5 Creative Ideas for Conference Sessions

Juraj Holub

How many times have you reached into your creative ideas shelf when planning a conference and realized you’ve used all the usual session formats way too often?

To make this constant search for fresh concepts easier for you, we’ve collated these five creative, easy-to-implement session formats that we’ve picked up.

Implementing these concepts will help you produce outstanding audience engagement with the content and strengthen their overall learning experience.

1. The Newlywed Game meets live polls

At Pulse 2018, we came across a creative panel idea that quickly pulled people in and enlivened the audience. The panel session, inspired by the American game show The Newlywed Game, stood out for its creative, interactive design.

The panelists wrote down their answers to a series of pre-prepared questions on paper cards. While they did this, the organizers posed the same questions to the audience through live polls. At the end, they compared and commented on the results.

The format stimulated focused thinking among the attendees. This can be difficult at the end of a conference day as people’s attention tends to wane.

As a result, the session achieved a remarkable level of engagement with over 300 audience votes on some of the poll questions.

Pulse 2018 panel discussion session

2. Fireside chats in an informal setting

The misperception that experts in their field must also be expert speakers often results in dry, one-way presentations that don’t do justice to the speaker’s knowledge or expertise. The trick is to find the most effective way for the person to deliver their content.

A two-way, conversational format such as a fireside chat is an excellent alternative. It creates a natural conversation between two people which helps uncover brilliant insights and make the delivery dynamic and engaging.

This year’s Festival of Marketing used this format widely. Skilled moderators interviewed expert speakers on various topics on stage with their pre-prepared questions. The organizers created an informal atmosphere by setting up the main stage as a cozy lounge with a sofa full of pillows.

To ensure the sessions are relevant to participants and touch on the topics they care about, they collected audience questions through Slido during each session. The moderators incorporated these into the discussions or addressed them at the end of their sessions.

Read more about why and how to organize fireside chats.

Extra tip: If there are too many unanswered questions, ask the speakers to address them after the session.

Fireside chat at the Festival of Marketing

3. Facilitated Q&As

All too often, the Q&A is left for the last five minutes at the end of a conference session. But even then, the time is usually too short and rarely used to its full potential.

To make the most of your Q&A, dedicate some space during your session to give people time to formulate questions.

At Eventex, moderator Jan-Jaap asked each participant to write down three questions before the speaker started presenting. He then instructed people to tick off the topics that the presenter addressed during the talk.

After the presentation, people submitted the unanswered questions via Slido. Once the questions came in, people upvoted the ones they found most relevant. In the end, the moderator asked the speaker top three questions with the highest number of votes.

This way, the moderator ensured that the 10-minute Q&A session addressed the most burning topics which the attendees cared about.


4. Campfire Sessions

To take the interaction a step further, you can flip the traditional format around and let the attendees co-create the content in a campfire session. Sharing stories is a great way to uncover people’s knowledge and stimulate peer learning.

True to their name, these sessions are set in a laid-back environment to create the atmosphere of storytelling by the campfire. This format was pioneered by MPI that regularly holds them at its annual congresses EMEC and WEC.

The sessions usually last for 30 minutes. The facilitator introduces a topic and lets the participants create content themselves through discussion.

Campfire sessions create an excellent place for people to learn from their peers, share experiences and build new connections.

5. An interactive quiz to introduce speakers

If your event or meetup has multiple tracks running concurrently, you can help the attendees choose the right sessions and learn more about speakers by running an introductions quiz. This works well especially in smaller conferences or meetups with a small number of speakers.

We’ve seen this brilliant idea at Dell’s #Social360 UnConference at SXSW. Inspired by a popular TV trivia game show, the presenters formed two teams and were given buzzers. The host asked questions based on a pre-event survey and let the teams guess the answers.

Like on TV, the first team to hit the buzzer was allowed to answer. If the team guessed one of the top three answers from the survey results, they scored points. To make it more informative, the moderator asked follow-up questions to enable the presenters to demonstrate their expertise.

As a result, the participants got a great overview of the topics. It helped people discover the speakers from whom they wanted to hear more. What’s more, the quiz quickly uncovered knowledge gaps that needed to be addressed during the event.

The creative concepts and formats described above made a huge impact on the participants’ engagement with presenters and their overall learning. Leverage these tips to deliver an outstanding event experience for your attendees.

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