Creating a Memorable Conference

Creating a Memorable Conference

By Suzanne Duval d'Adrian and Gretchen Schisla

Conferences are important in the professional world because they allow like-minded people with common interest in a subject matter to gather. Experts share groundbreaking information with one another, and with interested audience members. This creates an educational platform that, when paired with a compelling agenda, transforms attendees into inspired and empowered participants.

Through web design and event branding, Enrich co-sponsored two amazing conferences that demonstrated how smart planning and organization expand the reach of an important event. Both the International Plant-Based Healthcare Nutrition Conference (PBNHC) and American College of Lifestyle Medicine 2015 Conference focused on the prevention of illness and treating the cause of disease through healthy food and lifestyle.

We’d like to share a few tips for putting together an impactful conference event:

Create a robust event website, so everyone knows who the guest speakers will be and what the agenda looks like.

Distinguished speakers and a great location (city and venue) provide big draws to a conference. Make sure the website for your event is well-designed and easy to navigate, with clear access to information and easy registration. Both PBNHC and Lifestyle Medicine 2015 accomplished this. With missions clearly stated and speakers prominently shown, each event site immediately provides information about location and provides great detail about what the topics will be.

Pay attention to the branding around your event.

Make sure people understand who the organization is behind the event and what they stand for, which might take a little education. Because of well-placed promotion throughout, PBNHC attendees recognized that the driving force behind the conference was a powerhouse non-profit called the Plantrician Project. The same is true of the relationship between the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM) and Lifestyle Medicine 2015.

Your organization’s logo and tagline should be prominently displayed. Both PBNHC and Lifestyle Medicine 2015  reinforced their organization’s identity throughout the conference with banners, presentation slides featuring their logos and welcome bags filled with branded literature.

Develop a comprehensive program book with agendas, speaker bios, FAQ’s and conference menus. PBNHC created a useful guide for reference before and after the event.

Invite speakers and keep topics cohesive.

Arrange a powerful line up of speakers. At PBNHC, each of the presenters moved seamlessly through the rationale behind whole food plant-based nutrition, supported by science and research. This singular subject track  allowed the audience to meet in one large room, with fewer break out sessions. Lifestyle Medicine 2015 followed a similar format, but with more break out sessions for presenters to share their latest research.

Plan your venue carefully and work closely with the staff.

Choosing the right location for your conference is just as important as the event itself. Make sure the meeting space is large enough to accommodate everyone, including overflow areas, which will allow attendees to move around freely during breaks. Lifestyle Medicine 2015 provided a large adjacent room for sponsor booths. Hosting food breaks in this space drove traffic to the sponsors during the 3-day event, creating conversation between attendees and speakers.

Keep the check-in process streamlined, to support the numbers of people attending.

There’s nothing more frustrating than arriving at an event and wondering where you should go or what you should do. Choose an area with good traffic flow and set up a check-in area. Make sure enough representatives are on hand to mark each attendee off the registration list, provide them with a copy of the agenda and give them clear direction. Both conferences did a fantastic job of designating staff for sign-in and assisting attendees. Banners attracted attention at PBNHC, while directional signs were helpful at Lifestyle Medicine 2015.

Make sure the food experience is flawless.

If your conference is meal-centric, you’ll want to work with the chefs and/or caterers to create an array of dishes and snacks. For example, both PBNHC and Lifestyle Medicine 2015 featured healthy and delicious plant-based fare which matched each organization's mission. This also helped attendees realize that healthy food can be delicious. In fact, the plant-based meals were so popular that attendees requested the recipes.

If you’ve ever attended an event where you had to wait in a buffet line, imagine 600 people wanting to eat at the same time. The potential disaster was easily averted at PBNHC, where multiple meal and dining locations were spaced throughout the hotel.

Break up the sessions, so everyone stays engaged.

No one likes sitting in the same spot for 8 hours, especially if they are listening to one lecture after another. Planning enough breaks between speakers, offering drinks and snacks and giving everyone a chance to stretch their muscles will help them to more fully process the information they’ve just received. It’s helpful to vary the types of sessions as well. To keep the audience invigorated, both events integrated unique sessions such as cooking demonstrations, guided meditation and a 5K run.

Use social media.

Create an event-specific hashtag to promote the event through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. This enables attendees to become active participants in sharing the information they have just learned. It also collects tweets, posts and conversations about your event into one central location, making your social media more interactive. Attendees can reference the hashtag to catch up on information they missed, revisit the event from a different perspective, reconnect with people and even encourage others to attend an upcoming conference. #PBNHC15 and #LifeMed2015 were truly great tools in these regards.

Keep your attendees engaged after the event.

Because the energy doesn’t end when the conference does, it’s important to stay in touch with attendees. Their experiences and perspectives can be helpful in improving future conference events. By sending out a survey, you’ll learn what worked, what didn’t and hear suggestions and ideas you hadn’t thought about. Staying engaged with attendees can continue exchange of ideas and relationship development. It also provides a list of people who are likely to be interested in next year’s event.

Suzanne’s takeaway:

So much of the information and experiences that I had at these two events will stay with me — and I can easily draw upon them in my daily life. I found a speech given by Dr. Hans Diehl to be especially impactful. During his talk, a series of film clips were shown and one in particular drove home the points I’d been hearing about all during PBNHC.

A patient was about to undergo a heart procedure. When the doctor asked what his last meal had been before arriving at the hospital, the patient revealed that he’d just eaten a cheeseburger and milkshake. After drawing the patient’s blood, the doctor waited. Normally, the blood would settle and any fat would rise to the top of the vial after titration, resembling olive oil. This patient’s vial did exactly as predicted, but his fat was a thick, cloudy substance, which stuck to the edges of the glass test tube. This cloudy substance was actually congealed fat floating in his bloodstream from the ‘meal’ he’d just ingested. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized how quickly – and how profoundly – what we eat affects our body. Suffice it to say, I won’t be drinking milkshakes and eating burgers anytime soon.

Gretchen’s takeaway:

Learning from the wisdom of each speaker is remarkable and mind expanding. Plus, when the information is something that I can apply in my life, that’s an added bonus. Chad Sarno, VP of Culinary Wellness at Rouxbe Cooking School spent the evening cooking for an audience. Rather than focusing on what we shouldn’t eat, Chad encouraged us to FLIP our thinking to focus on the abundance of amazing food that’s available to cook with. In a short time, Chad covered Mise en place (putting in place), knife skills, batch cooking, flavor development and ‘bowls of wellness.’ By simply arranging different ingredients, Chad assembled Asian, Tex-Mex and Italian style bowl versions in just a matter of minutes.

Memorable quotes from these two conferences:

  • The #1 cause of death is nutritional ignorance.
  • Let’s teach people how to take care of themselves better.
  • Food is our biggest risk factor in health.
  • 91% of our calories come from oils, white flour, sugar and wheat.
  • Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.
  • I don’t mind dying; I just don’t want it to be my own fault.