“How will you engage the audience?” This question was included on a conference form I recently filled out on behalf of one of my speakers. It always strikes me as funny that we have come to a point where this question is even necessary.  Isn’t the whole point of public speaking to engage an audience? There is actually a great quote on this very subject: “Public speaking is an audience participation event; if it weren’t, it would be private speaking.” (Author Unknown)

There are now so many forums, meetings and confabs on the calendar that conference planners must continue to search for a way to differentiate their events. Using a unique format to ‘engage the audience’ is definitely one tactic.  Let’s take a look at what some conferences are doing to stand out…

  • The Economist’s new Pride and Prejudice conference is described as “a rolling event that takes place over 24 hours in three cities around the world… beginning in Hong Kong, then moving to London, and finishing in New York.”
  • Fast Company’s Innovation Festival will include “hands-on workshops and performances” taking place in “unexpected NYC locales.”
  • Aspen Ideas Festival added several new session formats in 2015 including “daily design labs for hands-on learning and to foster design thinking.”
  • NewCo has flipped the entire format of a conference on its head. Instead of attending presentations within a hotel ballroom or convention center, NewCo attendees are given a list of ‘host companies’ based within a city.  Attendees then chose which host companies to visit (these may include start ups, non-profits, academic institutions, etc).  To mix it up even more, the host companies are able to use any format of their choice (panels, tours, discussions) in order to tell their story.

While an innovative session format may make a conference more fun, the most important way to make an impact on attendees is still to provide relevant lessons that they can immediately apply to their life or work. If you look at the most successful, long-running conferences this is certainly the case. Timely, applicable content is still the best way to engage an audience regardless of the setting.