“It’s time for our annual conference. Let’s hope no one shows up!” You’ve probably never heard those words uttered in an event planning meeting before, but based on how some events are planned, promoted, and operated, you might wonder if the planners actually did. Let’s face it: We’ve all attended events that were uninspiring or disorganized, and left thinking, “Well, that was a waste of time.”
As an event planner, having attendees leave unhappy — and without plans to return — is just about the worst thing that can happen. On the off chance that you do want to torpedo your meeting, though, here are few things you must be sure to do.
1. Don’t Tell People Why They Should Come
Some conferences give everything away before the big day: They tell you who is speaking, the speakers’ topics, what you can expect to learn, and why their conference is better than the rest. They don’t seem to understand the element of surprise that comes with not providing all the information up front.
Of course, when attendees know that they can expect to hear speakers with moving stories that will draw out audience emotions, they will learn about all the important trends in their industry and meet other leaders from around the world, they are more likely to sign up and be excited to attend. Telling people why they should choose your conference over all the others is usually a much better strategy when you want people to come.
2. Make It Hard to Register
Sure, plenty of tools make it easy for conference attendees to sign up online, but you prefer to do things the old-fashioned way. Your audience really doesn’t mind having to fill out forms and fax or mail them in to you. Let your competitors beat you out by making it simple to register online or from a mobile device.
3. Don’t Pay Attention to Details
You have so much to handle when it comes to planning an event, so everyone will understand if you forget to reserve blocks of rooms at multiple hotels, include the dress code on the awards ceremony invitations, or order vegetarian meals for the luncheon. Of course, your attendees will be happier, and more likely to come back, if they don’t have to chase down information (or food) and you give them all of the information they need.
4. Overschedule Each Day
We understand: You want to give people their money’s worth, so you schedule sessions all day each day of the conference, from breakfast through dinner, with an hour for lunch. Never mind that they may wish to check out the exhibit hall, meet up with a friend for coffee, or take a nap after a long morning of learning. You want to make sure that everyone leaves with as much knowledge as possible.
Then again, you could offer some free time and longer breaks between sessions that allow your attendees to process what they have learned and explore all of the great resources you’ve set up for them.
5. Don’t Provide Networking Opportunities
People come to conferences to meet others and make connections — but they can do that on their own. They’ll meet plenty of people in their sessions or at meals, so there’s no need to plan cocktail hours or other events where people can have conversations and make introductions.
You’ve heard that no one likes panel discussions, and breakout sessions are a pain to coordinate, so you’re going to skip them this time and just have a bunch of presenters. No one will mind sitting in the conference room all day, especially since you have such great speakers. Of course, research shows that most people lose interest after 10 minutes (and even the uber-popular TED talks are only 18 minutes or less) and everyone learns differently, but it’s OK. Undoubtedly, your conference will prove to be the exception and everyone will love the “consistent” format.
7. Don’t Provide Anything Fun to Do
Everyone loves going to conferences and sitting through endless sessions, and then eating alone in the hotel restaurant. They never want to let their hair down and get to know other people in their industry on a social level. Conferences are for work only, and should be kept as serious and buttoned up as possible, and should definitely not include a killer party that people can get excited about.
Obviously, this is all a bit tongue in cheek, and experienced event planners would never intentionally do any of these things. Still, whether it’s your first conference or your 101st, pay close attention to these details and you’ll keep them coming back for more.