Leaving the very best for last

The World PCO Alliance shares some ideas on how to keep conference attendees engaged right until the last minute, and keep them interested in future editions

When it comes to the latest trends in conference management, “attendee engagement” gets plenty of attention. From more inclusive room layouts to greater access to keynote speakers, to utilising social media to foster more attendee participation, there is no shortage of tips to get meeting planners thinking about this hot topic.

Yet, while keeping delegates interested and engaged is rather straightforward, how does one keep them physically present through to the end?

Most conferences follow the classic formula of opening with a bang and ending on a far more sombre note. It is hardly uncommon to see significantly smaller crowds on the last day of a conference, nor plenty of luggage as attendees glance at their watches to determine the best time to make their airport getaway.

It leaves many planners scratching their heads in search of ideas on remedying this issue. The key is to provide plenty of incentives for delegates to stick it out to the last day. Here are some suggestions for conference planners to end things on a higher note.

  • Spread star speakers across the schedule. Every conference opens with a high-profile speaker, so why not close with one too? Putting all the popular talks in the early part of the schedule leaves little to keep attendees tuned in during the last couple of days. Planners should not be afraid to slot in a “hot” speaker on the closing day. It will keep people engaged and excited, and make them less likely to skip out early.
  • Conduct a “Best Of” session. Another useful activity to include on closing day, the session covers the most impactful content from the conference. Planners can take this event a step further and turn it into a quasi-closing party – invite the media, offer light refreshments and raffle off a complimentary registration. This may also be an opportunity to distribute awards. Everyone loves winning something, and this idea works.
  • Schedule an interactive discussion. This is particularly suited to conferences with multiple streams, a “what’s hot” session encourages exchanges and debates – both very conducive to attendee engagement. Allow each stream five minutes to talk about the latest research, burning issues, as well as highs and lows. This makes for a lively and highly relevant wrap-up to the conference.
  • Look to the future. End the conference by giving attendees a taste of what awaits them at the next edition. Provide an overview of the next conference’s theme, “hot” topics as well as the tourism appeal of the host city. You can take it a step further and showcase a cultural performance from that destination, even making it a participatory one, which makes for a very special and memorable closing to an event.

When it comes to extending “attendee engagement” to the end of a conference, there are plenty of initiatives that planners can take. The more care and attention given to the closing day, the more likely that attendees will stick around. When they do leave, it will be with an even stronger lasting impression of the conference that will get them already thinking about the next one.

Helping associations organise meetings worldwide, the World PCO Alliance represents 20 front-runner PCOs on six continents, Through its rich network of resources, knowledge, technology, training and best practices, the Alliance is associations’ one-stop solution for international meetings and conferences. The alliance is led by president Kitty Wong of K&A International, Taiwan.