It’s a delicate balance to develop an agenda that reflects a meeting’s objectives while providing ample networking and free time for attendees and guests. And when there’s so much to learn and so little time, it’s usually the free time that gets cut. Understandable. But one could also make the case for making attendee free time one of the primary objectives for any meeting.
Conferences and events are meant to energize attendees, teach them something they didn’t know before they got there and inspire them to do great things when they leave – but few things are more draining than spending a few days in a windowless room with hundreds or thousands of other people.
Early mornings. Late nights. Different time zones. Questionable food choices. Lots of walking. Lots of sitting. Lots of talking. Most of it happens within the confines of convention centers and hotel ballrooms. And having a conference in a resort location can be a tortuous experience if attendees don’t have opportunities to enjoy it.
Don’t get us wrong. We live for maximizing content in a variety of ways that engage and inform an audience — click here to see a few examples — but what’s the point if the audience is too tired to respond to, retain or maybe even understand the message? Allowing for free time isn’t a new idea and the benefits aren’t a mystery. Achieving a balance that works for everyone is elusive, however. Here what we’ve learned over the years:
An 8:30 a.m. start time for sessions makes a huge difference for attendees compared to starting at 8 or even earlier. You’ll always have early birds, but overall, attendees will fell less rushed, which sets them up for a successful day. Days that start at 9 a.m. or after are luxurious and sure to be appreciated.
Depending on the circumstances, getting lunch during a conference or event can seem like a survival-of-the-fittest activity. If lunch is provided, 75 minutes should be the minimum time allotted. If lunch is not provided and your attendees are seeking lunch at the same time as everyone else in the city, allow two hours.
It’s unavoidable. Accommodate it with briefer sessions and breakouts, movement of people and if the budget allows, snacks and beverages. Giving attendees an afternoon off might be the best thing you ever do for them. You can also incorporate more interactive sessions during the afternoon to drive engagement and keep excitement flowing.
Deliver the sizzle
Save the details for breakouts. General sessions are great for inspiration and breakouts are where you should expand on those ideas in greater detail.
Evenings are for fun
If you’re going to have an evening session, make it light and memorable. A cocktail reception for networking, knock-out entertainment or a memorable excursion will keep attendees engaged in the event and help them stay energized for the nitty-gritty parts.
Want to use our expert tips to wow your next round of attendees? Get in touch with us here.