10 Unconventional Conference Ideas

Venues | Conferences | 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.

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...

Here East, Stratford

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 well do you feel after a freshly smashed juice? You know how you get more done in the mornings? Well a nutri-blast prolongs that (and it tastes even better than coffee!)

Photo by Osha Key on Unsplash

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 opinion, larger than life. Even better, if you can ensure that it closely reflects (and, therefore, animates) your brand and core messages it’ll have a 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 storytelling, an engaged audience is 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-fated “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 a while back, 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 the freedom to roam (and graze at designated, yet regular, times between sessions).

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Top 10 catering ideas for 2018

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. Battersea EvolutionNow this one IS unconventional but it also has a few USP's that make it an amazing venue:

  1. Interesting location
  2. No pillars, no awkward structural barriers. Just a good, old-fashioned blank canvass. And plenty of it. Check out their profile pictures here and imagine how cool your brand will look on a stage that big
  3. Amazing catering. The Smart team are the best in the business. Led by the amazing Angela Hartnett: MBE and Michelin chef no less....

2. The Orbit – Not so new now to the London scene but still relatively undiscovered, the Arcelor Mittal Orbit is not only a significant addition to the iconic London skyline but it’s also a brilliantly well appointed (and equipped) conference venue with a spectacular view of London AND, it has 'The Slide'. If you want to provide your guests with a thrill they'll never forget then this is it. The worlds longest tunnel slide......  

3. The Mermaid LondonThis beauty has it all:

  1. Great central location
  2. Impressive auditorium
  3. Amazing river views
    If you're looking for safe, solid and conventional (I know we said "unconventional" in the title but hey, we're unconventional.......get it??) then you can't go wrong with The Mermaid London.
    Conference after conference after conference is delivered here. All to VERY exacting standards. The real proof here is that many conferences come back year after year. You can't get better creds than that!

4. 65 Queen's Gate - This venue is a real Ronseal venue. It does exactly what it says on the tin.......and it does it VERY well.
It's probably got something to do with it's ethical and CSR DNA.
The team pride themselves on delivering your event with a smile (not that the others don't) but these folks really do have your satisfaction at the heart of everything they do. And you can feel it too, as soon as you engage with them. Great location too and very reasonably priced.


4. CinemasYep, your favourite movie venue can (and frequently does) double up as a brilliant conference venue. It's obvious when you think about it: What are the main 2 things you need for a conference? Great AV and lots of seating. Well, guess what, you're not going to get better than a full-on, cinematic audiovisual experience (with loads of seats) than in a..........cinema. They can even link up a network of cinemas around the UK all at the same time. Cinemas: Conferences in a box.
Check out: Cineworld, ODEON & Curzon. They've all got something a bit special to offer.


So there you have it, a little something for everyone.
Now, let's have some fun shall we?
If you have a venue, supplier, idea, experience (good or bad) or some thoughts on what I've missed then let's hear it.
Best response (judged by the Londonlaunch team) will receive a goody bag from a fancy retailer. Stay tuned and chip in.......

Tags : Conferences