1) Be clear on the objectives of the Conference
2) The value for participants comes mainly from participation, meeting people and exchanging ideas. The value for the speakers comes from presenting themselves and their ideas to an audience. The organisers are usually interested in “bums on seats” or profits. Keep these three in balance.
3) Focus on the experience of a participant, especially someone new to the conference. What will it be like for her/him? Then define the processes that need thinking about and managing.
E g Welcoming
4) Brief speakers (if you have any) to consider the needs of the audience first. They should avoid over long sessions and obscure language but encourage interaction and humour. Visual aids should be clear and simple. Have speakers stop half way through and ask the audience to talk to each other briefly about what they have understood so far. They will have a more attentive reception in the second half.
5) The best conferences provide space for the participants to interact with each other in small groups. It works best when each person has equal time to contribute to a tangible and personal output. This requires personal commitment. This happens when the group defines the task or the process requires it.
E g At a conference of politicians and media people, the politicians’ group’s task could be: –
What is good and what is difficult about being a politician?
How does the media help? What could media people do differently?
The media group’s task could be: –
What is good and what is difficult about being a media person?
How do politicians help? What could they do differently?
After this the two groups listen to each other, identify areas for improvement and make plans.
6) The above is an example of a general rule. If the conference has representatives from more than one group, get people to share information in their own groups before asking them to listen to other groups.
7) All the above works best in an atmosphere that is supportive and not too heavy. It is quite possible to enjoy working on important issues. An enjoyable warm up activity can build this atmosphere. You can ask people to say their names, and one sentence on what they do and what they enjoy about what they do! This usually causes a bit of laughter and everyone relaxes. If the conference is very large this can be done in mixed groups chosen randomly. You can follow this by asking people to find one fascinating thing about three people they do not know! There are many variations possible.
8) Conferences can be enjoyable, stimulating and safe if they are thought about from the point of view of the people attending. They risk being boring and expensive non events if you do not think about them carefully. Rarely, they can be chaotic and disturbing. Careful thought and planning will reduce these risks.