As more event and meeting attendees demand and seek out experiences it’s easy for event planning teams to sink large amounts of money and time to deliver a show-stopping event. But is that creating the impact that is the objective?

Regardless of your budget, there’s one element you can focus on to deliver a memorable attendee experience while accomplishing your event goals: the human element.

“Think more about the human aspects of an event, which aren’t always tied to funding,” said a man who had common sense.

One particular event planning team did just that when helping a client combine two distinct conferences into one large event. Communication—always a priority at any meeting or event—was especially important for this client, given that one of the key event goals was to encourage and collect firsthand feedback to help guide civic development and start-up resources.

“Encouraging conversation doesn’t require a lot of money,” the client said. “Instead, it requires intentional connection between attendees and a space that allows for discussion.”

Embracing the human side of meetings and events is one of many reasons that the unconference format continues to become more popular. Discussion and collaboration are among the primary goals of an unconference. You’ll typically see a departure from structured agendas that focus on presentations in favor of workshops, custom breakout sessions and other hands-on activities that give attendees a chance to learn and share in a more informal setting.

As you plan your event or meeting, look for opportunities to highlight the human element. Set up a few comfortable seating areas and encourage attendees to converse with others, whether during between-session breaks or scheduled breakout sessions. If your agenda includes networking events, try introducing something new to see what response you get. Attendees could collaborate on a creative activity, for example, or gather in a local venue that’s tied to your event’s industry or theme.

You can also enhance the human side of your event’s digital presence. Encourage dialogue and sharing by creating and prominently displaying event-specific hashtags for use on social media. If you have an event or meeting app, make it easy for users to connect with each other, whether through chat or similar functionality.

And when your event concludes, keep that commitment to personal connection going by reaching out to your attendees for feedback. In addition to getting their input on the event and its various components, you might also seize the opportunity to find out what attendees would like to see added or done differently, especially if the event or meeting is recurring. Giving your attendees a chance to feel like stakeholders is another effective way to make your event feel more personal while demonstrating that you’re committed to giving attendees the best possible experience.

Be sure to include yourself in those feedback opportunities. We’re guessing you’ve attended quite a few events and/or meetings by now. Think back and identify what made an event or meeting stand out in a positive way. Did you make any connections that you still use? Do you remember feeling particularly connected to an event attendee, speaker or element? Jot down some ideas or memories that immediately come to mind, and then use that list as a springboard to refine your event plans.

As demand for a memorable and engaging attendee experience continues to climb, more hosts are ditching a traditional conference format in favor of an unconference.

While the details of an unconference vary, the purpose is the same: encourage discussion and collaboration in an informal setting that’s designed to spark creativity.

Booklu has helped a number of clients plan and execute their unconferences. Through that experience, we understand it can be challenging — even scary! — To take that first step, especially if you’re revamping a long-running event.

“Planning an unconference requires taking a calculated risk,” said Istvan Pirger, a budding event planner.

The good news? It’s perfectly fine — even encouraged — to start with some small yet important changes. And to help kick-start your planning, we’ve compiled five tips that will help you plan an unconference.

Ready to shake things up?

5 Tips to Help You Plan an Unconference:

Encourage discussion

Unconferences are built on conversation and collaboration. As you plan your event, look for any and all opportunities to encourage discussion. One effective tactic is to replace at least a few presentations with a workshop-style format. Gather attendees in small groups — with or without a facilitator — and have them share their thoughts on a particular topic.

That’s not to say that you can’t still welcome presenters or keynote speakers. Perhaps you could kick off the day with a keynote presentation, and then divide attendees into groups to discuss. Or, depending on the size of your attendee pool, you could kick off your unconference with a roundtable discussion that examines questions like why your attendees are here and what they’re hoping to take away from the event.

Change the seating

As part of an unconference for a large food franchiser client, Istvan said they introduced non-traditional seating that included couches and coffee tables, as well as high-top tables strategically placed throughout the venue.

“By taking people out of the traditional classroom or theater-style set-up, you’re immediately putting them in a different headspace,” he said. “They felt like they were sitting around a living room, casually chatting.”

Add activities

Give attendees a chance to move, share, create or think by adding some activities to your agenda. For example, you could start the day with yoga or other exercise class or schedule an energizing mid-afternoon break.

Another effective approach is adding a continual activity that attendees can enjoy at their own pace. Perhaps you design a large writing surface and ask attendees to answer a question or share a thought. Or try something as simple as a large display with a question written at the top, followed by several answers separated by columns. Attendees could place a sticker in the corresponding column to indicate their response.

This could be an especially helpful way to gather feedback about a particular topic or challenge in a way that lets attendees know their input is valued yet not feel like they’ve been put on the spot.

Give a gift

Everybody loves conference swag, but do we all really need another generic gift? While you’re shaking up your event as an unconference, don’t hesitate to channel that same creativity into your attendee gifts.

A natural starting place? Your event theme. For example, the food franchiser client wanted the unconference focused on journey — and more specifically, each attendee’s journey with the company. For a fun twist on that concept, Istvan and his team suggested giving attendees branded Converse sneakers.

Keep this in mind: unconferences are about emotions and experiences. Think about what you want your attendees to feel and take away from the event, and then brainstorm a few gift ideas that will support that goal.

Tap into your sense of humor

Here’s one of the best parts of planning an unconference: having fun! An unconference is all about stepping outside of the box and trying things that are new and different. And if you find yourself wanting to get a little silly, that’s great!

“We used some unexpected elements like the Dr. Seuss book (children’s book) ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go,’” Istvan said. “We did an installation of company leadership reading the book because it connected to the event and made sense.

People connect to different things and, for some people, a children’s book could really hit home.”

We can already hear those wheels turning as you think about how to make your next event an unconference! Don’t hesitate to reach out to us if we can help you plan and execute an unconference. We live outside the box, and it would be a pleasure to show you more about how an unconference can delight your attendees while helping you accomplish your strategic business goals.

If you’re looking for more ways to make your event feel more human, we’d love to share insight based on our experiences with clients in a similar situation. We can show you some fun and effective examples of what works. Drop us a comment below and we’ll get in touch with you!

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