"choose your own adventure" conference schedule
Photo by Jason Eppink

We are living in an era of customization. 3-D printers are enabling the manufacturing of one-off structures, figurines, and mechanisms. Apps are giving hotel guests the power to order special pillow types, additional towels, and even request specific rooms. From made-to-order Nike shoes to custom-labeled Coke bottles, it seems that every corner of the marketplace is scrambling to accommodate the bespoke needs of the modern consumer.

In our ever-present search for the latest event trends, we’re discovered another industry making headway in the age of customization: our own. Event planners are empowering guests to “choose their own adventures” in ways never considered before. We’ve rounded up a few for your reading pleasure (should you choose to read them).

Personalized Agendas

Especially suitable for large conferences, one way that you can offer attendees options is by hosting multiple “tracks” that sort events into categories that pertain to a subset of your guests. For example, a startup-focused conference could be broken down into various clusters such as Investor, Engineer, Marketer, and Observer. This allows more specific conversations to be had that would otherwise be irrelevant to attendees as a whole. But don’t forget: being around only like-minded individuals probably isn’t what your guests want to do for long. Which brings us to our next topic: networking.

Smart Networking

Networking is so often a numbers game. Talk to enough people over small bites and plastic wine glasses, and you may end up talking to just the right person. So what if there was a better way to increase the likelihood that guests will be able to network with the people they’re actually looking for? Some event planners are harnessing the power of technology to do exactly that. LiGo is a company that’s making Smart Badges that alert attendees to who is in their proximity. Pretty cool, eh?

mobile app for professional networking at a conference

Once the matches have been made, Smart Badges are an efficient and futuristic way to exchange information with ease. These RFID-enabled badges store the guest’s contact information and allow fellow networkers to store the info on their own badge—like a digital pocket of business cards.

Reactive Audience Polling

audience polling software
Meetoo, the audience polling and Q&A app.

YouTube and Vimeo have had an interesting effect on conferences: anything of note can be watched later, making being in the room less important. But there’s one thing that no video viewer can do: impact the conversation in the moment. That’s the power of reactive audience polling and Q&A sessions. Meetoo is a popular app that facilitates real-time polling and audience moderation. Poll results can be shown live through a PowerPoint plugin. For audience Q&A sessions, presenters can screen questions before they’re made public, and audience members can opt to have their questions be submitted anonymously.

Embrace the Rule Breakers

professional networking at a conference

Many event managers stress about the “cat herding” required to get conference attendees to sit through their prescribed events. Especially as the days wear on and attendees befriend one another, some will remain in the ballroom lobby or at the refreshment table, chatting and networking rather than sitting through another keynote. Event planners can handle this in one of two ways: stress out and repeatedly ask attendees to quiet down and enter the conference room or embrace the networking for what it is. For many attendees, networking is at the top of their list of reasons for coming to a conference. By permitting—and even encouraging—it, you’re letting them get what (they think) they paid for. One way to do this without disrupting your schedule is to create a space specifically for chatter. A separate mingling area, far from the doors of the quiet ballroom, where guests can network their little hearts out whenever they please.