Conferences can have a bad reputation for being long and boring. But, they were originally created for attendees to learn about an industry while making meaningful bonds with colleagues along the way. How can conferences remedy the bum rap they’ve earned after years of long PowerPoints, drawn out speeches and irrelevant corporate sponsorships?

As you’re planning your next conference, consider these exciting ways to give attendees a more enjoyable experience that they’ll remember. It will not only leave a better taste in their mouth, it will improve ROI and retention as a result.

  1. Plan a post-conference adventure: A geographically appropriate excursion is a great way to boost adrenaline after a long day in seated in the conference room. Ideas are guided mountain bike rides, ski tours or zip-lining. Hiring a local guide is a great idea, as they can typically help you check all the necessary boxes such as liability waivers.

  2. Ice Breakers: Help the attendees break out of their shell and get to know one another. The sooner they feel comfortable together, the sooner they will feel like they can relax and enjoy each other’s company. The ice breaker could be as simple as a request that attendees shake the hands of the people next to them, or a small group “get to know you” game.

  3. Breakout sessions: Breaking out into smaller groups may feel more comfortable and less overwhelming for conference attendees. Take it up a notch and treat the break-out group like a campfire where the presenter acts more as a facilitator rather than a talking head. This approach will create a more relaxed environment.

  4. Engage the audience: Attendees won’t be bored if you keep them on their toes. Ask questions, take polls, or have a Q&A session with the presenter. Whether answers are by text, tweet or show-of-hands, it’s a good strategy for keeping an audience’s attention.

  5. Meet and greet, speed dating style: This would be a great idea for a smaller conference. Set aside a chunk of time for attendees to ‘speed date.’ After getting into two rows facing one another, each side will have one minute to introduce themselves. After that minute, everyone moves to the next person until everyone has met – albeit briefly.

  6. Remove tables: This idea works best at breakfast time. People are forced to chit-chat while drinking their coffee rather than sit and scroll on their phones.

  7. Service project: Nothing brings people together like helping each other. Setting up a service project after a conference is a great way to get attendees to feel like a cohesive group. Research a charity that is either local or relevant to the industry and engage with them to assess how your group can help.

  8. Pause for meditation: Even just 5 minutes of mindful meditation, either guided or silent, sets off the day right. We’ve found this is best as an early break period. You’ll be surprised at how balanced and energetic the day goes when you take time to align in this way.

  9. Get going with a game: After coffee but before the meat of the conference, energize the room with a fun game. For example, give attendees 15 minutes to find out all the things they have in common with the people in their row. Whoever creates the longest list wins a prize.

  10. Cocktail hour: This is definitely not a new idea but it is a tried and true one. Sometimes there’s no better way to get people in the mix than to break bread and cheers with friends. We are always pleased with how much more cohesive the group seems after the first cocktail hour, which is why there is often one on the night prior to the first day’s events.

Are you preparing for your next conference? Shake things up and think outside the box with a Strategic Event Design conference planner.