by Matthew Sanderson
Attending a professional conference should be a positive experience for networking and learning about promising practices in the field.
Attendees benefit when planners spend time worrying about registration, wayfinding, seating at sessions, the vendor/display area, amenities, conference closing and hotel check-out, and keynotes.
Wayfinding: “Registration ↑ ” What is this? Registration straight up? Sure, it means straight ahead, but perhaps use words instead of symbols. When possible, post “You are here” floorplans throughout your convention site. Even with portable technology, sometimes a standard map is the way to go.
Seating at Sessions: Airlines used to use the average of 170lbs for an air traveler. It has been adjusted to 190lbs. Keep this in mind when placing chairs in session rooms. Just because 20 chairs can be placed side-by-side doesn’t mean 20 adult humans can fit comfortably in them. If the room is set for half-day, whole-day, or multiple-day sessions at rounds, seek a larger room than needed. Attendees will need and want to move comfortably throughout the room as this will be their new home for a little while.
Vendor/Display Area: Give people a reason to go. Not just incentivizing with prizes and drawings, but perhaps a sponsored snack break or some giveaways. Vendor/display areas in thoroughfares are great for increased traffic, but may not be inviting for a person to stop and visit if they are trying to hit their next session on time.
Amenities: Let’s get to it – access to coffee shops and appropriate line management. Other amenities are great; some folks might take in a spa, many will hit the gym, but people will wait in line through a session to get that deliciously blended caffeinated beverage.
Conference Closing / Hotel Check-out: When wrapping just before, during, or just after the hotel check-out time, conference hosts should take care to work with the hotel to arrange for late check-outs if and as appropriate. Make late check-out a registration request when possible to make the process more easily managed for attendees.
Keynote: This can be tricky. Some attendees will be interested in a big name. Others will be interested in a commentary immediately applicable to the profession. A keynote should be applicable to many. A recommendation is to provide highlights of the speech or thought prompts to the attendees so they can seek out meaning during the speech. Prompts can also ask attendees to apply the keynote’s themes to their daily work. This will help engage the audience and ensure the conference is getting their money’s worth from the keynote.
Meeting all expectations of thousands or 10’s of thousands of attendees at any conference or convention will be impossible. Individual needs should be honored, but taking care to ensure the needs of the masses are met will provide for a successful event.
Matthew Sanderson has been attending and occasionally planning education conferences nationwide for over two decades. Matthew brings an end-user perspective to meeting and conference planning.