At Meet Cambridge we received around 4000 enquiries every year for meetings of all types, each special in its own way whether it’s a product launch, an international conference or an offsite day – each has a purpose; people don’t host an event just for the sake of it and it’s wonderful to be able to play a very small part in their plans. In fact, some events take on a life of their own, long after the auditorium lights have been turned off, but it could be months or even years before the impact is felt and the legacy left by that event is realised.
Think about our planet, the technology we enjoy, the incredible advances in medical science that enable us to live longer and fuller lives… how many of these ideas came about because of an event? Perhaps a chance meeting at a networking session sparked an idea or maybe a funded place, which enabled a student to attend, planted a notion which was shared wider when that student returned home. Events are a conduit through which the seeds of knowledge are sown far and wide – such is their power; it’s no exaggeration that what happens at your next event could change a life or have a positive impact on the world in which we live.
Serendipitous moments though, whilst they do happen, aren’t always down to chance. If we want an event to have an impact and/or to leave a legacy, we must create the right conditions to allow the sparks to happen and even on a small budget there are lots of ways to do that if you are keen to supercharge the power of your next event…
1. Inclusive or exclusive?
Conferences are all about conversing and convening but how effective can they be if some groups, communities or parties aren’t even represented at the event. Could you involve patients, carers and/or survivors, or maybe consumers, manufacturers and advocacy groups, to make your event as inclusive as possible - who knows where things might lead if everyone is engaged? Once you have defined your audience, reach out to them and ask them what topics they would like to cover, allow prospective delegates to shape the programme.
2. Technology talks
There are ways to use technology to amplify your message beyond auditorium AV. Share talks and sessions to remote attendees via video link but consider making it two way to encourage participation. Most social media networks offer live streaming features where those watching can ask questions or perhaps you could consider using Twitter for a virtual panel session with moderators and co-hosts facilitating the discussion. Factor in an educational webinar at your event so that attendees can take part wherever they are in the world. Ask your AV specialist about the possibilities.
3. Be social on social
However, don’t simply broadcast on social networks during the event, engage your audience pre and post-event too. Keep your messages consumer-friendly, an event focusing on a health condition, for example, could raise awareness by engaging stakeholders through competitions, survivor selfie sharing or video blogs about living with the condition.
4. Be an architect
Don’t worry, we’re not suggesting you become the next George Clarke, but you can design an environment that encourages collaboration between participants. Think about the ‘architecture’ of your programme, how many opportunities are you giving guests to network, to have discussions or to hear from those in positions of leadership or advocacy? Here are a few simple ideas:
- Open poster sessions and exhibitions to everyone; the public too if it’s appropriate
- Have a ‘kitchen table’ discussion zone where experts can lead discussions
- Run breakfast or lunchtime seminars to encourage attendance from the local population
- Find space for a ‘book nook’ to share books written by experts, patients or consumers
- Host a ‘slow speed dating’ session where students are encouraged to network with experts
- If the content is relating to a condition or disease, create an area where delegates can experience what it is like to live with the illness
- Be strategic with your dining seating plans, place thought leaders throughout the room so that those sitting close by have an opportunity to enjoy an informal chat
- Add QR codes to posters that link to more content and/or have videos of the posters available to download and share
- Establish a bursary programme and/or award travel grants to encourage wider participation.
5. Do more with the destination
Most cities will have a destination management organisation (DMO) or conference bureau; if you haven’t already, reach out to them and make sure they understand your vision and your objectives. They can help you get more from your time there; they’re key to unlocking opportunities which could help you amplify your message and increase the impact of your event. Here are a few examples we have seen in Cambridge and in other cities…
- Organise a public event, share new technology and discoveries, make it interactive and suitable for all ages
- Involve school groups, could they attend the opening lecture, be encouraged to come up with questions for the experts or could you run a competition linked to the subject?
- If your event is relating to public health, have a roadshow where the public can be invited to experience the condition for themselves, or raise awareness by offering more information and possibly testing
- Use your event as a platform to launch a local project, charity initiative or to establish a local advocacy group
- Introduce a buddy programme where members of the local audience are introduced to those visiting, to strengthen ties.
6. Empower stakeholders
Work with your stakeholders to raise awareness. They can help you market the event and they can be a catalyst for impact too, but only if they have the resources. Flyers, email footers, press release and videos can be shared easily pre, during and post-event so make sure you have a plan for circulation. Offer guest blogging opportunities and encourage thought leaders to become prominent advocates by equipping them with the relevant tools and content to do so.
7. Give back
Your event may well lead to high-level legacies such as new funding streams and collaborations, but smaller gestures can also produce impact too. Encourage attendance by awarding travel grants or attract delegates from local knowledge hubs by offering discounted places. Partner with a local group and encourage delegates to participate in outreach activities or to give some of their time to a social enterprise. Organise a fundraising run or quiz night for a local charity.
8. Promote the power of your event
It’s important to record and monitor the impact of your event but don’t forget to share that information more widely too. Consider having a legacy area on the event web site that can be updated as the full impact of your event is realised or use a dedicated event hashtag. Encourage your stakeholders, speakers and attendees to update you on developments and keep them updated too, this will enable engagement and it will help you track changes. Ultimately it will provide you with even more content, which in turn will help you supercharge your events of the future!