Although 90% of conference creators express struggle to reach new attendees. At the same time, a number of out of this world conferences — like Salesforce’s Dreamforce — welcome hundreds of thousands of registrants each year and continue to see positive growth. If they can, so can you.
Read on to learn what three brand experts say are the three defining characteristics of a stand-out conference.
1. Authenticity: Don’t copy great ideas — come up with your own
After attending an event that left you inspired, it would seem logical to ask your team to recreate it for your attendees. But what inspired you at another event might not work with your conference-goers or your brand.
“Authenticity is the most critical component to differentiating your conference,” says Eventbrite Chief Brand Officer Brian Irving, who’s worked for top brands like Airbnb, Google, and Levi Strauss & Co. “People are already overwhelmed with indistinguishable choices, and copying someone else just makes you blend in.”
For your conference to stand out, it needs to be true to itself and its attendees. Anything else is an attempt at being trendy, which won’t prepare you for long-term success.
Avoid novelty and gimmicks by asking your team two questions:
- What does your conference and its brand hope to achieve?
- What do your attendees want to achieve?
By answering these questions, you’ll be able to focus on attendees’ needs and find authentic ways your conference can meet (or even exceed) their expectations.
“People attend conferences to learn something, make connections, and return home feeling better than they did when they arrived,” says Eventbrite VP Brand Strategy and Activation Jessica Bryndza. “So look beyond the demographics to better understand how your conference can fulfill their needs and desires.”
2. Consistency: Think through every detail of your conference
Deeply understanding your conference attendees is vital to being authentic. But if there are major flaws in your experience, conference-goers will take notice and begin lowering their expectations.
“Every detail matters,” says Eventbrite Creative Director David Scott. “From the moment they consider attending your conference to the moment they’ve returned home, each interaction is a chance for your authenticity to be called into question.”
Have your team map out the attendee journey, starting from the moment someone discovers your event to the moment they arrive and return home. Ask team members to evaluate each step and ensure the experience is flawless.
For example, imagine your conference charges a premium and prides itself in telling attendees that the fees help craft a truly unforgettable experience. When attendees receive their registration packet, what will they see? A personalized note of gratitude printed on high-quality paper can let them know you plan to deliver on your promises. But if the envelope is stuffed with poorly printed materials on cheap paper, they’ll begin to worry.
“These little details can ruin what would otherwise be an extraordinary experience they’ll never forget,” says Scott.
3. Unexpected: Keep things fresh and up the ante every year
After successfully delivering a consistent out of this world experience, conference-goers will expect you to exceed their high expectations next time. Unfortunately, repeating what you did at your last conference will get old fast.
“Attendees want to know that they’ll get value from attending your conference,” says Irving. “But to make it memorable, you need to also give them something unexpected.”
The most successful events aren’t just consistently true to themselves — they also up the ante each and every year. How?
“With a maniacal focus on the attendee,” says Bryndza. “When you pay close attention to the content they consume and the experiences they have, you don’t have to keep up with the latest trends — you can anticipate them.”
Questions to pose to your team:
- What content does your conference audience consume? Instead of looking at the competition to learn about new speakers and topics, read and watch content your attendee consumes. This insight will help you shape your agenda and determine who your next keynote will be.
- How will your conference theme evolve? You delivered the ultimate attendee experience once. Can you do it again? Hint: It doesn’t take a lot of money to do this. It takes a mindset of constant innovation.
- What B2C events do your conference-goers attend? More and more conferences creators are beginning to think of themselves as B2C instead of B2B. Look to their favorite festivals for inspiration.
Boldly go where no conference has gone before
Competition from similar events and the endless supply of content online means your conference has to reinvent itself to survive. Today’s conference-goer has higher expectations that traditional, presentation-based conferences simply cannot deliver.
But don’t just jump on the latest trends. Instead, think bigger and read this guide to make your conference truly out of this world.