The internet is a great thing. You know why? The answer is amazingly simple, it is all about me. I choose where I go, what I see and what I do. I am truly the master of my domain (pun intended).
Pandora is the perfect example, this website allows me to create radio stations that fit my mood. Today was a Jimmy Buffet day so I created a station called Beach Music and away Pandora went. It took my initial artist and added reggae, some funky “gulf and western” music and other similar artists. If I don’t like a particular song, I click the thumbs down button and away it goes, never to be played on that station again. It is so simple to use, I now have a station to fit every mood I could have. It has virtually replaced iTunes for me because the selection is so deep.
Now, before I spend the whole day telling you about Pandora, I should get back to my premise. The internet is perfect because it is for the individual. I choose when I want to register for your conference, I choose what news site I would like to get my propaganda from. I choose when I want to rent my car. Shouldn’t events be the same way.
Keeping the internet as a model, you have the opportunity to create the type of event that can be perfect for the attendee. Do not pigeonhole them into session after session. Allow them to customize their content. Add more breakouts, have impromptu meet-ups in the hallways. Let the attendee experience your event in the way that they want. Throw the old session after session model out the window. Let your event flow a little more organically. If you end up with breakouts with only two people in the room, so be it. If the speaker is good, they will have the experience of a lifetime.
Have a session where people are asking 500 questions about a subject? Invite the speaker and the question askers to continue the discussion and keep it rolling or better yet, allow the people who are interested the option of moving to another room.
Have a general session that is a panel with only questions and answers, have a session out on the lawn, have a session where the stage is just a microphone and the audience asks questions of the audience. Heck, even have one session that is held entirely on a moving bus.
These are the things people will remember, they won’t remember the guy who spoke for an hour and fifteen minutes and had 95 PowerPoint slides. The point is, if you want your event to be successful, you let people have choices in the content that is open to them. Remember, it is OK to try and fail, it is not OK to continue doing the same thing year after year and letting your conference or event die of neglect and boredom.