Top Tips for a Successful Business Conference

Every business that has previously organised a conference knows two things:

· it’s an expensive activity;

· it’s difficult to make it a success.

If you’re facing the challenge of organising one such, the following tips might prove useful.

Get attendees to contribute to the agenda

One of the commonest causes of post-conference negative feedback from attendees relates to them having had to sit through presentations that were of no interest or relevance.

All too often, the agendas for business conferences are perceived as a vehicle for the CEO and other leadership level personnel to ‘drone on’ about their pet subjects. In some cases, conferences are also believed to have been used as an opportunity for lecturing.

So, engage your target audience in advance on the construction of the agenda and objectives for the day. Make sure the majority of the sessions are focussed on issues they want to talk or hear about.

Don’t sanitise

Another key criticism following on from some conferences is that of the ‘sanitisation’ of some of the material.

Trying to censor areas put forward for discussion or in Q&A sessions is demoralising and it can destroy morale. Likewise, just ignoring difficult issues that arise during the day or churlishly refusing to deal/acknowledge them can help cynicism to flourish.

If the advance planning indicates attendees want to hear about a troublesome matter, don’t ignore it. If a tricky question arises, deal with it in any way other than “that’s not up for discussion here” or the equivalents.

Avoid inconveniencing attendees

This is an important logistical issue.

It won’t be easy for attendees to focus on the key messages of the conference if at the same time they’re worrying constantly about how they’re going to get home later that night or the piles of work building up on their desk right now while they’re listening to you.

Make sure you arrange transport to and from the conference for those who need it. There are companies offering limousine hire, Sydney and elsewhere, who might also be able to offer luxury coach services.

The work impact one is harder to deal with. Try splitting your conference into two to allow people back at home base to cover those attending on a given day.

Be ruthless with presentation lengths

Most people have an active peak attention span in a presentation of about 45–60 minutes.

Allow anyone to exceed that with their material and many attendees will find their attention wandering.

Avoid lots of numeric detail on displays

It’s not unknown for some to simply present page after page of detailed spreadsheet copies showing ‘the figures’.

This is typically a disaster. Remember, some people at the back might not even be able to clearly read the detailed figures anyway.

Instead, present bottom line totals only and high-level trend information. Try to keep each individual page display projected to perhaps 2–3 lines of figure totals only.

Take plenty of rest / comfort breaks

This should be self-explanatory but incredibly, it’s often overlooked.

Looking at presentations for hour after hour can be draining, so let people stretch their legs regularly to get their blood flowing again.

Don’t single people or groups out unless absolutely necessary

At a conference, you’re trying typically to achieve a team and collective mind-set.

So, singling out someone or a few people for special praise may well create ill-feeling. That might happen if, for example, the person concerned was allowed an opportunity that others in the room didn’t get even if that was unavoidable.

Conversely, criticising people or teams in public should simply never happen. A classic illustration is when someone asks a question that’s ridiculed along the lines of “that’s a dumb question” or similar.

Even if you’re right and others might agree with you, in reality, most of the other people present will most likely close ranks in solidarity with the person you’ve just humiliated. That’s a resentment wall you’ll struggle to break down.

Stay polite, courteous and respectful at all times and avoid moving away from group/team mind-set approaches. Try using “we” much more often that “you” or “I”!

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