Whether you’re a large corporation or a small business, a first time conference holder or a veteran – this is for you. When planning your conference, please take a minute to really consider your audience. Ask yourself the following basic questions that test your audience:
1) What’s Your Audience’s Level of Familiarity with the Subject?
Conferences usually attract audience members with a consistent level of business and industry familiarity. Usually, but not always. It’s worth considering what your specific case is. It might even be worth putting a quick poll question about that on your event registration landing page
. If it’s too late to do that, then take a look through the attendee list to get an idea of their background. From there, tweak your material accordingly.
If you have the time, set up separate mini “jam” sessions or seminars that cater to specific knowledge and need levels before bringing the group together as a whole.
2) What’s Your Audience There For?
Touching on the last point, if your attendees are there to learn then they should in all fairness not be subjected to the most basic lessons meant for beginners. Likewise, the opposite applies for beginners. I've walked out of a big name social media conference or two because (1) the attendees were treated like idiots, and (2) the group didn’t take personality types into consideration.
Now that you’ve done your part to ensure a productive conference that emphasizes real-life social (you know, the vintage idea of actually meeting people face-to-face), there’s one little thing that could blow it all out of that water….and that’s your attendees.
3) Is Your Audience Made Up of Introverts or Extroverts?
Half the reason you’re at a conference is to network. Even if the conference material is old news to you, you’re planning to rake up the difference in networking. That said, you’re sort of at a loss when your conference is attended by an explosive level of introverts. I’ve been to so many of these, particularly when they’re in the digital media industry. A sure-fire way of knowing whether it’s worth your time to stick through the second session is to check how many people are on their mobile devices. Laptops specifically are a dead giveaway that no one’s really interested in chatting up the people at their table – especially when these devices are openly being used to troll around on Facebook. Let’s hash tag this as a major #fail.
If you’re sending out employees to a conference or two, please teach them some professional etiquette: it’s rude not to make any effort to talk to the people at your own table. Sure, a lot of this stems from people’s insecurity to talk to their fellow man. Though really, I think we’re just shoving along a culture where it’s somehow become acceptable to have lost all social graces. So what can a conference holder do?
First, let attendees know that mobile use for social vagrancy is discouraged. Write a blog post about it and link to it on the registration page. Send it later to registered audience members a few days before the event (along with another one that serves as a guide to networking at events). You should also consider testing the waters for a “speed-dating” inspired networking round to make sure everyone meets most everyone else one-on-one with the promise of a few words exchanged.
Just holding a conference doesn’t make you an industry leader. When attendees walk away significantly learning something and having networked to their heart's delight, when they go away talking and thinking about your conference – then and only then can you consider yourself a leader.