5 Low Tech Ways to Create an Active Participatory Conference

This article is written by Jenny Stanfield for eventmanagerblog (Event MB)


Active Participatory Model is a new way of thinking about conferences that focuses on the top 2 reasons people attend meetings: networking and learning. Its aim is to create the most engaging and personalized experience for participants while achieving the major objective(s) – the ‘Big Why’ – for the meeting.

Personalization and ‘The Big Why’ are two massive trends in the meetings industry, but the answer to both of them is often incorporating technology or expensive experiential activations that are cumbersome, out of reach, or just plain ineffective. It seems that we all want to talk about engagement and ‘leaning in’ but nobody is talking about tangible ways to make that happen in the room.

Following the Active Participatory Model, there are incredibly effective ways to get the most out of your participants and inspire them to be more engaged with your organization’s goals. You can achieve this with little to no technology and actually cut costs on speakers, decor, and more. Sounds ambitious, but it’s pretty simple.

 Integrate Storytelling from the Beginning

Set the tone for the entire conference by incorporating an interactive welcome event that tells a story in a creative way. Your goal should be to get people engaged, connected, and interacting with your organization’s brand right from the moment they hit registration. The focus of this welcome event should be on experiential design, evoking emotion and introducing ‘The Big Why’ in a unique way. This means you can cut the headlining entertainment acts and lavish decor, and instead spend time and energy on a program that promotes team building and group engagement.

 Utilize a Conference MC/Learning Coach

Cancel your expensive celebrity keynote speaker and invest in a Conference MC/Learning Coach who has the expertise and charisma to prime your participants for the best possible experience.

Your MC’s opening keynote should incorporate themes of mindfulness and intention setting for the duration of the program. This will help set the tone for the conference and help participants get the most out of every aspect of your planning. Whether it be to retain new information, network better, get inspired, or just get out of their comfort zone – everyone will benefit from this shift in mindset.

 Embrace Peer to Peer Learning Methods

Short (5 minute) pitches from your concurrent session speakers followed by ‘Deep Dives’ (longer seminar/workshop style sessions) are a growing conference trend. But once participants dive in, keeping them inspired and able to retain new information isn’t as easy as a theater-style set up with a static ‘sit and listen’ methodology. Polling applications can be effective, but often are more of a novelty that serve the speaker more than the audience.

A great way to lock in learning is to incorporate small group discussions and peer to peer discussions. Participants are should verbalize new information and repeat it back in their own words. This is incredibly helpful for memory and long term retention. Another great way to promote active learning is to have your speaker pose questions and have the participants struggle to find the answer themselves before presenting the solution.

Planning social events, team building activities, and CSR programs that synthesize learning and networking are another invaluable way to let people have fun and while meeting your objectives.

 Give Them a (Meaningful) Break!

Destination conferences often aim to pack in as much as possible into the schedule. It’s understandable that there is pressure to make every second count to offset expensive travel costs, but the last thing you want is participants who are distracted by their smartphones, hungry, tired, or just plain burnt out from a demanding schedule.

Make your breaks count. Include something active such as an early morning yoga session or meditation room. Set specific breaks throughout the day for rest, relaxation, personal time, and time to catch up on business outside of the conference. This will eliminate distractions when it’s time to learn and network.

 Make Your Conference Count All Year Long  

Pre and post initiatives can make or break your conference – both for interest in registration for the future and with maintaining engagement and ROI year round.

Release teaser videos from your conference speakers posing questions they plan to answer and describing what participants will get out of their sessions.

The day before participants arrive, hold speaker coaching sessions for the organization’s leaders and industry experts. You can hold rehearsals with full AV set-ups to avoid tech mishaps and ensure speakers are comfortable with their surroundings at the same time.

Email a video out of the highlights of the conference. This helps reinforce positive memories and create actionable change. You can also use this to promote future conferences and for ongoing training for those who were unable to attend the event.

You can also encourage participants to engage with speakers and industry experts on social media and send out additional information about their webinars, books, and further courses for a more in-depth learning experience.

 In Conclusion

Technology, celebrity, and spectacular decor are all fantastic elements to enhance your conference when they are implemented correctly, but they often do not create a participatory experience. We as event professionals want our participants to feel inspired, fulfilled, and come away armed with new information and new friends. Following the Active Participatory model, we can achieve all of this without breaking the bank.


About the Author: Jenny Stanfield is the Lead Event Producer at Engagement Unlimited. She is a passionate, creative event professional who was recently awarded PCMA’s 20 in their Twenties distinction. Her focus is pushing the boundaries of group engagement and maximizing learning and networking at events.

Picture Courtesy: ishwmcon2015


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