Dear conference organizer:
Usually, I sit on your side of the desk so I’ve been hesitant to write this letter. But I’ve been attending a lot of conferences and trade shows—and taking notes.
When I attend a conference or event, it usually goes well. At times, it’s a wake-up call and a reminder of what to avoid. If you really want to make sure that participants never return to one of your events, here is what to do.
Always book the cheapest airfare
Wrong: After all, hosted buyers are grateful that their airfare covered. So, they won’t mind if the route is convoluted and they have to stay overnight on the way to or from your event.
Right: Be mindful of budget but remember to make travel arrangements that ensure that participants arrive well rested and not frazzled.
Arrive two hours late and don’t be in a rush to fix hiccups
Wrong: You have more important things to do and the participants will wait.
Right: Logistical challenges are inevitable but always make sure that you are at the venue early and that there is enough staffing to resolve any issues.
Pack the agenda
Wrong: You have a captive audience so why would you leave any white space for participants to rest, grab a snack or, heaven forbid, nap before dinner.
Right: Plan an agenda that balances time for educational content, visits to exhibitors, meals and rest.
Select a reception venue that’s an hour away from the hotel or conference venue
Right: Ensure that the venue for receptions, dinners and special events is in close proximity to the conference venue and hotel.
Don’t provide seating for most of the attendees
Wrong: It doesn’t matter if people are blocking the screen and the platform.
Right: The venue should be comfortable enough to accommodate the size of your group.
Wrong: Be sure that the sound is muffled. Participants will find a way to hear the presenters.
Wrong: Only have one screen and place it in the corner of the room
Right: Test, test, and test the AV. Have back-up equipment on hand and technician to monitor and troubleshoot if there are any AV glitches. Again, if participants can’t see what you’re projecting, they’ll just tune you out.
Collect information about allergies and food sensitivities and never use it
Wrong: They’ll never notice that you’re serving heavy dishes with rich sauces that are packed with carbs and sugar.
Make them wait
Wrong: It doesn’t matter that your event starts at 8 p.m. and participants have not had a bite since lunch. Don’t serve anything other than alcohol and soft drinks until 9:30 p.m. when all of the presentations are over.
Advertise a reception over the dinner hour and only serve tiny hors d’oeuvres
Wrong: Does it really matter if they go home hungry?
Run Out of Food
Wrong: It’s just too challenging to stagger refreshments.
When you do serve more substantial fare for breakfast or lunch, make sure the food is cold
Wrong: Your guests will be grateful enough that the portions are larger so they won’t mind.
Right: Plan a healthy well-balanced menu that takes guest allergies and food sensitivities into account. Serve food at the right temperature and make sure participants don’t have to wait an unreasonable amount of time to dine. When working with a limited budget and it’s impossible to serve dinner, schedule the reception for 6 or 6:30 p.m. and clearly mark on the agenda that “light refreshments will be served.” Indicate “dinner on your own” for 8 p.m.
I wish I could say that these scenarios rarely happen, but I would be lying. Needless to say, I won’t be back.
Your Conference Attendee
What event planning reminders and wake-up calls have you had when you have gone to a conference, trade show or event as an attendee?