EntertainmentEvent PlanningTechnology

Interactive Conference Ideas That Will Grab The Audience’s Attention (And Keep It)

By November 5, 2019 No Comments
people sitting on gang chairs 2774556

Do you remember in 2015 when Time published a Microsoft study indicating that the average human’s attention span is less than that of a goldfish? Well, with the way screens, new media, and other mobile stimuli are all competing for the population’s ever-fleeting attention, It has only gotten harder to captivate one’s attention. 

With people losing interest every eight seconds, conference organizers in the digital age face quite a conundrum: how do you hold the attention of attendees and audience members effectively? While a good keynote speaker may get the party started, you can’t rely on the hook to keep things going. 

Long gone are the days when a simple presentation was enough to keep people interested. Contemporary audiences expect to be actively engaged and are looking for immersive experiences, not boring lectures. And, brainstorming interactive activities for professionals in your audience can be difficult. So when you begin your next event planning project, consider these top interactive conference ideas to win the crowd over.

Five Fun Ways to Engage an Audience

The name of the game is interactivity. Giving conference attendees an opportunity to participate has been shown to increase their ability to personally connect with the information and improve the likelihood that they retain it later. Therefore, it is crucial to integrate audience members into the experience. Below are five fun and creative ways to get audiences involved at your next conference.   

#1 Breakout Sessions

Small group workshops are increasingly becoming conference staples. Commonly referred to as “breakout sessions,” they offer a chance for attendees to reflect and build upon the overarching themes of the conference in a more intimate setting. Breaking up the greater audience into smaller cohorts is a fantastic way to make space for people to have interactions on a person-to-person level. 

Some of the many benefits of breakout sessions include: 

  • Creates a participatory environment
  • Offers a more personal learning experience  
  • Facilitates interesting discussions and sharing of ideas
  • Provides networking opportunities
  • Helps break down big ideas and makes information more digestible
  • Gets people informed about specific topics
  • Adds value to the event overall

Wondering what can make or break a breakout session? The answer is organization. A successful breakout session has a clear purpose and is planned well in advance. Start by devising a list of subtopics related to the theme of the conference and then consider appropriate strategies to tackle them. This may involve inviting a guest speaker or preparing a program, presentation, discussion guide, or business conference activities to structure the time. Let’s explore some breakout session ideas to keep in your back pocket.

Pre-Registration 

It’s a good idea to let attendees select their breakout group in advance. Sending out choice forms or invites ahead of time makes a conference feel more hand-tailored rather than one-size-fits-all. Pre-registration is a great way to make certain that attendees have a valuable experience by ensuring their specific interests are addressed. It is also mutually beneficial as it will help you anticipate group sizes and plan accordingly in addition to providing options.  

Improv 

A game can serve as a great icebreaker in small group sessions. Incorporating a few improv exercises is a great way to introduce people and create more openness within the group. The basic principle of improv is to say “yes” or accept whatever your partner(s) say. This type of mentality fosters a positive and collaborative environment that can easily be translated into the workplace. 

#2 Interactive Presentations

A well-produced presentation can really captivate a room. It is crucial that presenters find ways to directly involve audience members and engage with them meaningfully. An interactive presentation should feel more like a conversation than a lecture, giving the feel that presenters are talking to attendees, not at them.

In this day and age, presenters have to pull out all the stops—audio, visuals, digital features, and more. We’re talking beyond just asking “by show of hands…” yawn—that’s not going to cut it. Luckily, today’s technologies offer many new and exciting ways to get audiences actively participating. 

Creative Slides

Today, many presentation apps come with innovative features that allow users to convey information and present content more creatively. Spice up a boring slideshow by integrating video, media, animations, and other design elements into a presentation.

To engage your audience through an eye-catching presentation, try one of these as an alternative to Powerpoint presentations:

  • Prezi
  • Google Slides
  • Keynote
  • Canva
  • FlowVella
  • SlideShark

Crowdsourcing Technology 

Thanks to new tools like Sli.do, facilitating dialogue throughout a presentation is easier than ever. Such mobile apps allow for audience members to communicate in real-time with presenters through digital messaging. Here are some of the coolest Sli.do features you will want to try out: 

  • Q&A – Sli.do allows people to send in live questions or comments via their mobile devices during presentations. Perks include that the app lets audience members submit anonymously, and enables them to upvote other people’s questions. The most recent and most popular submissions will then appear on the presenter’s screen. This setup maximizes the potential of Q&A sessions, making sure the interests of the audience are reflected in what presenters discuss. 
  • Polling – On the flip side, Sli.do polling allows presenters to pose questions to audience members and post the responses and results on-screen. In terms of feedback and engagement, polling is a goldmine. Here are just a few ideas of how to use digital polling to your advantage:
    • Highlight learning objectives 
    • Quiz the audience on relevant topics
    • Gauge opinions and compare viewpoints
    • Identify shared traits, skills, or interests amongst audience members
    • Get immediate feedback on the presentation

#3 Social Media Walls

Social media walls are very dynamic and highly interactive. A media wall is a screen (or screens) designated to display photos, videos, and other digital content related to the event. Essentially, it functions as a newsfeed for your conference. You can change what’s on display throughout the day and broadcast anything from social media posts to relevant information, crowd reactions, event highlights, questions and answers, live streams, and more.

Having a social media wall is also a great way to encourage people to post about a conference and utilize free marketing. Create an event hashtag for your conference, and then all the posts with that tag will be added to the wall. The screen will update in real-time to show the most recent Instagram posts, Tweets, or other social media shares by attendees. 

For this to be most effective, it’s critical that people are well aware of and implement the event’s hashtag. Have designated social media hashtags for the event and use them months in advance on all flyers and advertisements.

