Getting the most from a conference

Training & Development


What conferences have had success in Australia?


There is no exact formula that can be copied for all conferences to be successful as industries and groups have their own expectations and outcomes, however, here are six key tips that can be used across all conferences that will ensure they are successful:


Use a PCO or have a dedicated person or small team to put it together. There is a lot of work involved; before, during and after the conference.


Hire a professional speaker(s) that are external to the company who know the broader industry or are an expert in; Brand Awareness, Leadership, Customer Experience etc. Of course using speakers who are well known in the industry or are part of the company to provide specific detailed presentations is important. Having a combination provides an interesting and diverse conference.


Hire a Professional Emcee. The Emcee is the “glue” they keep the agenda on track and can adlib when necessary. They can also assist in preparing speakers and their knowledge of stage set up, lighting and seating for the conference is one of professionalism to ensure the conference is a great success.


Consider the location – transport, access and accommodation for delegates


Price the conference so that delegates can see the value. That doesn’t mean cheap.


The conference team need to be organised and prepared for things not always going to plan. Communication is important with delegates prior to the conference with many organisers now arranging Groups on various social media channels.


Conferences that have had international business, religious or television personalities certainly have large audiences, however, an industry conference for a small group of 100 can be just as successful if the content is relevant, delivered in an enthusiastic and engaging manner and that all delegates return to their every day lives with an Action Plan for their role in the workplace or a new life direction.


What format works the best? (One speaker, one hall? Various workshops taking place at once?)


A main hall for Keynote Presentations and then three breakout rooms for the multi streamed education sessions.


Cabaret style seating so delegates can take notes and do group work ( if part of the session) is an alternative to theatre style seating where delegates are wrestling with a pad and pen on their knee.


A casual conference cocktail party on the first evening with light entertainment and an early cut off from the free drinks at the bar, to ensure all are awake for the second day is always a good idea!! I attend a conference every year overseas for an Association with delegates coming from all over the world and on the second day without fail close to 55% don’t show up, due to sleeping in or being a tourist. This is really disappointing for the speakers on the second day and for those delegates who are there to learn as they begin to question is there value in attending future conferences as networking is an important part of the conference circuit.


On many occasions when I have been the Speaker or Emcee there is a Gala Awards night for the company, Association or Industry. This can be formal or themed. Even though a themed evening can be fun not everyone likes to dress up, so a themed room can be absolutely magical when the doors are thrown open for delegates to see the transformation from a conference room to a room that creates the WOW factor. A number of years ago I attended a Research conference in Sydney, which was very content rich during the day, however, when walking into Sydney Town Hall it had been transformed into Alice and Wonderland / Mad Hatters Tea Party, every delegate who attended was amazed and all night the “oohs and arghs” resonated as the detail of a new feature was noticed.


What is the best fee structure? (Thousands of dollars to speak? Entry price of a few hundred for businesses?)


Professional speakers are exactly that, they are professional and are experts on their topics and know the craft of speaking so that their presentation will be delivered to their best ability providing value to delegates. In Australia there are only 80 Certified Speaking Professionals who are part of a world wide group who hold this accreditation.


A Keynote Speaker may also run a breakout session or be part of a panel discussion. Many of them have authored a book or offer a webinar after the conference adding value for the delegates.


There needs to be a price for individuals and businesses who send delegates that is reasonable and value for money. A two day conference can range from $990 - $5,000 or more per individual depending on the organisers, the content and the market they are targeting.


Business sponsorship is a big business in conferences, however, organisers need to show interested sponsors the value and to provide the opportunities to them that is outlined in the sponsorship packages. Over the past two decades in business I have sponsored or had a booth at various conferences and have found (as have other sponsors) that the delegates are not always the market e.g. key decision makers that was promised by the organisers or the placement of logos or pa promotion is not what was agreed upon. However, in the majority of conferences where there is a well organised team running the whole event the value is definantly there for sponsors and booth holders as long as they follow up on the lists and leads they are given or collected during the conference. Too often they complain that they didn’t get any business and it’s due to their lack of follow up not the conference organisers.


What is the best way to structure the content? (Main speaker before or after lunch? What breadth of content?)


Keynote Speaker to open. The first presentation has to create a “hook and a point of reference” that will flow through the conference. It has to be content rich presented with real life case studies that are relevant to the industry or group that the conference for. The speaker must be engaging with a touch of humour and authentic.


The remainder of the conference is broken into two or three streams: e.g. Technology, Marketing, Team Development, enabling delegates to choose which sessions they wish to attend.


If the conference was multiple days bringing all the delegates back together at the end of each day for a session is always a good way to confirm the remainder of the program, information for the evening events and to engage them as a whole group after being separated into smaller groups throughout the day and an opportunity for delegates to “rave” (hopefully) about which sessions they attended.


After lunch is one of the hardest gigs as delegates have eaten, relaxed and for those who are tempted to look at their emails and take calls could well be distracted by what is happening back at the office. The speaker(s) for the first session after lunch need to be enthusiastic and perhaps even have the delegates completing an activity during the session where they have to be standing and moving around the room instead of just sitting at a round table nodding off to sleep or peeping at their mobile under the table.


The final presentation of the whole conference should be a Keynote Speaker who encapsulates all that has been said at the conference, inspiring delegates to action what they have written down in copious notes, to build on the connections they have made and a “story” that motivates and is memorable and embeds the points of their presentation.


What length of conference is ideal?


Two or three days is generally a good length allowing delegates an opportunity to mingle and make connections in the evenings at conference organised events.


The Professional Speakers Association (Australia) run an annual two day convention program, however, delegates have the option to extend to three or four days by choosing to add Mastermind workshops the day before and after the conference that provide great value.


 What doesn't work at a conference? 


Speakers who don’t know the industry and haven’t done their homework on who is in the audience.


Disorganisation when there are not enough event staff to assist delegates questions or concerns.


An Emcee who waffles or likes the sound of their own voice and makes their own critical personal comments about the speakers presentations.


Running late whether it be at the beginning or the end of each session.


Everyone will accept technology glitches, however, when it is obvious that the organisers have done it on the cheap or there has been no rehearsal and checking of equipment, delegates can become impatient and annoyed.



Michelle Pascoe

at Michelle Pascoe

Professional Speaker, Trainer, Coach & Author. I live and breathe my passion for customer service, mystery shopping and team motivation. I'm an experienced businesswomen & specialist in every aspect of service operations & processes and their impact on the customer experience. As an international speaker and accredited trainer & assessor, I combine my extensive experience and specialised knowledge with an absolute commitment to igniting the potential in each individual.