Ideas for conference activations that you can steal for your next event.
How do you plan a conference that’s so extraordinary that attendees are still raving about it months after it’s over?
It’s a confluence of factors, to be sure; engaging and relevant content, dynamic speakers, interactive sessions, and networking activities all play essential parts in making a conference impactful. But these are now baseline expectations. Without them, your conference might indeed become a topic of conversation, but for all the wrong reasons.
We're emphasizing that while you must get all the fundamentals right, that might not be enough to make your conference stand out.
You need something extra - an X factor - to elevate the conference experience from meh to memorable (and drive traffic to strategic areas in the venue, of course). “We try to build in moments of childlike joy into real-life experiences.. says Lauren Olerich, Sr. Director of Events at Gainsight in our webinar. “At [Pulse - Gainsight's annual conference), we have had people dressed up as superheroes who walk around the conference; we’ve hired a Taylor Swift impersonator to sing and serenade and walk around on stage; and we had a ferris wheel in 2018."
And that’s where activations come in.
What are activations? A quick refresher.
Activations are engaging experiences that encourage attendees to participate in the conference - beyond the sessions, panels, and workshops, and which leave a lasting impression on attendees.
They can take many forms, such as interactive exhibits, experiential installations, workshops, games, live performances, etc. Organizers can use activations to meet strategic goals, such as driving traffic to the sponsors' area in the venue or driving awareness around a concept, product, or service.
Here's what Lauren recommends keeping in mind when planning your activations:
(1) Experiences for attendee to self-explore in their own time: If you think about the footprint of your event, [you can put activations on different zones and floors]. You can put activations throughout the Expo Hall or the hallways as people are starting to walk to different breakout rooms.
(2) Encourage attendees to seek out the activations: You can encourage people through push notifications to find the activations. And you can gamify [it] by giving people points if they scan [the event app] at certain activations to encourage them to experience these things.
What is it: A real-time, interactive artistic display that is built by attendee submissions
Why it’s a great idea: Conferences often focus on knowledge sharing and professional development, but incorporating live art serves as a creative counterbalance, stimulating senses and imagination and providing a unique way to express ideas and narratives.
A real-life example: The Brightline Initiative, in collaboration with Domestic Data Streamers, had a participatory art installation at their 2019 conference. Attendees were asked to write down their thoughts about speakers, sessions, and conference content on transparent tiles with permanent marker, creating a visually engaging and interactive experience that allowed participants to contribute to the event's narrative actively.
We love this idea.
Another example: At the TED Bigger Than Us Exhibit, attendees were invited to write an idea worth spreading on a piece of paper. They were then photographed holding it and their photo was added to a gallery. This activation engaged attendees in the core mission of TED, allowing them to actively participate in sharing and promoting their own innovative ideas, while also fostering a sense of inclusion and community.
A fantastic embodiment of the theme of the conference.
What is it: Quite simply - puppies at the conference!
Why it’s a great idea: Incorporating puppies into a conference provides a delightful and unexpected element that can reduce stress, boost mood, and encourage social interaction among attendees. It adds a unique and memorable touch to the event, as it's not something commonly associated with conferences.
A real-life example: At Quantum Metric’s user conference, the team set up a puppy adoption center in the sponsor area. Attendees were thrilled to encounter adorable puppies, which not only attracted significant traffic to the sponsor area but also ended up with two dog adoptions.
Honestly, if you had this activation at your conference, you'd have trouble getting us to leave.
What is it: Smoothie bikes let attendees select their preferred flavors and then pedal to blend them into their own custom fruit smoothie or signature cocktail, which they can take with them.
Why it’s a great idea: People love an activity, and people also love free food and drinks. Smoothie bikes cleverly combine both by offering a hands-on and fun experience that you definitely don’t expect at a conference and a yummy payoff.
A real-life example: HP set up smoothie bikes at Curry’s Peak Conference, as it perfectly exemplified HP sustainability, but works well at just about any event organized by a company that cares about sustainability (because you produce your own electricity!).
What is it: VR/AR/AI adventures are usually immersive and interactive experiences that leverage virtual or augmented environments, often involving headsets or devices. An AR scavenger hunt is an interactive game or activity in which participants use AR technology, often via a mobile app, to locate and collect virtual items or complete challenges within a physical or digital environment. Like Pokemon Go.
Why it’s great at a conference: VR/AR/AI adds oomph to your event and lets attendees explore a concept related to your conference’s theme in an exciting and cutting-edge way. The scavenger hunt, in particular, is a creative and fun way to get attendees exploring the venue, and interacting with products, services, and sponsors, which promotes deeper engagement between participants and event stakeholders.
A real-life example: The AR scavenger hunt at the 2023 Advertising Week APAC conference was a big hit. Attendees were encouraged to explore Lunar Park - the conference venue - to find and collect rewards from sponsors throughout the park. Participants would be entered into a draw to win a major prize.
This is a smart way to employ gamification at the conference in a way that feels authentic and enjoyable to attendees, and helps you meet strategic event goals too.
What is it: An arcade of retro games designed to connect attendees with positive memories of the past.
Why it’s great at a conference: It adds a touch of fun and familiarity, making networking easier through shared memories, and conversations more enjoyable, and the event itself distinct and memorable.
A real-life example: AWS re: Invent in Las Vegas featured educational sessions, networking opportunities, as well as a variety of retro games, including a Giant Human Claw Machine in which attendees played the part of the Giant Claw. They were lifted into the air by the machine and lowered into a giant pit of untold treasures that were up for grabs.
There's no denying the power of a 90s throwback.
In the quest to make events truly memorable and strategically impactful, activations stand out as powerful tools.
But to make them truly effective, organizers need to carefully align the experiences with your company and event’s personality, goals, mission, and values, and with strategic objectives you’re trying to meet through them - for instance, driving footfall to sponsors.
So, be thoughtful, be strategic, but above all, be boldly unexpected.
3 key reasons why Partnership Leaders' in-person conference 'Catalyst' was a big success this year.
There are conferences, and then there are conferences.
Partnership Leaders' Catalyst 2023 firmly establishes itself in a league of its own.
This annual conference serves as a catalyst for growth in the partnership and business development sector, with partnership professionals from around the globe coming together to discuss best practices, set industry standards, and elevate partnerships to new heights. This year, Catalyst 2023 was held in Denver. It was attended by 650+ professionals, all of whom left the event thoroughly impressed and inspired by the experience.
Here are 3 ways Partnership Leaders made this in-person conference an absolute hit among its members this year.
At many in-person conferences, the check-in process can be tiresome, often involving long queues, manual badge searches, and frustrating delays. Attendees frequently spend valuable time waiting in a line or tutting internally at the sluggish pace of checking-in.
It can put a damper on the event itself.
But at Catalyst ‘23, attendees were able to check in and get their badges printed in less than 60 seconds. It was a smooth-as-butter process because:
Conference apps, while intended to enhance the event experience, can often be bloated with unnecessary features and difficult to navigate. Attendees may struggle to find the information they need amidst a sea of overwhelming options, leading to frustration rather than convenience.
The Catalyst ‘23 app however was built with input from Partnership Leaders’ community members themselves, who logged in, tested things out and made suggestions. This sense of co-ownership resulted in 98% of Catalyst attendees downloading the conference app.
“They used it to navigate the venue and add sessions to their schedule. They could receive real-time updates to the agenda, and it allowed them to see who else they could network with based on their goals and interests,” says Asher Mathew, CEO of Partnership Leaders. “It helped to personalize the conference experience for them and strengthened the sense of community, as we had all built it together.”
Navigating the conference landscape can be a double-edged sword for both sponsors and attendees. For sponsors, qualifying attendees amid the hustle and bustle of large events can be a daunting task. On the flip side, attendees often find themselves overwhelmed, struggling to keep track of the multitude of opportunities that come their way.
The Lead Retrieval app at Catalyst '23 served as a bridge, simplifying interactions between sponsors and attendees. Sponsors could quickly scan attendee QR codes for instant data capture and qualification using simple lead scoring, making follow-up with highly interested attendees easy. And for the attendees, the same QR scan meant that they could just focus on interacting with the sponsor without the burden of manual note-taking, knowing that they would be sent pertinent information after the conference.
The collaborative energy championed by Partnership Leaders paved the way for streamlined interactions and seamless data exchange that attendees wholeheartedly embraced at Catalyst '23, and set a new standard for in-person conferences.
Zuddl recently held the second edition of its annual offsite, Bonfire 2022. Here's a firsthand account of the experience plus some cool pictures from the event!
Earlier this month, Zuddl concluded the second edition of its annual company offsite event, Bonfire, and this time around, the team was much bigger, and so were the festivities!
For a remote workforce like ours, the annual offsite is a rare chance for each of us to get to know the people we’ve otherwise only interacted with virtually.
A four-day event, Bonfire 2022 had all the ingredients of a power-packed event, starting from leadership and strategy sessions to cultural activities, sports and a whole lot of surprises! Now, for someone like me who has been at Zuddl for about six months now, meeting my remote team (and the extended Zuddl family) in person was a very unique experience.
Initially, I didn’t know how it would be; there was this slight anxiety, or curiosity rather, as to whether our smooth virtual relationship with each other would translate seamlessly when we all shared the same physical space and picked up on each other’s non-verbal cues. To my surprise, we seemed to hit it off as if we’ve known each other for years.
Once the event concluded,I thought about how that happened. What have we been doing right to see this beautiful outcome? And, what has been the company’s role in helping us achieve this.
Here's why I feel Bonfire 2022 was proof of a company that has managed to establish a healthy culture in this remote reality!
The first sign that you organically fit into a community is the fact that you don’t have to make a visible effort to fit in. This seemed to be the general vibe at Bonfire; a genuine ‘coming together’ of people rather than a forced one.
Whatever session or activity that was handled by a particular team was done with a very authentic flair; there wasn’t an instance where it felt someone was compelled to take up a chunk of responsibility. That speaks volumes of how Zuddl, as a company, has built an environment that doesn’t introduce a sense of distance between different working elements of the company, or the classic ‘hierarchy’ if you will.
Let’s admit it, we’ve all been to many professional events or gatherings because we were told to be present - almost like the company in question was ‘taking attendance’. In this aspect, Bonfire 2022 was a breath of fresh air because at no point did anyone ever compel any of us to be present for a session or event; they trusted that we would show up on our own. It’s this element of trust that automatically builds a sense of ownership in an employee. I’ve always felt that when there’s a sense of freedom in the environment, it actually induces employees to respect and uphold the liberty harbored.
Just like every place has a mood, every community does too. The one thing that struck me overall was that there was a shared experience of happiness when awards were announced and a collective sense of celebration when party time set in. Now, I may be more introverted than the normal individual, but I think even the most extroverted butterfly would agree that there are some crowds you click with, and some you don’t.
Thankfully for us, we just clicked - and that’s what made Bonfire 2022 a memorable one!
Zuddl is a unified platform for events and webinars that helps event marketers plan and execute events that drive growth. The platform has clients across the globe, such as the United Nations, Kellogg’s, Microsoft, HSBC, VMware, Google, StackCommerce and Cipla amongst others. In January 2022, Zuddl announced that it closed $13.35 mn in Series A funding.
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