I’ve been a freelance photographer for more than a decade, which means I’ve witnessed a fair number of weddings.
But more than that, I’ve attended conferences. Church conferences, business conferences, nonprofit conferences. And every time I do, I come away with a list of a few things I would change.
What’s strange is that it’s often the same list:
1. Make your welcome worthy of the event you have taken a year to plan.
You booked exceptional speakers. You found a great venue. You promoted the conference by word of mouth and paid advertising. Hundreds of people signed up. They flew in from all corners of the country. The room buzzes with old and new connections. Your conference planner takes the stage for the first time, the room quiets, and he says:
Is this on?
Then he says, “I just have a few housekeeping items. The bathrooms…”
If you wanted to know what a party balloon feels like stuck behind the couch, this is it.
Please let your first speaker be a person with charisma. And please let her first words be an enthusiastic greeting.
She need not be a clown, street preacher or exercise instructor. She need not even be a well-known leader. She merely needs to deliver a warm and sincere welcome.
2. Remind everyone how great it is to be together.
Immediately after the generous and spirited welcome, I humbly recommend the following:
A very brief introduction to your organization. Most attendees will be familiar with you; some will not. It’s good information for everyone.
- A very brief pitch for the conference everyone is attending. (This is the same pitch one gets, post-purchase, from a real estate agent.)
- A series of very brief descriptions of each major sponsor (acknowledging any representatives in the room), with a round of applause at the end for all of them.
Visuals enhance every message. I would project corporate logos, staff or board headshots, and pictures from the previous conference. (Get someone other than the speaker to run the slides.)
When everyone is good and oriented, you can move on to housekeeping.
3. Test your technology. Twice.
If you have the budget, it’s probably worth hiring a tech person, or a tech team. If that seems like needless expense, be prepared to spend at least ten minutes preparing the mics, cables, remotes, flash drives, laptops, video sound and screen resolution for each presentation.
If that seems excessive, imagine the same ten minutes, mid-session, multiplied by all your waiting conference attendees. To the power of your humiliation.
Subtract that from the confidence people have in your company, and you’ll have an idea of why it’s foolhardy to not test your technology.
Also, before the conference starts, please replace the batteries in all the mics and remotes. And test them again.
4. Use the mic.
Speaking of mics, USE THE MIC. I don’t care if you are traumatized from junior high Karaoke night. No we CAN’T hear you in the back, and we resent having to shout across the room to let you know.
When you don’t use the mic, you run the risk of making life complicated for the most seasoned professionals in the room. If the session is being broadcast or recorded, you risk alienating another part of your audience as well.
5. Beware the awards ceremony.
It’s wonderful to acknowledge people who have made an exceptional contribution to your organization.
The best awards ceremonies I have seen include a brief photo shoot with handshakes, certificates or gifts. Perhaps I’m biased, but I think photography makes the moment feel special and (as long as it happens quickly) is entertaining for the audience as well.
That being said, please find a pleasing background for the ceremony and its photos. Hint: it’s not in front of the projector. And it probably doesn’t include a microphone stand.
6. Finally, hang your organization’s logo on every lectern.
This really is a little thing. But it will mean that your name—and not the logo of the conference center—will be on every picture your participants take of the stage.
I’m not a professional conference coordinator. I don’t have a Platinum-selling TED Talk. And I (usually) don’t find out about the really big headaches managed behind the scenes.
But I thought you might like to hear six little things a photographer thinks will make your conference better.