This seems like a simple task but I have a few tips when setting your conference agenda that can save heartache and scheduling issues:
1/ Schedule your breaks
Your delegates need time for the brain to reset during these breaks – not to mention take a phone call, respond to an email and grab a bite and a coffee! You will have a much more engaged audience if you give them their full breaks. I recommend a minimum of 25 minutes for morning tea and afternoon tea (half an hour if you can) and 45 minutes for lunch (an hour is better).
2/ Put your heavy content first
Many people put a motivating keynote speaker first; but my tip is to put your management reports or results presentation first. This is when your audience is most likely to absorb numbers and details and it sets the tone for the conference – whether it be the areas the audience need to work on; or celebrating a success.
3/ Put your keynote speaker before the first break
By putting your keynote speaker that you are relying on to motivate your audience and get them pumped for the conference ahead just before the first break it will be the talking point over coffee and the key messages the speaker delivered will be getting reiterated with every conversation.
4/ Allow time for transitions
If you have multiple speakers, invest in an MC to thank them and welcome the next speaker – and factor in a minute between each speaker for this transition to happen. Not only does this give the AV team time to get the right presentation ready, but it also gives the audience time to digest what they have heard and gives each speaker their due respect. A minute between speakers doesn’t sound like much but over the course of a full day you could be running up to 15 minutes behind if you don’t allow for it!
5/ Create your run sheet in excel
Excel is a nerdy event managers best friend – add in a duration column and formulate your time column so that it automatically adds the duration to the previous time to give you the start time of the next session. That way – when things change along the way you only need to change the duration and the rest of your times for the remainder of the day will update.
6/ Use breakout rooms wisely
If you have a conference with breakout sessions, schedule these wisely. If your presenters are moving be sure to provide as much equipment as possible in each room so they only need to plug their laptop in. If your delegates are moving, be sure to schedule the transition time and allow time for toilet stops and conversations along the way. There is nothing more disengaging as a delegate than feeling rushed and running late all day.
7/ Rehearsals, Rehearsals, Rehearsals
Even if it means hiring the venue a day early, try to give each presenter a rehearsal time slot that is 10 minutes longer than their presentation duration.
This allows time to hand their presentation file over to the AV desk; or if they are presenting from their own laptop plug it in and make sure it is working; and then do a full show-pace run through of their presentation. This will enable them to get used to the stage, the environment of the room they are presenting in, and the technical equipment they are using (for example remote clicker, foldback screens, microphones etc). It is also hugely beneficial for the AV team as they can make notes on when there are videos, audio files and any other cues the speaker may give.
8/ Create flow with your agenda
Get to know your presenters and how they present. If you have nervous presenters, put them amongst seasoned and polished presenters so that the audience is reminded to be sympathetic to them. If they all present in the one session it becomes tedious to the audience and they disengage. Keep your audience attentive by punching the air with confident and high energy presenters.
9/ Respect is reciprocal
If your audience can tell that you have shown them respect by scheduling adequate breaks, being careful with the agenda to ensure they do not feel rushed and remain engaged for the duration, and by allowing them some time throughout the day for brain breaks and mental stimulation – they will reciprocate that respect and you should have an engaged audience ready to enjoy your conference!
Megan Peters is the Event Director at International Productions and has been recognized as MEA National Event Manager of the Year. She can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org