14 Steps How to Make Your Next Conference Fresh

Juraj Holub

The third edition of FRESH Conference in Copenhagen was all about human toolbox, about the role of people in increasing the impact of meetings and conferences. For two and half days, more than 200 online and onsite attendees were participating in interactive sessions, sharing their professional experience and engaging in intensive networking.

Inspired by what we experienced at FRESH14, we created a few tips for event professionals on how to make their next conference FRESH.

Before the Conference

1.     Prepare your story

People love stories. From bedtime storytelling to keynote speakers’ presentation. Stories draw the listeners in. Once you choose the theme of your conference, try to come up with a good story that would guide your attendees throughout the entire conference instead of just covering the selected topics.

2.     Planning is everything

As they say, no plans survive the first touch with reality, but good planning is absolutely essential. Set clear objectives of what you want to achieve and then carefully choose the right tools and formats. Carefully brief the speakers and moderators, giving them insights about the larger context and how they fit into the story. And always have a backup plan for all critical parts of your event.

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At the Beginning

3. Set the tone

It is crucial to set the tone of your conference right at the start. Have an opening session where the moderator introduces the theme of the conference and presents everyone the broader context. Use this session to also briefly introduce the team and speakers and set up the ground rules you would like everyone to follow.

4. Break the ice

Participants usually arrive at the conference individually and might often feel awkward and lost in the crowd of strangers. Help them break the ice with a fun session right after the official opening. Divide people into small groups and give them a common theme or topic to talk about. They will appreciate it immensely.

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During the Conference

5. Give voice to your audience

People do not come to your event only to sit and listen passively. Each one of them has unique knowledge and objectives. Give them a chance to freely ask questions, decide which questions they like the most and enable them to share their expertise and opinions. Use interactive tools and formats that allow even shy participants to become a part of the story. During panel discussions, try to leave 1-2 spots free for panelists from the audience.

6. Give choice to your audience

Do not be afraid of losing “control”. Shift the focus from the speaker and facilitator to the audience. Let participants manage their own sessions, share their knowledge in small groups and choose the topics that they truly care about. By encouraging self-facilitation, you will create very personal and customised experience for everyone.

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Breaks

7. Stimulate networking

Breaks are often overlooked but nevertheless represent a priceless part of every conference. This is the time when participants can connect with each other and reflect on what they have learnt. Design sessions so they can be seamlessly bridged into the networking breaks without disrupting the ongoing conversations.

8. Design the right set up

Find the right premises for networking breaks and make sure there are no physical barriers preventing people to move around. Maximise the value of breaks by organizing interesting and fun activities that your audience can easily join. Your sponsors will benefit from formats such as learning carrousel, where attendees move in groups among your sponsors, who have 5 minutes to pitch them their value proposition.

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Online

9. Focus the streaming experience

Do not stream the whole event. Carefully select a few interesting blocks that will trigger active participation of the online audience. Appoint a team that will take care of your online participants, moderate the discussion and make sure their questions and comments are heard on site. Schedule moderated blocks between the onsite sessions to bring additional value to your online participants.

10. Be active on social networks

Come up with a catchy hashtag that people can use to find and share the best content on social networks. Have an onsite photographer and cameraman capturing unique moments. Actively share the most interesting ideas and content on all relevant social networks. Engage your onsite and online participants so they feel the urge to share their experience.

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Closing

11. Edutainment

Conferences are usually long and no matter how captivating and stimulating speakers are, people get tired towards the end. Use entertainment to re-spark the energy in the room and strengthen the learning experience. Book a comedian who will refresh the audience and energise them for the closing sessions.

12. Wrap up and set the context for next year

In the end, summarize the key points that were delivered during the conference. Help participants relive the highlights to take home the core message. Put the conclusions into context and connect them with the theme for next year.

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After the Conference

13. It aint over til its over

The conference does not finish the moment you pack up the stuff, send the crew home and get on the plane. The next few days can be almost as critical as the conference itself. Gather and share the best content that was recorded, photographed, posted or tweeted to spread the core message and create a strong foundation for the next year.

14. Follow-up on the initiatives

During the conference, lots of conclusions were drawn, cooperations initiated, business cards exchanged. Make sure that you follow-up and keep your community alive.

There were many more priceless tips and lessons that were mentioned during the incredible two and a half days at the FRESH14 conference. We hope you will find this guide useful when planning your next event and we would like to thank all of the FRESH14 speakers and participants for sharing their know-how with us.

Do you have any other tips how to organise an energising conference? Please feel free to share with us.

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