As much as to hear great speakers, most of us go to conferences to network, meet new people and share experiences. However if you are just sitting listening to presentations it is often hard to actually get to talk to anybody new.

When we started organising conferences at Happy, that was a key driver: how do we make them great interactive experiences, where you don’t have to make an effort to meet people and you get the chance to talk about what you hear?

The Happy Conference Methodology

Use cabaret (table-based) seating: Sitting in rows makes it a one-way speaker-delegate presentation and limits the chance to interact. Get people round tables and it makes discussion easy and natural. This is absolutely essential for an interactive event.

Speak and discuss: Most speakers find it a challenge to create interaction. So we now set a clear format: Talk for nine-minutes then ask a question of the audience – for them to discuss in pairs, threes or across the whole table. Just for three to five minutes. (Note: You don’t have to get feedback. The important thing is that the discussion happens, not that everyone gets to hear what everybody has said.)

So for a 30-minute slot, it is two nine-minute sections plus discussion. For 45-minutes, it is three.

Focus on stories: Stories are the best way to make a presentation memorable and the best way to help people understand what you mean. So we ask speakers to work out the key points they want to get across, ideally have a story to illustrate each and keep their slides simple (a strong visual and maximum 10 words per slide is a good rule of thumb).

Swap tables: At the beginning of each of the four sessions of the day, get people to swap tables and introduce themselves to a bunch of new people. (Of course, if you’ve just met your new best friend and can’t bear to be separated – you can move with them.)

Include speed networking: Get people to stand and pair up. Put a question on the screen (for example, ‘what it would be like to have a manager who coaches me?’) and ask them to discuss it for a set period. Then swap partners and discuss a new question. Try to include at least one question relating to each presentation so it helps embed what they’ve learnt or prepare them for what they are going to learn.

We go for one-minute sessions though some prefer longer. And I like to put it before lunch so you can get back to somebody easily if you want to continue the conversation.

Use the badges: As well as a very big first name on the lanyard, include something on the badges which can start a conversation. This could be what they want to get from the event, what they have to offer or something personal, such as where they are originally from or their favourite holiday. (We send a survey to all attendees in advance to get this information.)

Now I’m not saying this is the only format that should ever be used. Some people do enjoy a day sitting and listening without having to talk to people. Some even use them as a chance to catch up on their email! But this format means I can guarantee that, at a Happy conference, you will meet and (without having to make an effort) have a conversation with at least 30 people. I can guarantee it will be interactive, engaging and inspiring, and you will get a chance to discuss what you’ve heard and relate it back to your own situation.

As Stephen Stern said of the conference he arrived at in the afternoon: “Arriving at a Happy Workplaces conference half way through is like arriving at a party when people are already four drinks in. The energy was amazing.”

Feel free to borrow these ideas and to add to them. And if you’d like to experience a Happy conference, check out the next one – listed below.

Happy's next event is the 2018 Happy Workplaces Conference, which will take place on 21st June at Glaziers Hall in London. Join us for an inspiring day! You will hear from some of the world’s best workplaces including Google, the John Lewis Partnership and Kingfisher PLC – and will learn how to create this culture at your own workplace. 

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