The Redstone team has been on the planning side of conferences and corporate events for the past 8 years, so we were thrilled to have had the opportunity to attend an industry conference this past week. We memorized the delegate list, had meetings with other attendees scheduled in advance, and planned which sessions we were eager to attend. Overall, it was a great day!
Although we learned a lot of important NFP sector information, which we will share in a future post, one important takeaway was how critical it is for any event professional and conference planner to experience a conference from an attendee perspective for their own professional development.
We wanted to share some important reflections.
Don’t mess with the networking opportunities. These are sacred to anyone attending a Conference, especially that first break, when everyone is full of coffee (very awake) and eager to chat with their industry colleagues. If you have a session that is running late, it’s best to prepare your afternoon speakers to cut their sessions slightly shorter to make up for the time lost in the AM.
Have a practical social media strategy. Kudus to all organizations that integrate social media into the delegate experience – it is critical – but be sure the strategy makes sense! Twitter walls, hands-on social media training sessions, and content sharing with those who cannot attend are great ways to use social media. If the strategy isn’t providing a service to your organization or your delegates, consider if it is effective. (Shameless plug, Redstone can help you with this!)
Facilitate meaningful connections. This can be done using social media as well. Conferences should foster conversation between delegates, but it should also promote conversation between people trying to accomplish the same goals. We may all be attendees at the same event, but our goals and missions may be different and we may be attending the event for different reasons. Get to know your delegates in advance of the event and help them achieve their conference goals!
Make sure all delegates have something to eat. We’ve all had to make some difficult decisions in order to keep the buffet table costs low. We’re operating in a tight economy and sometimes, sacrifices have to be made. BUT, these cuts shouldn’t be at the expense of any attendee’s right to eat! Serving rice, green beans and chicken on a buffet table is very generous, but then saying ‘the vegetarians have selection, they have rice and green beans!’ is not. Assuming they have paid the same conference fees as the meat-eaters, they should be entitled to the same type of meal. Keeping costs in check is necessary, but not at the expense of accommodating all those supporting your cause.
As meeting professionals, it is definitely difficult to completely let go of the ‘planner mentality’, so embrace the experience! It will really open your eyes to the opportunities you might miss when you are knee deep in the planning for your own event.