by Ken Sterling | August 15, 2017
It's D-Day at the great conference you've been planning for months. Everything is in place. You're in Vegas; check. You have great sponsors; check. Speakers with information-packed presentations; check. And lots of swag for the attendees; check, check, and check. So why does everyone in the audience have a glazed look on their faces? 

Your attendees may be suffering from Conference Coma.

Symptoms of Conference Coma may include:
• Open-eyed napping 
• Compulsive texting
• Tweeting
• Swiping left or right

In some severe cases, they will also suffer from post-conference amnesia, in which memories of the traumatic event (and any learning they might have done otherwise) seem to have been suppressed.

Causes of Conference Coma include, but are not limited to: 
• Sticking people in a soulless convention center, that is utterly interchangeable with every other convention center the world over.
• Using the "sage on the stage" format with one supposed expert who may or may not even be a skilled speaker or presenter.
• Having speakers yammer at the audience endlessly and/or read from a seemingly endless succession of PowerPoint slides.
• Emphasizing slick self-promotion of speakers over meaningful idea exchanges between attendees. 
• Giving walls of information that don't so much inform as overwhelm. 
• Allowing sponsors to vie for the attendees' attention to the point of feeling like being a captive audience for an advertising shakedown. 

The Cure for the Common Coma

The cure for Conference Coma is surprisingly simple. To overcome these debilitating effects, conference organizers should plan an experiential event. According to Harvard Magazine, experiential learning is multisensory and participative. It is highly effective because it engages the senses in a way that promotes learning and comprehension on multiple levels. This is as true in the business world as it is in education.

To create an experiential event, there are a few points an organizer really needs to nail down. 

• Surprise and delight audiences with multisensory experiences like music, art, or hands-on workshops.
• Home in on the human aspect. Promote ways to encourage interaction and spaces where conversations can easily happen -- and give people breaks.
• Encourage and incorporate social media into the event. It's free advertising for the conference and encourages a level of engagement few other things can.
• Use an emcee or host who can provide some humor as well as connect the dots between speakers.
• Pay extra attention to the keynote speaker and the message they're delivering. 
• Provide thought-provoking and insightful content that attendees can't get anywhere else. All the bells and whistles in the world can't save a conference that does not provide something useful.

Follow these guidelines and see all signs of Conference Coma vanish as attendees actually enjoy themselves and come back to your event year after year!

Ken Sterling is the chief marketing officer at BigSpeak Speakers' Bureau, the leading keynote and business speakers bureau in the world. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of California and an MBA from Babson College. Ken teaches entrepreneurship, marketing, and strategy at UC Santa Barbara. He is a serial entrepreneur, keynote speaker, business consultant and sales and marketing expert. For press interviews, contact [email protected]