It’s no secret that conference participants in 2015 have a completely different set of expectations and needs than conference participants five, 10 or even one year ago.

Which is not surprising when you think about it in a world where thought leadership is delivered in 18 minutes or less, where opinions take only 144 characters, where anything can be learned online, where the best conversations are unplanned, and where everyone has a voice and wants to be heard.

As meeting and event professionals in 2015 we need to understand that.

We need to understand that today’s conference goer doesn’t just want great content – they want it fast. They don’t just want to be told what needs to be done – they want to know how to do it. They don’t just want to network – they want real conversations. They don’t want to sit through two days of keynote presentation and panel sessions – they want to be involved, engaged and contribute.

Working with many different clients on many different conferences here in Australia and overseas, I’ve noticed certain patterns and trends appear in the way leading conference professionals are engaging participants and boosting the return on their conference dollar.

For me there are three trends that are no brainers. These aren’t future visions or things that people made up, they are here now, they are growing and they are becoming more and more prominent.

Audience Driven Content

People are interested in the things that interest them. If they aren’t interested then they aren’t engaged. The trend here is about asking your audience what it is they want to hear and then delivering it to them, both during a session where there’s direct interaction between an audience and a content provider, and in leading up to a conference when designing the program. There are technologies already in place to help do this, but are they used to their full benefit?

The talking head is dead – long live the two-way conversation.

Short Sharp Talks

We take in information faster than we used to. This trend is all about delivering shorter presentations which are more effective because presenters have to articulate their message more clearly and because shorter means less opportunity for wandering minds and disengagement. I first worked with this concept in the US with ISES and later with MEA in KL where we introduced 15 minute ‘thought starter’ talks followed by deep dive sessions. Shorter means punchier, engaging and memorable.

Post Conference Action Plans

Conferences are about changing behaviours and getting stuff done. But as we have all experienced, sitting in a room for two or three days doesn’t guarantee that the lessons learned will be lasting and the information acquired will be put to use. This trend is about putting frameworks in place to keep the momentum going long after the conference has finished. Perhaps as an online forum, a member app, activity alerts or alumni get togethers. It’s about finding ways to help participants take lasting action. Over the coming issues I’ll deep dive and unpack each of these trends in greater detail but in the meantime…

Try this

Next time you are working with a client or planning your conference ask yourself: ‘How can you find out what it is your participants really need and want to know?’ ‘What is it you can do to make your talks shorter, sharper and clearer?’ ‘What processes can you put in place to ensure participants take action after the final session?’ m

By Nigel Collin

Nigel Collin is an undercover content director as well as speaker within the meetings and events industry. More can be found at www.nigelcollincreative.com.au.

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