6 Ways to Improve Your Next Conference

Credit: Hensley Media

Credit: Hensley Media

While our lives are increasingly interconnected, the time and space for us to cultivate meaningful connections have become limited. You know the feeling of handing out business cards in a crowded convention center, listening to keynote speakers in a cramped room, and never really remembering anyone because you were checking your email half the time. What you crave is to find events where you meet people who can inspire you to grow—people who can catapult your work and push you to question, try, fail, and succeed. Ultimately, what you really want is to develop the connections around you. At Cotential, we believe curated events and conferences are a critical part of discovering and fostering those connections.

Although most conferences are meant to allow people to make meaningful connections, not all of them are created equal in allowing them. For most, hearing panel speakers and being in a crowd of hundreds or thousands doesn’t actually get them where they want to go. However, there are practical ways to ensure that those who attend your next conference get the most value out of it. To improve the next conference you host, follow these six tips.

1) Host a “lunch roulette:” Valuable connections are often made serendipitously, so it is beneficial to assign diverse groups to have lunch or dinner together during the events. This prevents people from just talking with colleagues they already know and allows them to forge a greater variety of connections.

2) Set up a digital portal: Before, during, and after the gathering, attendees can share PDFs, links, thought papers, and articles for pre-reading and post-reading on challenges they are facing. Setting up such a portal can easily be done through a Facebook or LinkedIn group or Podio. This is a great way to initiate conversations before the conference and continue them afterward on the issues that really matter.

3) Create “rapid-skill” talks: Don’t just stick to the basics of panels and breakfast speakers. Instead, mix it up and allow a series of five-minute “rapid-skill” talks, where attendees can share skills that they have with the crowd and then answer questions from the audience. This is a powerful way to engage attendees and democratize the knowledge shared beyond speakers and panels.

4) Match-make new people: If an event is in a hotel, make key speakers or participant volunteers “hosts” of tables at breakfast. That way, if people really want to talk to a certain person on a particular topic, they can intentionally go early and get a seat at a table with that host. This system ultimately capitalizes on the “intelligence” of matchmaking the right people and overcomes the issue of “the big, powerful speaker” just sitting with people she knows and never really connecting with others.

5) Incorporate the arts: Connection is strongest when it goes beyond “business” and becomes human. Include poetry, music, artwork, or dance at your conference to stimulate thought and discussion. Being in a more creative environment allows people to feel differently and in turn act, engage, and remember your conference differently.

6) Focus the conversation on problem solving, not problem definition: Take the approach of brainstorming and solving problems in panels and asking the audience for possible solutions to those problems. You can use a “second screen,” like a Twitter screen and hashtag, so attendees can respond instantaneously to others’ ideas while sharing their own. An IdeaPaint board can also be used for attendees to share their insight on problem solving.

Most importantly, don’t underestimate the element of surprise and serendipity in creating unexpected conversations and meaningful connections.  When people are brought together, all it may take is bumping into someone new to spark a powerful connection.

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