by Ken Sterling | October 24, 2016
A well-planned conference can serve a whole range of benefits for both hosting organizations and their attendees. However, many event planners have trouble getting attendees to stick around for the last day, a particularly troubling fact given that many conferences save their best speakers and activities for last.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to engage attendees from start to finish. Here are 9.5 surefire ways to keep them focused:

1. Don't Skimp on the Headliner
Choose a headliner who is relevant to the group -- you want to pick someone who people really want to interact with. That way they'll have added incentive to stick around until the end of the conference. 

2. Provide Opportunities for Growth
Remember to center your conference on personal growth for the attendees. People don't just want to learn about the latest trends in their industry -- they want to grow their professional network and develop new skills. Help them meet their needs by holding a networking event or workshop on the final day.

3. Location Is Key...
It's as simple as this: Choose a location where people want to stay. Making the trip to and from conferences can often be stressful and time-consuming. It's your job to reduce travel time for your attendees. Some simple ways to guarantee a good location include choosing a venue in an area that's not plagued by heavy, rush-hour traffic, and ensuring that there are convenient public-transportation options available.

An additional factor in choosing a conference venue is its family-friendliness. Many of your attendees are likely traveling with children, so choose a space where they can easily organize a few activities for the whole family. This is especially true if you're hoping to attract attendees traveling long distances. Your guests may want to turn the conference into a mini-vacation, so help them by choosing an appropriate location such as Orlando, Boston, or Atlantic City.

4. …And So Is Timing
Another way to incentivize attendees to stick around and come back next year is to schedule the last day of the conference on a Thursday or Friday. That way, attendees will be more likely to stay for the weekend and turn the conference into a mini-vacation. If attendees are already thinking about heading to work the next day, they may be more anxious to leave early and beat the rush hour traffic.

5. Embrace Your Inner Scavenger
Scavenger hunts have been popular since gossip columnist Elsa Maxwell first invented the activity in the 1930s, and a well-designed scavenger hunt near the end of the last day can keep people engaged (and present). The reward should be sizable -- generally $2,500 minimum, such as iPads for the whole team or a prepaid vacation -- to make it a prize worth fighting for. If a scavenger hunt seems impractical for your conference, a quiz show is a fun alternative. 

6. Award Your Attendees
An awards celebration is another potential end-of-conference activity to keep attendees engaged. The awards should be given for participation in the conference, not for success in the scavenger hunt or team quiz. Not only will this encourage people to stick around to see if they win -- it will energize them to participate in the first place.

7. Don't Wait to Find Out -- Ask!
When organizing the final day for your conference, remember to slot in time to survey your attendees. Surveys will ensure that your next conference is even better than the last, and can help you determine the return on your investment of different aspects of the event -- speakers, exhibitors, sponsors, etc. Remember to offer incentives for responses and remind all participants why it's important to participate.

8. Active Attendees Are Happy Attendees
Conference attendees don't want to sit around all day, especially on the last day when they're likely getting antsy. Avoid boredom by planning interactive workshops that keep everyone involved. Hit on as many learning styles as possible: audio, visual, movement-based, etc. Keeping participants on their toes will keep them at your conference.

9. Learn from TED
Chances are that over 30 percent of your audience has already seen your headliner perform elsewhere, and an additional 15 percent will deem the speaker unengaging. While these figures can be reduced by choosing a top-tier headliner, a percentage of your audience will always be tempted to skip the main attraction.

One way to remedy the situation is by turning your conference into a TED-style event with three shorter keynote speakers, ensuring that every attendee maintains interest in at least one. This approach has been successfully applied to conferences hosted by such big names as Pfizer, Genentech, and Paypal, as well as smaller non-profits.

9.5. Deliver Content You'd Want to Stay For 
This one's kind of obvious, so I'm only giving it half a spot on the list: The most surefire way to keep attendees at your conference is by delivering amazing content that they won't get anywhere else. If they genuinely feel like they'd otherwise miss out on a valuable experience, attendees won't leave early unless they absolutely have to.

Ken Sterling is the chief marketing officer at BigSpeak Speakers' bureau -- one 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 marketing@bigspeak.com.