#4 Special Events 

After a long day, conference-goers need time to unwind. However, rather than letting guests sit alone watching TV in their hotel rooms, consider crafting a business conference music playlist or providing live entertainment to keep attendees engaged with each other. Offsite and after-hour events provide an opportunity for people to network and socialize. They round out a conference by providing a relaxed environment for people to attend, so that the experience isn’t all business, all the time.

The following are examples of fun events to add to the agenda that will keep people interacting through the night:  

  • Cocktail hour
  • Live musical or comedic entertainment
  • Nearby sightseeing excursion
  • Food tour
  • Sporting event

#5 Games and Giveaways 

Another strategy to encourage audience engagement throughout a conference is by incorporating contests and prizes. Games are active by nature and stimulate excitement, interaction, and motivation amongst attendees. Here are some recommendations for conference games and giveaways:

  • Raffle tickets – Raffle prizes give people something to look forward to. Setting up a booth where people go to enter the raffle can also create space and time for organizers to chat one-on-one with attendees. Prizes can be anything from vacation getaways, gift cards, gift baskets, or concert tickets.
  • Augmented Reality Scavenger hunt – Scavenger hunts can be for adults when Augmented Reality (AR) is involved. With new technologies, you can actually build an interactive scavenger hunt experience at and around your venue without having to place physical clues throughout the space. Mixed Reality experiences are a great way to get your guests out of their seats and engaged with the program with specific branding and messaging tailored to your event.
  • Goodie bags – It’s always fun to put together goodie bags with pens, tote bags, water bottles, t-shirts, and other swag. Giving attendees something to take home is an excellent way to way to promote the conference and make it more memorable. Coordinate with vendors at the event to optimize the goodies.

Conference Ideas That Will Grab (and Keep) the Audience’s Attention 

At a conference, no one wants to be talked to hour after hour or bombarded with information during monotonous lectures and drab panels. Sitting amongst hundreds of other attendees in a crowd, guests may easily get bored.

To promote learning and keep people interested, conferences need to have more interactive elements. Breakaway from the one-dimensional, strictly business conference model by incorporating activities and entertainment, as well as new audio and visual technologies into your event.  

To ensure the successful execution of these event features, you should consult with an outside management company, like Vario, who specializes in AV services and event technology. Vario is the expert in the event planning world and will be your number one advocate with the trust of transparency to ensure that your event needs are met. With the knowledge of the best event partners out there and the power of negotiation, you will be ensured to get the best service and creativity at the best price. 

“Vario is more than a vendor we source, they are both our partner and extended family. Vario huddles onsite with us to discuss flow, options, and they infuse every event with spirit and thoughtfulness that ultimately assist in the overall pulse of our organization. I view hiring Vario as one of my personal successes because they not only meet my expectations, but far exceed them to ensure my executive, our employees, and our company is consistently setup for success. ”

Kelly O'Connor, Senior Executive Assistant to Greg Johnson, EVP and GM of TurboTaxIntuit, Inc.

“Thank you for taking your time and putting so much effort into our site visits. You made what would have been an incredibly tedious and daunting task of viewing all those properties and collecting proposals so much faster, easier and actually FUN!”

Elizabeth Fox, Executive DirectorForte For Children Foundation

“Five Stars for sure! My second year working with Vario on our annual spring conference and each time it gets better, knocking it out of the park. The team gives all they have in making the vision come to life. Working with Vario from the pre-production, where they make sure all the details are covered, to program day, where the team’s experience, pride in work and passion shines in creating an incredible attendee experience is what makes me a Vario client. As a meeting planner, Vario puts my mind at ease knowing I am working with a top-notch planning and production company and the A/V and production in my program are in the best hands. I look forward to working with the Vario team again.”

Carrie Shen, CMP, CMM, CEDCo-Chair EdCon Annual Conference

“The Vario team not only assists with AV needs but works with me on the planning aspect. I completely trust Vario to handle production with their amazing up to date knowledge, attention to detail and most importantly, integrity.”

Marty Covert, PrincipalCovert Operations

“Vario delivered above and beyond expectations. They are more than a vendor, they are a creative partner. Their team were exceptional and went all-in when it came to design, curation, desired impact, and budget constraints. This event was a success in a large part because of them and their professionalism. We simply could have not executed this event — to the world-class level — without their support.

My experience with Vario has given me the confidence that they are the team that can push our brand and experiences to the next level.

Crystal Mayers, Presentation Design Lead, Brand Experience & StorytellingIntuit, Inc.

“Thank you for ALL your help with our Light the Night event. Simply put, we couldn't have done it without you. We have had nothing but positive feedback about the new venue, the production value, and the event overall.”

Rachel Peniche, Board ChairLeukemia and Lymphoma Society

“In 10 years of working events, this was the most interesting experience. I can’t say I’ve seen everything but I think this comes pretty close. A huge thank you to Vario who rain or shine are bad ass partners, I will never use anyone else for my events, they pull through every time.”

Amy Ulkutekin, Event PlannerBeerfest

“We chose Vario because of their knowledge in the AV business along with their team’s professionalism, attention to detail and quality of service. They became an extended part of our team and were instrumental in making our Sales Conference a huge success.”

Angel Atondo, Sr. Marketing ManagerCavium, Inc.

“I cannot thank you and your team enough for helping to make this event a success. From the pre-event consultations, onsite flexibility and management to the personal attention – we felt so taken care of and in qualified hands. You all were such professionals and I really enjoyed working with each of your team members.”

Katie Harvill, Owner & Managing DirectorMatchstick Creative

Success Stories Are Our Standard

Some of our valued clients: