Over the last few episodes of The Emamo Show podcast, we asked the event experts how they handle their scheduling without overwhelming attendees. There are a few different approaches to avoiding burnout, but all the experts said one thing: timing.
Big Breaks Between Speakers
Jen Gilhoi, event consultant and founder of Sparktrack, has helped event planners leave lasting impressions before many of their events have even started. In episode 13 Jen shares that you shouldn't be afraid of big breaks as long as you have set an intention for your attendees.
Taylor: I attended MicroConf last year. It was a single-track conference over two days but between every session was a 20-minute break. Sometimes I would retreat to my phone and write some notes down or if it was something that I was curious about, I’d turn to my neighbor and we'd chat about it some more.
Jen: I love that! Event planners tend to get nervous sometimes.
The fear is that you will lose people and they’ll go off to do different things.
Set an intention for things they can do during that break. Pose a question at the end of the speaker, turn to your neighbor and ask them this. As the host, I think that’s a really cool thing to allow those breaks and set that intentionality.
Learn How Your Attendees Learn
Christopher Schmitt and Ari Stiles are a duo who have run dozens of web-based conferences. They’ve been in the event industry for over a decade specializing in inclusion, accessibility, and diversity. In episode 10 Ari shares that she learned that different conference attendees learn in different ways.
Chris: Some guy really just reamed us in the feedback saying, “You guys don’t give us enough time between sessions.”
Ari: There’s norms within groups, too. For example, we learned UX people want to talk about what they just learned with a colleague.
We were thinking in terms of "We want to give you as much bang for your buck as possible and cram as many speakers in!" when really people on the other end needed a break or wanted time to talk to a colleague about what they just learned.
Taylor: I feel like that would be interesting marketing if organizers asked people what their attendee's learning style is. Or targeted, if this is your learning style is talking or visual or Q&A focused, this is the conference for you.
Ari: Absolutely. I think as the field continues to grow, it’ll get more specialized that way. It’ll be old hat to do an online conference, and then it’ll be a question of what works best for me or my team. That will be part of your niche, not just your subject, but the way that you present it.
Try Shorter Programming
Sarah Hatter is the founder of Elevate CX, an event series focused on helping and growing customer experience leaders. In episode 12 Sarah shares how she avoided a cookie-cutter conference and made a speaking schedule that fit Elevate CX best.
Sarah: Social time at our events is managed more heavily than our structured talk time is.
One of the things I would notice all the time when I was speaking or attending conferences is how tired people would be at the end of the day. They’re exhausted.
Sometimes conferences will say, “Come back at 8:30 for our happy hour because everybody needs to go take a nap first.” I try to avoid as much social burnout as possible, so we run a very short program. Our talks run on Friday 10:00am to 2:30pm and Saturday 11:00am to 3:00pm.
Taylor: That’s very different than when you started with 20 speakers back to back, 9:00am to 5:00pm.
Sarah: I’ve learned my lesson! I was one of those conferences where people were exhausted. I don’t want to do a three-hour happy hour directly after listening to 20 15-minute talks. My brain is melted!
We really think about how we structure social time. I feel like more people need to do less intense scheduling, shorter talks, and really try to be less formal. If you’re doing a two-day conference, be really mindful of the fact that there are attendees who hit that happy hour until 9:00 PM or later, and they probably don’t need a session first thing in the morning on day two. Give them a little bit more of a buffer.
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