10 Un-Conventional Conference Ideas
Conferences. Yawn. The very word may as well translate as big, brutal and, most of all, boring. Hundreds of people sitting in enforced silence, staring at someone in a suit. In front of the only thing even more boring than someone in a suit. A PowerPoint presentation!
Oh, and please ensure your phone is switched off. What? Seriously? You expect me to sit in a darkened room, listening to someone spew theoretical bullshit whilst the world is changing in real time, right outside? No way! Things have got to change! In particular, I can’t believe it when delegates are asked to turn their phones off. Surely any keynote speaker worth their ego would be offended if people weren’t spreading their wisdom to as wide an audience as possible, yet many still miss the point!
Well, if any of the above resonates with you and if you've experienced an experience like the experience I've described above (or, even worse, know that you're going to experience such an experience in the near future) then you need to do something about it! For a start, don't even go. Secondly, make sure you don't subject anyone else to it with anything you're planning. It's lazy, it's counter-productive and, above all, it's wholly unnecessary!
There are ways to ensure that your conference, AGM, seminar, summit or whatever you want to call it, actually works! And that means your delegates actually gain more by attending than they're missing back at the ranch! If you can make it fun, vibrant, engaging, informative, dynamic, innovative, immersive, stimulating, relevant, and consistently attention-grabbing - basically unmissable - then you've cracked it. It's so rare yet it's so simple. And I can prove it through Crowdfunding!
I'm currently organising the World's first Crowdfunding Summit. In fact, I'm a 'Crowdfinder', one of three founding partners who are putting together an event for the banking and investment world that's so alien to the banking and investment world it might seem radical to the online gaming industry! We're breaking every rule and smashing every boundary with what we're calling 'Crowd Funding UK' on April 23rd at The Crystal, E16.
Picture this. A mind sharpening, angular glass structure which just happens to be London's most sustainable building as the unique on message venue. A subject matter that's different, refreshing, alternative, challenging, interruptive, and provocative. A delivery that's representative and reflective of the subject matter. The world's leading authorities within the crowd funding sector, all under one (rain catching!) roof and all sharing their market leading knowledge and strategic advice. An engaging and fun to use app - 'gameification' of the immersive kind...
But there's more. Lots more. Without giving too much away, each session will be punctuated by something eye-poppingly mind blowing. A suited entrepreneur will take the stage to pitch his business (Dragon’s Den style) to a room full of high net worth investors who will be pooling their funds and spreading their bets across the UK's most exciting investment growth opportunities. But first, he'll break into the fastest and most awesome beat boxing you'll ever experience. Before they know it, the entire delegation will find themselves surrounded by spinning, flying, jumping, somer-saluting breakdancing, too uber-cool for school, urban artists who are there to surprise, delight, stimulate and excite an audience of conference delegates. Hell, it'll be more cirque du Soleil than a standard conference day!
Then there's the world's greatest football free-stylers, the BMX stunt riders, the unconventional speakers, the Dale Carnegie entrepreneur training session where we'll all be taught to activate our photographic memories (yes, we all have one!). Oh and then after the most delicious (yet CSR box-tickingly terracotta potted provenance laden) canapé reception, there's a fairly unconventional journey home to top it all off. Guests will be given a free ticket to ride the Emirates Air-line (that's a cable car to you and I) back to North Greenwich and the Jubilee line home! Of course, many will be climbing into the shimmering London skyline with an instant, hassle free, life-changing investment under thier belt.
Others will be excitedly contemplating the high-tech business they discovered for the first time that very day, which they're now backing for the big time...At Crowdfinders we're all about finding the crowd, the relevant people who will make you rich - whether you're a business owner looking for cash to hike you up to the next phase or an investor who wants a much more exciting, worthwhile, lucrative and rewarding place to put their money than a blood-sucking bank (which is so last last Century btw!).
If you're interested in learning more about how crowd funding could help you, then why not come and join us on 23rd April? You can register here (but hurry, places are running out fast!)
So, with all that in mind, here are our top ten ways to make your conference or convention decidedly un-conventional:
1. Choose the right venue. Sounds obvious but you'd be surprised how often people screw this up, particularly if they're trying to be clever. My general advice would be to choose somewhere interesting, slightly off piste (in terms of style) and somewhere inspiring whilst being logistically conducive to what you're trying to achieve. If your location is remote, that's cool, as long as you've thought about transport logistics - you need to make it easy to get there, even if it isn't! Some venues are geared up for AV, others aren't, so a unique venue may require a higher production spend...
2. Serve nutri-bullet style energy boosting smoothies throughout the event – especially on arrival. It puts everyone in the right frame of mind - mentally and physically, even psychologically! Everyone feels great about themselves following a quick blast of spinach laced rocket fuel (or 'Dinosaur juice' as my mum calls it for some reason?!) It also sends a subliminal message - we're forward thinking, we care and, somehow, we're cool too! And it really does work! Brain food may be a bit of a cliche but how good do you feel after a freshly smashed juice? You know how you get more done in he mornings? Well a nutri-blast prolongs that (and it tastes even better than coffee!)
3. Create an engaging social media campaign and encourage delegates to be involved and instrumental to proceedings. It all starts with a hashtag on twitter, facebook and/or Instagram and you can take it from there to just about anywhere! There are professional organisations such as ThinkWall or Social Fuel who can help you with this too. Even if you don't really know where to start, get some help from a specialist agency and you'll see a (virtual) world of opportunity open up in front of you! Never underestimate the power of a successful and engaged social media campaign. It's something to spend money on and is just as important as your venue. Seriously.
