There has been a rise in popularity of “unconferences” at meetings of late, in response to meeting delegates increasingly shunning lecture-style, didactic conferences.

Google explains an unconference as, “a loosely structured conference emphasizing the informal exchange of information and ideas between participants, rather than following a conventionally structured program of events.”

The thought of planning a completely unstructured conference scares many in the association world. Yet there are ways to increase the level of participation without drastically altering the familiar – and without breaking the budget.

Over the last three years at The Engaging Associations Forum, we have implemented the following five practices to improve the level of engagement with our participants:

1. REMOVE BARRIERS

Have the presenter mic’ed with a cordless, using a high top table for his/her notes or tablet instead of speaking behind a podium. If you must have a stage, consider lowering the risers so that speakers don’t appear to be “preaching from the mountain”.

2. ELIMINATE LINE-UPS

Why have a regular desk where someone behind a table hands out badges? Why couldn’t prepaid participants walk up to a wall where the badges are attached? And why do buffets have to be linear? What if they were round so that people could approach from any angle?

3. BUILD IN TIME

Too often participants walk away from conferences with packed schedules, feeling like they had little time to absorb material. Allow people to have longer breaks, say for 45 minutes instead of the usual 15-30. That way they can check email and social media, and be fully present during sessions. For the busybodies who hate too much unscheduled time, set up post-session discussion groups in the coffee break space.

4. Q&A AND AUDIENCE ADVOCATES

People learn better when they can ask questions and discuss material. Make sure you build this into as many sessions as possible, and not just at the end. If you are afraid no one will speak up, pre-identify “audience advocates” – knowledgeable participants who are quick thinkers – and have them ask questions.

5. SURPRISE

Anything you can do to create novelty will give a reason for people to talk and engage. At the Engaging Associations Forum in 2015, one of the most novel features was a flavoured water bar with innovative taste combinations such as strawberry-basil and blueberry-ginger water. The added bonus of this feature was that we were using regular tap water and not bottled water, therefore saving cost (and the environment!)

Next week, we’ll cover more ways to improve your event’s level of engagement. In the meantime, do you have any tips to make events more engaging? Leave us a comment below!

Greenfield Services

Doreen is an Organizational Catalyst at Greenfield Services, an association management and consulting firm dedicated to membership-based organizations and the meetings industry. She co-founded the company with her husband Heinz in 1998 and sold it to long-time employee Meagan Rockett in November 2016.

She continues to consult for Greenfield’s association clients as a Member Engagement Expert and professional facilitator. In July every year, Doreen co-produces The Engaging Associations Forum, a thought-leadership conference designed to elevate the education level and facilitate conversations between association leaders.

Doreen is an Organizational Catalyst at Greenfield Services, an association management and consulting firm dedicated to membership-based organizations and the meetings industry. She co-founded the company with her husband Heinz in 1998 and sold it to long-time employee Meagan Rockett in November 2016. She continues to consult for Greenfield’s association clients as a Member Engagement Expert and professional facilitator. In July every year, Doreen co-produces The Engaging Associations Forum, a thought-leadership conference designed to elevate the education level and facilitate conversations between association leaders.

There's More To Discover

Subscribe today for more thought-provoking content.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.