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10 mistakes to avoid when planning a conference

Yes, we’ve extensively covered what to do to raise the bar with your next conference, but here are the top doozies to avoid if you want to create raving fans rather than underwhelmed attendees…

1. No overarching theme

“What was that about?” are not the words you ever want to hear. But we hear it all the time. And it comes down to a lack of clarity around the purpose or “why” of the event, and how each element of the programme supports this. Aside from a clear flow, it’s also important to make the outcomes from each session obvious.

Bored at a conference

2. So-and-so, again?!

There’s a popular idiom for certain speakers who seem to be a feature of every event in an industry, and whilst we won’t repeat it here, we can tell you that recycling the same tired speakers, presenting the same uninspiring information, will eventually lead to the demise of your event. End of story. So don’t succumb to the usual excuses of no time, there is no one else, etc. and do the right thing: get out there and speak to the market. And whilst you’re at it, take things even further by actively applying a Diversity & Inclusion policy – ensuring your presenter faculty truly presents not just the spectrum of your industry, but also the people within it, who come from all walks of life.

3. Death by PowerPoint

If you’re a follower of our blog you know this is our bugbear. If you’re planning to run a conference with just speakers at a podium talking off detailed slides, we implore you to think again, for the sake of your peers trying to raise the standard of what constitutes a good conference, if nothing else. There are so many better ways to impart knowledge with an audience. And if you’re stuck for ideas, check out some of our posts tagged with ‘Conference Tips & Tricks’.

4. Thinly disguised sales pitches

If we had a dollar for every time we’ve seen this we’d have an island in the Caribbean by now. We get it, vendor-speakers are hard to ‘handle’. But you have to make a decision: are you prepared to sacrifice all your hard work by allowing such pitches, or do you stand firm on your principles and reject the cash if they insist. Tough call if your event has tight margins, we understand that. But it’s 'dirty money', and it really doesn’t help your long-term cause. In fact, a lot like spamming, all you’ll end up with are 'unsubscribes' (i.e. they will never return, and likely share their bad experience with others.)

5. Unstructured networking

Whoo. We’re on a roll now. This is another one we love to hate. Simply because connecting and networking is at the very core of why people join conferences. Yet, it’s usually an afterthought at best. We’ve covered it previously here, but to recap: it’s not hard. It just takes some planning. But the time you put in WILL PAY OFF. We guarantee it.

Conference wastage

6. Wastage

Another pet peeve of ours that is becoming harder to ignore. Conferences and events in general have a huge environmental impact, and with increasingly conscious audiences demanding higher standards, things have to change. So look for every opportunity to reduce, recycle and reuse. You'll show your community that you take the issue seriously and they'll respect you for it.

7. Average food

It is unfathomable how, in this day and age, hotels in particular, still manage to churn out the most mundane and sometimes inedible food. Not only does it reflect badly on them, it of course reflects badly on your conference too. But is it really so hard to fix? We think not. Just don’t let the venue tell you what you can/cannot do; insist on food of a higher standard and preferably healthy – fuelling your participants so they get the most out of their presence, rather than putting them into a food-induced coma.

8. Undrinkable coffee

Did we hear you say you love the coffee that tastes like dishwater? Didn’t think so! Unless you’re working with a venue that doesn’t allow external catering (in which case it might be time to assess said venue) a few phone calls to a half dozen local start-up coffee shops should have you serving skinny caps and flat whites (yes, part of the team at UC is Aussie), in the process changing the entire vibe of your event (not least because they will be thoroughly caffeinated!).

9. Lousy internet

Okay, we aren’t really for the use of mobile phones during sessions, but we get that they are necessary sometimes, and are of course useful tools for actually delivering your event, including polling, networking, notifications etc. If you’re going to do the latter, make sure your venue has excellent (not just good) Wi-Fi – or else you face the wrath of your audience. And the negative experience will outweigh all the other hard work you put in to the conference (trust us on this!).

10. Registration carnage

We are perplexed by this one. In the age of so many technical solutions (some of which are even free!) how is it that so many get this wrong? And what a terrible way to start the experience with your participants! Even if you’re not friends with tech, it’s just a case of thinking though the process from start to finish, and figuring the best way to get your participants through it with minimum inconvenience (and dare we say, maximum enjoyment).

- Team UC

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