How we improve the delegate experience at CMA Live 17 - CMA Live 2017

How we improve the delegate experience at CMA Live 17

Since starting my business in 2013 I’ve facilitated dozens of workshops. Most of them my own, and some of them have been run by other companies and organisations.

I’m confident stating that I know a few things about running and facilitating events, and some of my biggest lessons so far have come from running The Content Marketing Academy 2015.

Perhaps your are new to live events or you are about to run your first big seminar or conference, or you are simply looking for ways to improve the overall experience of your event.

Either way, I’d like to share with you 7 simple but not so common things you can do to dramatically improve the delegate experience at your conference or live event.

How to improve the delegate experience at your conference or live event

The environment and delegate experience at an event is crucial, and multiple subtle improvements can make a massive impact for your delegates, and thus to your event experience overall.

My overarching advice is two fold: Firstly, think about how you feel when you have been a delegate at previous events, and secondly, when you attend events as a delegate from now on, be internally critical about the experience and think about how you would improve the experience.

My 7 tips are…

1. The customer journey

Improving the conference experienceWhen you are preparing your event think about the whole customer journey. I will give you an example so you can understand what I mean.

When I’ve been a delegate at events in the past I’ll walk into the venue, and before I know what’s going on I’ve got to register, I’m given my pass along with a goodie bag. I might then be channeled through to get a coffee and some food. Keeping in mind I’ve still got my jacket on and my laptop bag strapped to me.

So far, this is not a good experience and for some people it might be quite stressful.

Here’s a better scenario. Leave the registration until later, let your delegates get into the room and find out where they are sitting. They can get their jacket off, dump whatever they are carrying, maybe get to the loo if they have been travelling. They can then register, get a coffee and do all the formal event stuff later.

There’s no real benefit or reason for bombarding people as soon as they step foot inside the venue.

It’s a good idea to make sure someone welcomes your delegates and gives them some instructions to follow just so they know what to do and where to go.

I also recommend physically walking the journey that your delegates will take and think about where potential queue may form and how to eliminate waiting as much as possible. One way to do this is to take the registration table away from the main entrance.

In general, prioritise the comfort of the delegate over what’s important to you.

2. Seating arrangements

Content Marketing Workshop

This is for both the speakers and your delegates.

You’ve probably been a delegate at a conference where there are more available seats than there are delegates, Depending on how this is managed it can have a negative or positive impact on the whole event experience.

Firstly, where possible make sure there are only the exact number of seats available for the number of delegates attending. If you can remove seats and change the layout, then do what you can.

Here’s an example from TCMA 2015. The room we booked for TCMA 2015 can seat 200 theatre style, and had we sold 200 tickets this is the set up we would have had.

However, we did not expect 200 delegates and we wanted the room to feel like it was sold out, so we changed the set up to cabaret style. From there we removed as many seats as we could so every seat was occupied.

In situations where you can’t remove the seats or change the setup, which is common in conference centres, lecture theatres and auditoriums, all is not lost! You can move people. Don’t be afraid to do this as it can make a dramatic improvement to the experience for both the delegate and the speaker.

For example, if your delegates arrive and sit where ever they choose, you will find that people spread out across the room. If the capacity of the venue is greater than the number of delegates you might find that the atmosphere is flat.

There are a few things you can do here.

Firstly, you can prevent this by having people in your events team show people to the best seats to begin with, therefore giving you complete control over the room. Alternatively, prior to the event starting you can ask people to move to more appropriate seating.

The reason that this is good for the delegate is that it makes the room feel busy and adds to the whole experience for them. If the room feels empty to the delegate then it makes it less exciting and the experience is dampened. This is called ‘the sardine effect’.

It also makes for a better speaking experience for your speakers. Firstly, if all your delegates are enjoying the event this helps massively. Secondly, the speaker also enjoys a better experience because he can address the room better, and from the stage it looks and feels a lot better and much more interactive.

3. Music

Playing music at your event can have a big impact, especially before, after, and during intervals.

The big impact comes when you stop playing the music. People will understand this as a subconscious cue that something is about to happen or be announced.

Also, have you ever been in a venue at the start of an event when it’s really quiet, almost eerie, like there’s no atmosphere?

Having some background music on can really improve the environment for your delegates and can help a great deal when you need your delegates to quieten down and take their seats.

4. Compère

David Hay - allthingsAs the organiser of the event you don’t really want to be tied down to doing any one thing, and one of the best ways to do that is to make sure you have someone that’s specifically looking after the front of house arrangements on your behalf.

A Compère will ensure that the speakers are prepared, mic’d up and that everything runs to time. It’s also the compère’s job to introduce speakers, recap the sessions and facilitate Q&A as required.

A Compère can really add a level of professionalism to the live event experience for both the delegates and the speakers.

5. Regular and well timed comfort breaks

TCMA 2015 - LunchIf you are preparing a whole day event make sure there are regular breaks, and the one to watch out for the most is the first morning break. If people have travelled to the event in the morning, had coffee, etc they may need a comfort break after about an hour or 90 minutes at the most.

In general it’s best to leave enough time in between sessions so people can have a comfort break, thus making them more comfortable during the main sessions.

6. Bathroom essentials

This is an idea we swiped from the wedding market and is particularly useful for whole day events. In each of the male and female restrooms we placed a small basket of essentials including deodorant, hair products, boot polish, body spray and tissues.

It’s also a great idea to put in a fresh vase of flowers to brighten and freshen the room.

7. Room temperature

TCMA 2015It’s important to keep an eye on the room temperature and the air conditioning for comfort. I find this hard to judge myself, especially if I’m working the event as I’ll likely be a little warmer than others.

Somewhere between 19°C and 21°C seems to work, but it’s key to use your observation skills. Look out for your delegates putting their jackets or scarfs back on during the event, which will indicate that perhaps it’s a little cold.

Sounds obvious, but it’s another example of where a little attention can add value to the experience.

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Your turn

What I have found, after attending and facilitating many events, is that it’s the little things that matter the most to people. Their comfort is the most important thing to them, and if something’s not right it’ll be the first thing people complain about on your twitter wall!

I hope this has been helpful for you and adds value to your conference or live event.

  1. What do you think makes a great conference experience?
  2. What little thing would you add to this list that would improve the delegate experience?
  3. What gets you stressed or frustrated when you are a delegate at conferences?

Let me know what’s on your mind by joining the conversation in the comments section below.

Don’t forget to be awesome!



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