As a keynote speaker and a married guy, I’ve often compared conferences to weddings. In both cases there are hundreds of people to please. The location should be pretty yet affordable. The speeches/readings should be relevant, and you probably shouldn’t let your relatives sing. And of course, in both cases people will love you if you can swing an open bar.
And then there’s the reception. At a wedding, the trick is finding music that everyone will dance to. But for a conference, the questions are more complicated. What if people don’t like the comedian we just hired? What if people miss the last shuttle and get stranded at the museum? Will I be liable if people get devoured by hundreds of hermit crabs during our midnight beach volleyball tournament?
Finding activities to satisfy all of your attendees is often so daunting a challenge that many meeting planners punt the decision entirely and let everyone find their own favorite restaurant or nightspot. However, if you’d like to close your conference with a bang, here are three ideas:
The Secret Networker
This is a great way to get people talking. Print 25 or 50 cards for each conference attendee with his/her name on it. (Half of them will think they’re drink tickets, which I find hilarious. Can you imagine the conference organizer who would say “Please, have 50 on us!”?) Designate one staff member or attendee as the “secret networker,” then tell everyone that their “job” over the course of the conference is to give their cards to as many people as possible. Then at the end of the conference have the secret networker come to the stage and use all the cards he/she collected as the only names that will be put in for a giveaway. I’ve seen this a few times, and it never fails to impress me how much people get into playing—including one conference with 150 farmers, 98 percent of whom were men and none of whom looked like they enjoyed playing games of any kind.
The Photo Booth with Embarrassing Clothing
Or as I like to call it, Old Reliable. I’ve seen this a dozen times, so I can say with confidence that people of all shapes, sizes, ages, colors, and creeds love wearing giant sunglasses and fluffy feather boas.
The Drink and Draw
These have become popular at hipster bars, but I’ve seen it at a conference as well. Fifty easels were set up with a small blank canvas and some paints. On the stage was a finished piece everyone would try to reproduce. An artist then recreated the painting while talking participants through the process. Drinks were available from the hotel bar. In the end, everyone got to keep their creation, and I heard plenty of people who didn’t participate lament their decision to sit this one out.
So there you go! Give one of these a shot, or simply set your attendees loose on the town and hope that none of them get arrested for public intoxication after stumbling out of their sixth bar. That happened once at a conference I attended, too.
Jeff Havens is a speaker, author, and professional development expert who tackles leadership, generational, and professional development issues with a blend of content and entertainment. His articles have appeared in Fast Company, Entrepreneur, BusinessWeek, and The Wall Street Journal; and he has been featured on CNBC and Fox Business. For more information, email [email protected], or visit Jeffhavens.com.