What's the best way to plan a business conference?
July 13, 2010 2:39 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for advice on how to plan and design a business conference. I would like to know if anyone has ever been to a conference that was less lecture-style and more interactive among guests. If so, what did it look like?

I'm helping my boss plan a series of conferences across the UK. I work for a Non-profit and we want to hold a conference where we can provide a time and space for our partners to have more communication with each other to examine different practices and discuss policy issues. We want to avoid having a 'lecture-style' conference where people present papers or talk about a certain subject in front of an audience. Instead, we'd like to hold an event that is more interactive with the guests, like a kind of roundtable, where the audience is more active. I was wondering if anyone has ever been to a professional event/conference like this or has helped plan one? If so, what did the event look like? What was the general feedback? Any advice/thoughts would be great!
posted by Anthro girl to Work & Money (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You might be interested in the Open Space principles. I haven't tried it myself, but it does look like a framework that's been used for the kind of conference you're thinking of.
posted by crocomancer at 3:59 AM on July 13, 2010

How many participants at each conference? It's easier to do this with 0-50 people than it is with 1,000+ people.
posted by xingcat at 4:35 AM on July 13, 2010

Ooh, my company does this, and I'm planning this year's conference. Here are some of the things we're planning to do.

1. Have extra space. We're going to have two general areas (for food, mingling, help desk) and a bunch of smaller meeting rooms in addition to the spaces where we'll actually have the sessions.

2. Each person from the company who's going has a list of a couple of meetings they want to set up. Not sure if it's as feasible for you - we have 20 staff going, and 100 guests.

3. For the individual sessions themselves, we had a couple of roundtables, which worked well to get a conversation going. We also had attendees count off and go into groups for some of the sessions, so that people wouldn't clump with the group they came with. This got a lot of compliments.

4. This year we're going to have certain tables devoted to subjects at lunch. We figure people are okay with discussing business over lunch, but it's too easy to, again, stay with your group.

5. We had a couple of attendees do mini-presentations. This went over really well - both from the point of view of the people who did it, and the other attendees.
posted by punchtothehead at 5:14 AM on July 13, 2010

Another word to look up is "unconference."
posted by brainwane at 7:14 AM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Has anyone ever participated in an Open Space Technology based conference before?
posted by Anthro girl at 7:25 AM on July 13, 2010

I've gone to a number of BarCamps (Orlando, Miami, Jacksonville, Ft. Myers, Boston, ...) as well as more traditional conferences and I really enjoy the BarCamp format.

While it's generally still organized around talks, the scheduling process allows a lot of feedback and discussion about what people would like to learn/discuss. Additionally the talks and question/answer sessions are usually very interactive.

Finally the whole environment lends itself really well to ad-hoc conversations between participants outside of the talks.

To answer your recent question most tend to have an emphasis on open source.

Wikipedia has a good summary of the BarCamp concept. If you need more I'm happy to elaborate in further detail; let us know.
posted by vsync at 8:31 AM on July 13, 2010

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