Has your event become an Oreo - where your participants know exactly what to expect, from the level and tone of speaker and message, to the dinner in a ballroom with the same type of meal, entertainment and dress code? Where they enjoy and embrace the familiar, perhaps not knowing there could be more. More engagement, more thought-provoking discussions that lead to new innovations in their field, a feeling of being more connected created by program timing that allows for this to happen.
What if the next year's planning brought reinvigorated thinking? New committee members or a new conference chair was ready to push the boundaries a little... would you end up perhaps with a Vanilla Oreo - different yes, but not necessarily better, or a DoubleStuff Oreo, where more filling is crammed in, everyone thinking people want "more" - more breakouts, a bigger gala, more panels so more people can present, more awards presented at the gala... Sometimes when we think twice as much of something is the answer, we find out it is only the right thing for a small percentage of the people - just adding more isn't always the right answer.
What if next year you thought of your conference as a macaron, where you replace the flour with almonds, making a shift from the beginning in expectation. While the macaron has rules associated - they are always a similar size and shape, they have two sides and a filling, you can start to play with these cookies. You can change the colors, you can change the flavours and fillings, and create an unending amount of combinations, each offering an individual appeal.
If this year you approached the conference plan as if it was for individuals and what they might want, what would you change within the framework of days, time, space that you have? Would you add more places for people to have hallway conversations? Follow your plenaries with small "meet the speaker" campfire style sessions? Serve fruit and cheese instead of pastries to extend the energy of your guests through the sessions, or offer espresso instead of the vats of coffee, keeping more people on site and talking to each other? How about encouraging new formats for your breakouts - interactive, participatory, with improv or a fishbowl - there are many options that can provide new perspectives and create shifts without a need to recreate the entire structure.
Is it time to dust off your conference format and bake up some new ideas?