How to engage your delegates during conferences and workshops
No matter what the topic of a conference or training workshop, there will inevitably be parts of the day when attendees will start to feel tired and lose concentration. The post-lunchtime slump is a particularly dangerous time, as everyone will need to divert at least some energy towards digesting food. This can then lead to lethargy, especially if the conference or workshop is in a warm, quiet room with little or no natural light. Yet by following a few simple steps, you can help your delegates stay focused and boost their energy levels to take them right the way through to the end of the day.
Think about your delegates' physical needs when booking your conference venue and choosing your facilities. Opt for a venue with plenty of natural light with windows that can opened to let in fresh air if the room starts to feel stuffy. Check what the break-out areas are like. Is there space for people to stretch their legs, or take a short walk outside? Are the toilets easy to access, and can people leave coats, bags and other belongings somewhere safe so that they don't have to worry about where to put them while taking a break?
A healthy body...
Many people are embracing a healthier lifestyle these days, so make sure there are nutritious snacks available, such as nuts, crudités or cereal bars. Include some healthy choices for lunch too - ask for plenty of vegetables and non-meat sandwiches or dishes, as there will be some delegates who may not have signed up for the vegetarian option, but who may prefer a lighter, greener lunch. Tea and coffee is a staple offering of most conferences and should not be missed out, but many delegates will also appreciate other drinks being made available, such as herbal teas, juices, water or energy boosting beverages.
Plan the day's agenda with the needs of your delegates in mind. Schedule important material early on, so that people can focus on it while still feeling fresh. This also helps delegates who might have to leave the conference halfway through. Include regular breaks and opportunities for informal debate, whether that be through Q&As with the speaker, group discussions or even break-out sessions held in separate rooms. Don't forget to add positive outcomes to each agenda item; encourage delegates to act on what they have learned and encourage feedback, both on the day and afterwards. People will be far more willing to engage with a process in which they feel they can have a say and contribute their own ideas and reflections.
Lessen the stress
Encourage delegates to make the most of the breaks, to leave the conference room and grab a snack or a drink to keep them going for the next part of the day. If you can, discourage people from taking calls, checking email messages and doing any unrelated work-based activity that will add stress, and affect their concentration levels. You might like to include some simple de-stressing exercises as part of the day, such as a short walk, simple outdoor activity or just stretching in their seats and gently rubbing their temples to alleviate any built-up tension.
Just as people with tidy workstations tend to be more effective at their job, less frustrated and more energetic, so too are conference delegates. They will appreciate an organised day, run to schedule and on topic. Provide everyone with pens and plenty of paper to take notes, as well as handouts and a folder to store everything neatly. Include a printed agenda in the folder so that people can work out where they should be, and when. Have plenty of staff on hand to direct people, especially on arrival when the delegates arrive and sign in. At the end of the event, delegates should be able to hand in any badges or other paraphernalia quickly and easily, before being thanked for attending and sent on their way.