9 Interactive Alternatives to Lectures Your Attendees Will Love

It’s all too easy to get caught up in the old “keynote-presentation sessions-networking” formula—especially if you’re working the B2B circuit.

This is the golden age of the “experience economy,” and attendees want to be wowed, educated, and entertained. After all, conferences are a pretty big investment, so they need to walk away feeling good about the experience.

What this means for event pros is, B2B events need more than an impressive slate of speakers and a bag full of branded swag. Instead, consider shaking up the learning experience with interactive alternatives to keynotes and lectures.

Here, we’ll go over some ideas you can use to improve the learning experience for attendees.

Free Download: How to create sessions for each stage in the buyer’s journey

Why Get Interactive?

Well, for one, offering workshops brings more value to your attendees than listening to someone get up and do their best TED Talk impression. For brands, getting up and sharing ideas can be a great way to demonstrate knowledge and expertise, and potentially raise their profile, but for attendees, where’s the value?

Think about why people attend events in the first place. It’s likely to learn more about the latest changes in your industry. They might be there to connect with buyers or partner up with other brands targeting the same users.

Maybe they’re attending to break out of their comfort zone or identify new approaches to solving old problems.

Breaking away from traditional B2B formats and embracing an interactive approach can help nurture connections, boost knowledge retention, and ensure attendees walk away with a positive perception of your brand. Share on X

1. Dedicated Q&As

At Google I/O, the event included short sessions dubbed “Office Hours,” short Q&A sessions where attendees could chat with brands and experts about topics like using Google AMP or adding machine-learning to their mobile app.

The benefit here is, attendees have the opportunity to attend these short sessions and gather information relevant to the projects they’re working on.

2. Plan a Live Demonstration

When it comes to B2B products and services, it can be difficult to ensure that your target audience truly understands your solution.

Whether you sell software, devices, or you’re trying to bring a new concept to life, in-person demonstrations are a great way to show, rather than tell your prospects how your solution works in the real world. Here’s an example from our own portfolio, where we designed an immersive tour of Accenture’s products for the 2018 AWS Conference:

3. VIP Access

Everyone loves to feel special. That’s why personalization is the hottest topic in sales, marketing, and CX these days. Offering VIP tickets at a slightly higher price point is one way you can deliver a personalized experience by throwing in some exclusive perks. You might offer a high-end dining experience like they did at Cloudfest, bringing in master chefs to cater a VIP networking dinner.

Or, you might offer some convenient extras like rideshare codes or shuttle access so VIPs can get around stress-free or access to “secret” bathrooms (which, according to Eventbrite, 39% of VIP attendees would pay 1.5x more than general admission for).

4. Host Meetups

If you have multiple customer segments attending the event, consider putting together meetups that connect with like-minded attendees.

Google’s I/O event offered several meetups catered to different groups. For example, they offered a Women Techmakers session, a meetup for first-time attendees, and a Google Developer Expert meetup.

5. Embrace a “Party” Element

Whether you’re pre-gaming or hosting the after-party, sometimes removing some structure is a good thing.

Consider hosting a gathering away from the event—think local breweries or restaurants—so attendees can get away from the venue and unwind after a long day. The benefit is, attendees get an opportunity to continue networking in a more relaxed setting and share their thoughts about the conference material gathered that day.

6. Campfire Sessions

Campfire sessions initially look like a traditional presentation, where a speaker gets on stage and addresses a room full of participants.

However, the key difference here is, after a short introduction, the focus moves away from the presenter and on to the audience. From there, the presenter takes on the role of facilitator, inviting the audience to share questions, insights, and comments with the group.

Campfire sessions are relatively short, and allow attendees to guide the conversation and learn from one another. It’s also worth mentioning that this strategy works best when you keep groups on the smaller side—allowing for the kind of relaxed, friendly conversations you’d have around a real campfire.

7. Set Up Braindates

Braindates are group sessions or one-on-one meetings designed to connect attendees with people that have specific knowledge on topics of interests.

Ahead of the event, participants can fill out a form where they’ll indicate areas of interest and will be matched with people who can best fill that request. From there, matches can schedule meetings with one another, which gives them a chance to network in a more intimate setting.

8. Offer an Opportunity to Try New Technologies

New technologies, like augmented and virtual reality are becoming mainstays in the event circuit. While perfect for presenting new products or offering a tour, giving users the chance to learn how to use a new piece of technology brings major benefits to the table.

A great example of this is the “Community Pavilion” section of the Adobe Max Conference. Inside the Pavillion, attendees have an opportunity to customize their experience by signing up for sessions where they can try new technologies and tools, interact with vendors, and attend creative workshops.

If you look on the event website, Adobe highlights the various workshops attendees can participate in—which involves interacting with a large 3D scanner, creativity workshops, and hands-on labs where you can get support from Adobe pros as you work on a project of your choice.

9. Give Attendees Something Positive to Do

While events are typically focused on industry challenges or dazzling attendees with the latest and greatest innovations, offering an opportunity to engage in an activity that helps the community or the planet is a great way to get attendees to collaborate with each other and connect with others that share similar values.

Salesforce has been doing this for years at their annual Dreamforce conference, supporting organizations like the Girl Scouts of America, Bay Area Workforce Development, and the Oakland and San Francisco Unified School Districts.

Wrapping Up

Whether you opt to tap into attendees’ need to feel special via VIP passes and personalized networking sessions, throw a big party, or make like Adobe and embrace the “choose your own adventure” format, events are an opportunity to shake up the status quo and make meaningful connections.

Be creative when considering your session mix and be sure to design experiences that promote your brand’s unique values and speak to your target audience. It’s also important to let your audience influence your agenda as well. Collect direct feedback and listen in to social media conversations that can help you identify what people hope to gain by attending your event.

Need some help with your event planning strategy? Echelon Design can help you come up with out-of-the-box session concepts, creative environments, and the strategy that ties it all together.

Free Download: How to create sessions for each stage in the buyer’s journey

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