5 Ways to Improve Conferences and Make Them More Productive

Partnerships Manager, Cognitive ToyBox

I am a conference road warrior. I’ve attended hundreds of educational conferences in the last 20 years. Think about all those hours spent standing around–it’s made my chiropractor rich. But all that time spent going to breakout sessions, manning my exhibitor booth and networking with fellow attendees has given me some insight into how a conference should be run. Here are a few tips for conference organizers that can lead to very positive results for exhibitors, especially a lean, ed-tech startup.

1. Keep Costs in Line

Charge an exhibitor fee that is in line with similar conferences. Conference organizers should take into account a lot of factors, including travel, hotel, food costs when choosing a venue. If it’s a regional conference, is the location an equal drive for just about everyone in the region? If it’s national, is it in a secondary city where flights are scarce and expensive? Is it in a big city with expensive hotels and meals?

An exhibitor floor plan that encourages high foot traffic.
An exhibitor floor plan that encourages high foot traffic.

2. Plan Layout Carefully

Usually the top priority for exhibitors is to get a high number of warm leads. Getting lots of foot traffic past your booth is crucial to gathering leads. The layout of the vendor spaces is important, especially in relation to important things like food and snacks. Recently,. the 2018 Computer Science Teachers Association’s national conference was held in Omaha, Neb. It sold out, which is an excellent sign that computer science education is gaining in importance. The vendor layout (shown here) led to a LOT of foot traffic in the exhibit area because the coffee and snacks were on the opposite side from the main entrance 4. to the vendor hall.

3. Don’t Skimp on the Food

The most productive conferences provide a constant stream of free coffee, tea, and water. People need their caffeine to stay awake for long sessions! Providing free meal(s) is crucial to ensuring that attendees aren’t spending a lot of time wandering around outside the conference hall looking for lunch. There’s always a chance that attendees who go out for lunch and get involved in calls and emails may not come back to the conference.

4. Be Creative With Incentives

There are lots of ways conferences can give attendees incentives to interact with exhibitors. Sometimes they organize “scavenger hunts” with prizes when attendees collect stickers from a certain number of vendors. Sometimes vendors are given the drink tickets for happy hour to distribute to attendees who visit their booth. There are lots of new and creative ways–some based on technology tools–to provide the nudge that attendees need to increase interaction with vendors.

5. Respect Exhibitors, Attendees, Staff

Exhibitor fees and sponsorships generally provide the majority of funds for a conference. Without the exhibitors, there wouldn’t be a conference. Attendees are there not only to learn by attending informative and engaging presentations and sessions, but also to find out about new resources, products, and anything that will make their lives easier. Plus they like collecting bling.

Education is an ecosystem with many valuable constituents. Great conference organizers pay attention to details that lead to a positive experience for attendees, presenters, exhibitors, staff, volunteers, and everyone else that takes part in the immense task of making an event successful.

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Image courtesy of Nikki Navta.

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3 thoughts on “5 Ways to Improve Conferences and Make Them More Productive

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