Congratulations, conference organiser!
You’ve booked a conference venue with accommodation. There’s a conference hall with capacity for 1000; breakout meeting rooms for 20, 50, 250. It’s in a convenient central location, and the event management team are professional and enthusiastic.
And… no one comes.
Tumbleweed. Nothing but cold coffee, wilted sandwiches and a stack of unwanted lanyards at reception.
The good news: this nightmare scenario isn’t going to happen. If it was on the horizon, you’d have pulled the plug or taken drastic action before it ever got this far. But many conference organisers watch their registrations tick up slower than they’d like, and wonder: what if?
There’s one essential thing you need to avoid the misery of a tumbleweed scenario: an absolutely clear understanding of your conference’s USP.
What is a USP?
It’s a Unique Selling Point.
It’s the thing that means you’re the best; the most valued; the most likely to be chosen. It’s a quality you have that no one else in your field does.
For a conference, it’s why a delegate goes out of their way to travel, fights their corner with the boss to support their attendance, and buys that ticket.
It’s what you need. And until you identify your conference USP, you can’t help that potential delegate realise they need it too.
What’s your conference’s USP?
Many major conferences are repeat events: annual, biannual, every four years.
They carry with them a prestige and standing all their own – and therefore one you benefit from by default. Some delegates will always book, year after year.
However, that doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels. Complacency is never a good look. As a conference organiser, you don’t only inherit the high status and name recognition of a regular, important event. You also inherit all the potential negatives of that reputation – not to mention the challenge of improving on past events.
Capitalise on a high-status long-running event by promising more of the same – and better. Use testimonials from previous years: there should be plenty.
Find out from those same testimonials if there’s some damage limitations to be done. If last time everyone hated the hotel, you need to counter that memory and reinforce the positive choice that’s been made for their comfort this time, with plenty of imagery and detail.
Refresh their idea of what this conference means, too, by offering innovative new elements that haven’t been featured before.
Destination makes a big difference to individuals.
Travel to a new city can be a huge draw to your potential delegate. What’s on offer?
Pull out cultural highlights, like historic buildings, museums and performances they can enjoy while they’re in the area. Share the unique authentic qualities of the place, like local food experiences. Remember international audiences will be keen to experience the UK’s rich history: show them how easy that will be.
A well-connected location is a huge asset, too. Knowing the journey will be simple makes a big difference.
Want to learn how to select the right conference destination? Read this free C&e ebook.
Just as your conference may benefit from its reputation, your choice of presenters and speakers will bring their own prestige.
High-profile guests can be the sole reason a delegate chooses to come, especially if there’ll be the opportunity for some direct interaction. If you’ve pulled in a roster of big names, find out if they’re happy to join tables at dinner, or attend an informal Q&A outside their panel or presentation. If so, make sure that’s front and centre in your pre-registration materials.
No conference can survive on the same old names, however. Whatever the field, work closely with specialist colleagues in the field to source up-and-coming new faces, and research where the core developments are happening. A varied, diverse platform is what gives a conference longevity and impact.
Relying on familiar formats can feel reassuring, but audiences want more.
Most conference sessions get 50-60% attendance; few delegates will go to sessions back-to-back. That doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. Casual networking outside official events is integral to conferencing. But some of this lack of uptake is due to boredom with a style of presenting that’s all push, no pull.
If you can promise a more lively experience than 50 minutes of Powerpoint followed by three questions, you’re already starting in a good place. From there, start thinking more expansively about customer experience. How is this conference innovative from the ground up?
What’s the value of this conference to your potential attendee?
Value means many things. It’s the equivalent to a profit and loss calculation: will the money and time spent at this conference be more or less than its intrinsic benefit to the individual?
That intrinsic benefit might be a raised career profile, or new knowledge that opens doors and propels them in an entirely new direction. It might be an environment dedicated to research or creativity, in a way that motivates and engages your delegate in their personal as well as professional life. It might feel like a great holiday and a chance to meet new, interesting people.
Whatever that value is, you need your potential delegate to believe they’ll get it.
Who are you telling?
There’s one big challenge in the way of identifying your conference USP.
It’s a unique selling point – to whom? Who’s coming to your conference?