as they will from your speakers, and weaving that into your conference design strategy is a surefire way to a successful conference.