We have all seen them online and on social media: photos or reports of over-the-top, lavish, events with laser shows, fireworks and headlining some super famous band (U2 at Dreamforce, anybody?)
They must have huge budget to be able to pull that off.
Yes, they do. But if you break it down per attendee, it is often not that different than the per capita budget for a conference that does not attract 50,000 people.
So here you are, tasked with taking your 500 attendee conference to the next level. You need to shine. Motivate those attendees! Wow them! And, of course, create and show ROI for your conference to your executive management.
Here are eight simple, quick ideas to get started. Hopefully, these tips will help you take your upcoming conference’s “look and feel” to the next level, on the cheap or even free.
Make your signage look good! Do you have any creative people in-house that know their way around Adobe Suites? A well-designed, colorful sign looks a lot more professional and exiting than a white foam board with a black and white print-out taped on it.
Cost: about $80 per sign
Use your staff as conference ambassadors. Make sure they know they are there to work, not just to attend. They need to be helpful and at the service of your attendees. Insist on a high level of service by your own organization’s staff, but also staff of your vendors and the venue.
Bonus idea: are you short staffed during your conference? If you are part of an association or a non-profit, ask your members to volunteer a few hours. Alternatively, work with a conference management company, like ConferenceDirect, to supplement your in-house staffing!
Cost: $0 and up
3 Interesting and creative food and beverage displays
People have written entire books about this topic. I’ll keep it short. Everybody can display four or five chafers in a row on a boring buffet. To make it more presentable, talk with the venue to create multiple levels of displays and use props to give the buffet some color and depth. Or don’t put all the food on one buffet in one area, but create stations like a do-it-yourself salad bar, a candy display or a live carving station.
4 Does your host venue have a prop closet?
Many properties collect the left-over props from previous conferences or purchase décor that do not use full-time and store them in a prop closet. And some of them will allow you to “borrow” from it. Ask if you can take a quick dive in this closet (or warehouse) to see if you can use some of that décor to supplement your conference look. Make sure that the props are in-line with your overall event theme, of course.
One of my absolute favorites that won’t / doesn’t have to cost a lot. With three or four banks of LED uplighting, you can transform an entire stage. Or use a gobo to wash out the ceiling with your conference color(s). You’ll be surprised how much that can change the look and feel of a boring meeting room.
And the uplighting colors are easy to change, so you can change the stage color for each day or session!
Cost: about $300 and up
6 Use existing furniture in the pre-function area to create sitting areas or lounges
Do you arrive onsite and the first thing you do is ask the venue to remove the existing furniture in the pre-function area, so you can set up your registration desk, signage, etc.?
Why not ask the hotel or venue staff to create sitting areas or even supplement the items you bring in with the furniture (seats, tables, greenery) already there?
7 Ask local artists to display their art or ask a local bookstore to sell speaker books
Reach out to a local art collective and offer them a few areas to set up their art. Can be paintings, sculptures and anything else. Offer them a conference badge so they can keep an eye on it and encourage them to sell it.
Another option is to reach out to a local bookstore and ask them to come in and sell the speakers’ books. Ask your speakers to make themselves available for an hour or so after their session to do a book signing. Not all book stores are interested as it can be a bit expensive for them (labor cost, etc), but if you guarantee a few book signings, a lot of them love the opportunity.
8 Make sure that the layout of your conference doesn’t interfere with a beautiful view
Why put a step-and-repeat in front of a floor to ceiling window overlooking the ocean? When designing and outlining your conference area, make sure you do not block those dramatic views for your attendees to enjoy.
Put a transparent window cling with your conference hashtag or your logo on the window? Attendees will take pictures and promote your conference, company and hashtag, free of charge!
Cost: $0 and up to create a window cling
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