Send absolutely no pre-work to any of the delegates (all of whom should be chosen at random). This way everyone arrives with little or no idea about the overall purpose of the event and thus their attention and focus can wander at will. Remember innovation and creativity is all about experimenting. A free mind will be the best learner.
Have a stack of lengthy biographies on each of the speakers to hand out on the day. Specific emphasis made to their early career is important. Obscure qualifications and affiliations to places you’ve never heard of, is essential. Make sure to include a low-res image of your speaker in a suit; looking sincere and chewing on a pen or arms folded in a reassuringly professional manner. Speakers with no connection to the topic and preferably those who have to fly long distance to talk about CSR are particularly good value.
Make no use whatsoever of social media, live interactions, current news, video, film, illustration or music. The best conferences are ones where the audience sits in darkness whilst watching an 8 hour PowerPoint presentation using the conference template. Numerous bullet points and illegible charts are a pre-requisite, as is a black and white A4 print out to stack in the foyer by the coffee machine. Running over time progressively as the day moves on is acceptable. In the world of innovation, it’s important to break the rules, so squeezing or cancelling the final session is living that value authentically.
Cram as much borrowed interest and distraction as you can on the outside of the auditorium. Jugglers, flame throwers, motorbikes and popcorn are well liked. Those dudes who bang on biscuits tins and oil drums are a particular hit too. Nothing puts your conference content into business context more than a branded pen, mouse mat and bag with your logo, so spend as much as you can here. The bigger the gift bag the better.
Spend 45 minutes at most on open discussions, brainstorms, breakouts groups and Masterclass sessions. This is best done between 3.30 and 4.15 in the afternoon. There is no need for anyone to facilitate these discussions, land output in a useful form or capture in a meaningful way that’s shareable. A conference is about boundary breaking and after all, Rome wasn’t built in a day so best to manage expectations.
Get everyone to sign their name on a wall of commitment on exit. Nothing says “I want to make our world a better place” more. This can be the last thing that’s pulled down at the end of the day and dumped in the skip as it’s important people see their commitments through to the end. Following up is important, so emailing a set of photos of the audience looking glum-as-fuck throughout the day really hammers home the impact your innovation conference has had.
Enjoy your planning.