Is the traditional conference dead?

11 Jun 2018 Events

Is the traditional conference dead?

Modern event planners organise all kinds of events. And, one of the most trusted in our armoury is the conference. Used to impart information and help attendees learn new skills, historically the conference format has followed the same arrangement; with delegates seated in an auditorium, speakers presenting hour-long keynotes (sometimes with a Q&A at the end), and a few networking breaks to shake things up. But, in an age of low-attention spans, is this event format still a good idea? Or, is it time we all admit that this most traditional form of events is now dead?

RIP event conference format?

At Apex, we’d argue that, reports of the death of the conference are greatly exaggerated. In fact, not only is there is still a time and a place for conferences, but this tried and trusted format remains a powerful marketing and communications tool.

That being said, there is no doubt that, in our rapidly evolving world – with social media and new technologies inspiring a massive shift in expectations – the conference format needs a fresh lease of life. Today’s attendees don’t want passive learning experiences. They want active events that challenge and inspire. As such, event planners must find ways to engage attendees and make sure they don’t stop listening due to death by PowerPoint.

What can event planners do to keep the conference format alive and well?

To create exceptional events – whatever the format – you first need to know what you are trying to achieve. So, before you do anything, you need a plan. Start by looking at your audience. Who are they? What topics are likely to be of interest to them? What is it you want them to take away from your event? And, what will appeal to them?

Regardless of your target audience, if you want people to attend your events, you have to give them something worth giving up their valuable time for. People don’t need to attend a conference to hear an expert any more. There is an abundance of information accessible online, so it’s all too easy to watch a video instead. As such, ensuring the right content is crucial when it comes to shaping your agenda in a way that will attract and influence your audience. For example, collaborative peer-to-peer sessions and simulations are much harder to replicate online, and by introducing these into your day, you can attract attendees by providing them with a way to engage in meaningful discussion with their contemporaries.

Find out how Apex created an inspiring series of events that delivered genuine audience participation for Four Season’s Healthcare

Hiring inspiring guest speakers is another way to add real value to a conference. And, where maximum impact is needed, a celebrity can help to wow your guests and add kudos. But, while big names are impressive, booking the wrong speaker - however famous - can be a costly mistake. The trick is to find a speaker that works for you. To find someone relevant to your audience.

Read how Apex helped Elior to create a lavish event starring James Nesbitt.

Elior Awards and Conference starring James Nesbitt

Attention spans are shorter than ever

Also, research shows that the average attention span is now just 14 minutes. So, rather than 60-minute speaking slots consider shorter, snappier presentations that won’t have people tuning out halfway through. Some conferences are forgoing the presentation and are just running Q&A sessions that allow the audience to set the agenda.

Technology, such as screens, social media, gamification, etc. can also be used to facilitate engagement and ensure audience buy-in.

Ultimately, it's about ensuring you make attendees a part of your event, rather than just passive spectators – and that you deliver those all-important communications in a way that informs, impresses, entertains, and motivates.

Find out more about creating a winning event content strategy.

The reality is, in 2018 the conference is far from dead. And the reasons people attend conferences are the same today as they have always been: to learn new info and skills and to create and evolve personal relationships.

So, as well as finding ways to deliver inspirational content, event professionals must ensure they help attendees to meet their networking objectives. Accordingly, rather than just putting on a breakout room with refreshments and leaving them to it, consider how you can actively create networking opportunities at events. For example, here again, peer-to-peer sessions can be an excellent way to bring people together and naturally connect with each other.

At Apex, we understand the immense effort that goes into preparing for events, and we work with you to help reach your goals and achieve a truly positive experience. If you’d like to find out more about how we can make your conferences a success give us a call on + 44 (0)1625 429370 to discuss your requirements in more depth.


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Paul Ashford

Paul Ashford is a founding director of Apex.co.uk and has over 25 years’ experience in live events and conferencing. He has a particular interest in creative communication and team dynamics and advises Apex’ clients on how to build teams and convey their key messages in visually stimulating and effective formats.

Apex Event Management and Exhibition Stands

Apex Event Management and Exhibition Stands