4. Promote it with a video so the people behind the event are up front and personal. Characters are key and video is the perfect way to animate and contextualise your vision. Just as events are a crucial factor on the face to face aspects of your marketing campaign, video can encapsulate the ethos of your brand (and exactly what you're trying to achieve) perfectly. Just as a picture speaks a thousand words, a one minute video speaks about eight million. And that's a scientific fact. Why do you think YouTube is so popular and why do you think record companies still invest in music videos? It's all about the face (no treble!)
5. Animate (and punctuate) it with Entertainment. Entertainment needs to be relevant. And, in my opionion, larger than life. Even better, if you can ensure that it closely reflects (and, therefore, animates) your brand and core messages it’ll have triple impact. Something suitably spectacular will capture the imagination, stimulate the senses and, crucially, ensure that both your event and your product are memorable for all the right reasons. If your message is strengthened and contextualized by your entertainment (as opposed to having entertainment for entertainment’s sake) then your event will be far more successful. Your event should always be remarkable (in other words, tweetable and instagrammable), however big or small. And anyway, why do anything unless it’s going to end up on Facebook, especially an event, right!
6. There needs to be something for everyone. All at the same time. From Google glass integration to simple story telling, an engaged audience is the key to a successful event. Ensure your content is tailored to your audience rather than the other way round (you can refine and shoe-horn key messages more than you can refine and shoe-horn your audience who, with the correct communication, should have already shoe-horned themselves!).
7. Transport. And when I say 'transport' I mean more than just transport. You have a unique opportunity to transport your delegates to another dimension not just another venue. The ill feted “Battersea bullet train” is the greatest example. If you’re interested in what would have been London’s most sensational entertainment complex then you can read about it here but essentially, it was a three minute, one mile journey made to feel a whole lot further via a 4D experience – vibrations, sped up projection and illusion were all used to dramatic effect. The point is that if you can use transport as a major feature within your event and if the ‘getting there’ is an integral part of proceedings then you’ll seduce your audience. Think of it as ‘event foreplay’ – you don’t necessarily want to dive straight into the keynote session, right? It needs to be easily accessible yet at the same time stimulating. What if your delegates didn't even know where they were going? (that's a great ploy if your venue isn't very exciting!). You could even blindfold them…;-)
8. Ensure your content is genuinely something they can't download from the Internet or find out on Google. Send out teasers too, just to whet their appetites and get them in the mood. Anticipation is the new pre-event publicity, because your own delegates become your own publicists. Your event content needs to be desirable, valuable and unobtainable elsewhere. Of course, a dynamic delivery from an inspirational speaker (Jordan Belfort being a prime example) accentuates the whole experience enormously. The power of a personality is worth spending serious money on because it’s rarer than you think – a great speaker with a great story is almost priceless. And one doesn’t work without the other btw.
9. Provide plenty of food, throughout the event. As we identified in our Catering Trends Report last year, quantity is just as important as quality because if your delegates are hungry, they’ll be unfocused and irritable. At the risk of sounding like a Welsh rugby song, feed them till they want no more. Oh, and feed them wholesome, healthy and filling food perhaps via food stations or a buffet so your guests have freedom to roam (and graze at designated, yet regular, times between sessions).
10. Above all else, make sure it’s FUN! There’s nothing more to say here really because fun is either there or it’s not. Just make sure it is though!
And here are some suggested conference venues to get you started: along with 5 newcomers, below:
1. St. James Theatre – Have you ever thought of holding your conference in a fully kitted out theatre? Well, there are lots of reasons why you should! From the perfect raked seating to the in-house state of the art production benefits, the expansive foyer (perfect for energy inducing juices on arrival) and various other secrets that you’ll discover when you get there. St. James’ Theatre is the best of both worlds – the only classic London Theatre to have been built in the last 30 years, with all the attributes as well as modern sensibilities (like climate control under the seats!) and none of the annoying bits, which are characteristic of Victorian Theatres, such as no legroom!
2. The Orbit – new to the London scene, the Arcelor Mittal Orbit is not only a significant addition to the iconic London skyline but it’s also a really well appointed (and equipped) conference venue! For smaller conferences you can use the Orbit itself – giving your conference the best view in town) or, alternatively, for larger gatherings there’s The Podium, a fully spec’d up conference venue with a large scale roof terrace and all the technology you’ll ever need. In fact, you can even seamlessly present from your ipad or iphone (so you don’t have to lug that stupid laptop around any more)
3. Coin St. This eye catching building in the heart of the thriving Southbank Community is perfectly geared for conferences and training days of the inspirational variety! Just a stone’s throw from Waterloo Station, Coin St. can cater for up to 200 delegates and it’s one of London’s most sustainable event venues, ticking more CSR boxes than almost anywhere else! What’s more, they have a stunning roof terrace for breakouts and BBQs. Do you need any more reasons to check it out..?!
4. Amba Charing Cross Hotel, The Strand. This magnificently appointed hotel is quite literally the most central venue in London. There’s a (largely unknown) monument right in the fore-court which marks the spot and this fact would look great on your corporate invitation! They have palatial conference rooms too and they don’t feel institutionalized at all so, all in all, Amba Charing Cross is a first class event destination.
5. Crowne Plaza City. As one of the most beautiful modern hotels in the City, this venue has a multitude of exciting spaces to really help you animate your conference or event. From their well appointed Bridewell Suite to their world famous Chinese Cricket Club restaurant, Crowne Plaza City is a gleaming modern jewel in the heart of Blackfriars. Their Voltair Champagne bar is worth checking out too – with their eighteenth Century under-street Champagne vaults being a particular highlight…