All the best businesses run conferences, meetings and large events, either to engage with customers or to develop their staff and encourage inter-departmental communication. However, these days conference attendees have much higher expectations, largely due to the rise of inspirational events such as TED Talks, as well as the opportunities offered by improvements in presentation technology. With that in mind, here are nine ways you can make your business events more engaging- and successful.
1. Choose an unusual location.
Events don't always have to be held in a conference centre. You can hold them anywhere, and a more imaginative location will spark creativity amongst attendees. Why not source a derelict (but safe) vacant space, or even hold your event outdoors? For additional excitement, you could transport attendees to the location without first telling them where it will be held. Instead, give them some clues (how to dress, what to bring) and incorporate the setting into your day's theme.
2. Go Japanese.
Pecha Kucha is Japanese for 'chit chat', though in this context it really refers to the 'art of concise presentations'. A Pecha Kucha event is a little like speed dating, but for ideas. At a Pecha Kucha event, 20 slides are shown for 20 seconds at a time, meaning each presentation only lasts six minutes and 40 seconds. It keeps the event fun, tight and fast paced, and also means you can get through more ideas and updates than you might otherwise have managed to fit in.
3. Employ a conference and events company.
If your organisation is slightly smaller, or simply looking to get some new ideas around events, it's worth calling in a dedicated business events company to help your conference, development day or meeting go with a bang. There are as many conference management companies out there are grains of sand on the beach, but for the best results it's worth contacting a larger company with a good reputation and asking what they think they can do for you. It's a good way to access assistance with multimedia and add some professional organisation, glitz, glamour and innovation to your day.
4. Have a 'fishbowl' conversation.
A fishbowl conversation- also called an 'unpanel' or a Samoan Circle, describes a discussion event where an inner group of people sit in a circle and talk about a certain topic, while other people sit around them and observe their conversation. If someone wants to join the conversation and offer up their own insight or opinion, they must ask to sit in the inner ring- effectively swapping places with someone else in order to do so. The advantage of this technique is that it allows a large group to take part in a discussion without anyone feeling excluded.
5. Storify your day.
Storify is a great way to collect feedback and conversations around events and conferences. The social network service allows organizers to create stories from a variety of social media accounts. As long as people are using your hashtag, you can create a feed that blends Instagram pics, Youtube videos, Tweets and Facebook status updates for a true multimedia event. It lets you tell a story about the event as it unfolds, using the voices of the attendees.
6. Host a knowledge café.
A knowledge café- or world café- is a type of business event that aims to create a conversation - and generate ideas about a specific topic. Participants start out in a single group, then break out to separate tables to consider a business question posed to them. It could be 'how can we better engage our customers using social media', or 'what are the barriers to communication in our organisation, and how can we solve them'. Participants then spend time discussing the problem with the help of a facilitator before returning to the initial circle. To boost the 'café' theme, consider holding the event in an actual café or restaurant or decorating the room accordingly.
7. Turn your business into a 'dotmocracy'.
Dotmocracy is an exciting method for getting a working opinion poll from a large number of people. Participants write down ideas on paper forms called and fill-in one dot per a sheet to record their opinion of each idea on a scale of "strong agreement", "agreement", "neutral", "disagreement", "strong disagreement" or "confusion". The result is a graph-like representation of the group's collective opinion on a variety of key statements that you can then use as a basis for further discussion. Why do they hold those opinions? Can we change them? It's worth holding another Dotmocracy poll at the end of the day to find out.
8. Throw out the rule book and hold an 'Unconference'.
When I was a manager at Edinburgh University I was tasked with running events for students, but it was tricky to get them to attend unless we were willing to be innovative and think outside the box. One of the ways we made our events more interesting was to throw out the rule book. At an unconference, the agenda is created by the attendees at the beginning of the meeting rather than the organisers. It's not for the faint hearted, as almost anything can happen if you give participants a free rein, but it's certainly engaging! Everyone has a voice, so anyone who wants to initiate a discussion on a topic can claim a time and a space. Unconferences typically feature open discussions, although any format is permitted.
9. Don't have an event at all, have a 'hack'.
Hack days originated as a way for computer programmers to get together and collaborate extensively on software projects. Hackathons are events with a clear end goal: you're coming together to share ideas and get things done, which is why the format has since proved popular outside the coding world. You don't have to be technological to hold a hack day: for example, if you run a cycling company, you could hold a Cyclehack to come up with clever new ideas to benefit the cycling community. Hack days are melting pots for ideas and work best when participants are free to spread their wings and play around with problems and concepts. A combination of methods above - such as knowledge cafes and fishbowl conversations- can help with that.