For Making Your Conference Fun and Memorable
Very few attendees have any idea how much work goes into organising a successful conference or study day. What they do remember, is the fun they had meeting with other people, sharing stories and having a good laugh. When people are relaxed and happy they also learn faster and retain more information.
1. Choose a catchy title - one that promises fun with the theme of your conference. (Flick through a thesaurus for ideas.) You can always have a more serious sub title. Try to reflect the promise of fun in your advertising and pre-conference communications.
2. Open with impact - consider having a light-hearted opening that embraces the location, conference theme and the nature of your attendees.
3. Conference survival kits or ‘fun packs’ - small or large can be given on arrival or on each chair. Or use just the one as a door prize. (If you do this, you need to explore the contents of the kit and significance of the items with your audience before you announce the winner.)
4. Use cartoons that can be photocopied and put on each chair/table at the conference or dinner. These could also be screened electronically throughout the conference and between speakers. You can use any of ours from our book You won’t die laughing! - just acknowledge the source. You are also welcome to screen our humorous videos Humorobics and Stress and Humour as fun breaks.
5. The conference convenor and organisers could identify themselves by wearing hats, t-shirts, badges etc that reflect the title/theme of conference. Name badges for attendees are more useful if the first and last names are large print. Names are more important than the conference logo/name - they know where they are.
6. The registration desk is the first impression department. So have the people who are welcoming participants, looking good and standing up to convey interest and energy. (The person ‘ticking off' registrants could be sitting.)
7. Entertainment adds to the atmosphere and generates expectancy. Use it in the foyer when people arrive, at dinner and during breaks. Consider buskers, musical groups, solo performers and even a clown or two.
8. Play upbeat music for participants to hear as they enter the main venue and to start as they leave. Choose music and lyrics that reflect the theme of the conference.
9. Decorate the registration desk/and venue(s) with balloons, streamers, ‘Welcome’ signs and anything that reflects the theme of the conference, the geographical location, special days, keynote or nature of the group attending. A glitter trail on the floor, stars on the tables, Autumn leaves, sand etc.
10. Door prizes are always welcome and can be something wacky or fun - remember to hold it up for the audience to see and explain it before you announce the winner. Consider a door prize for each day of the conference.
11. Hunt out goodies at discount shops, fun shops, and toy shops. We suggest Bernards Magic Shop at 211 Elizabeth St. Melbourne Phone 03-9670 9270. Ask to speak to Christina (the owner) for ideas and she will mail them to you.
12. Remember to look after your sponsors. You could share this list, tell them about your theme and the fun you’ve planned and get them involved. They may even have some ideas you could use.
13. Give prizes throughout the conference. These can be given to individuals who have done something useful, silly or funny. If your group or Association is small, you could also give reward gifts for performance/contribution outside of the conference.
14. PUT THE LIGHTS ON AS OFTEN AS YOU CAN. If you have to turn lights off to use electronic presenting aids, then keep a spot light on the presenter and turn the lights on again after the presentation. Darkness saps the energy of your presenters and audience.
15. Organise fun ‘tea’ breaks - instead of traditional tea/coffee and biscuits, consider alternatives such as bowls of fruit, popcorn, ice creams, toffee apples, fairy floss, bags of lollies, hot dogs, soft drinks or perhaps something grown or produced locally. You may be able to get sponsorship for these items.
16. Stand up/stretch breaks - we have these in our seminars to keep people energised and attentive. Nominate a ‘stand up monitor’ and give them a whistle or noise maker to call the breaks, at least between speakers. Play music and get someone to lead the break from the stage - dance, twist, do aerobics or even a good march on the spot.
16. Evaluations - if you’re serious about these, then you need to allow time for completion during the conference and collect them immediately. Keep them short and to the point.
17. Keep up the momentum - don’t let the conference fade out towards the end - even if the organisers have to fake the energy needed to keep things going. Plan surprises for the audience at least equal to your welcome activities. Walk out music, entertainment and have organisers available at the door to thank and farewell participants. If you plan a great finish it will become a lasting memory for attendees and may influence their decision to come to your next conference.
It has been our experience that some conference organisers who use the ideas, have some initial reservations. A common concern is: “Won’t they think we’re being silly?” But when they start planning the fun ideas, they feel so much more positive and energetic about the whole conference. If you look as if you’re having fun, then the conference attendees will join in. Take the conference very seriously, but not yourselves. After all, you have a right to have some fun, for all the hard work you’re putting into the organising.
Enjoy it all.
p.s. remember to celebrate your success after the conference!