Back to the basics: How to plan a conference that encourages audience participation

Sitting in a conference listening to a speaker drone on about an arduous topic for what seems like eternity is not synonymous with a memorable, engaging and effective meeting. On the contrary, it all but gives the audience a ticket to switch off and fall asleep.

One of the keyword phrases in planning a successful, effective and enjoyable conference is ‘audience participation’.

Audiences don’t just want to be talked at and remain passive, they want to take action themselves. But how does the planner of a conference create an engaging event that encourages plenty of audience participation?

In order to shed some light on the question we caught up with Ciara Feely, a hotel conference sales specialist who has many years of experience in assisting and inspiring hotels in running great conferences.

Choosing the right venue and room set-up

Ciara could not overstress the crucial role the conference venue and type of room plays in promoting audience participation. Placing chairs so they are facing one speaker and dimming the lights gives the audience permission to switch off.

By contrast, a cabaret-style set-up, such as Weetwood Hall’s 120-seat conference room, which comprises of clusters of tables with delegates sitting round them, enables attendees to talk freely to one another and participate in the meeting. Being sat in individual workstations not only nurtures interaction and discussion but gets people to think.

Tap into the power of knowledge

According to Ciara, for the conference organiser and whoever is running the conference, a venue that enables this cabaret-style set up, “taps into the power of knowledge in the room” and consequently means the organiser gets the most value out of their audience.

Ciara also informs that in certain instances, in a cabaret-style layout, getting rid of a table is what is required.

“Placing chairs in a huddle is more effective for introvert people. The table can act as a barrier. It all depends on what “work and thinking” you need the audience to do,” advises Ciara Feely.


Bring out the pens and paper

Whilst modern technology, such as Wi-Fi, projectors, interactive displays and PowerPoint applications, are important elements of a conference meeting, enabling the presenter to present information in a more meaningful and effective way, Ciara Feely believes, in terms of audience participation, conference planners should not underestimate the power of old-fashioned pen and paper.

Ciara says that the very act of getting the audience to write down their thoughts on a piece of paper nurtures engagement and participation and again helps planners “tap into the power of knowledge in the room”.

In what she cites as “going back to basics”, Ciara Feely gave examples of inventive ways conference planners and presenters can create a more fun and engaging conference by simply using pen and paper.

Pegging ideas onto a clothes line

One example Ciara gave was a conference that involved the audience being asked to write down their views and ideas and then peg the piece of paper to a clothes line that had been hung across the conference room.

“Simple activities wake the audience up in an uncomplicated and fun way,” Ciara told us.

As does a good old-fashioned flip chart. Flip charts are a simple and effective way to generate conversation and ideas, record these ideas and create audience participation.

From a planning perspective, Ciara reminds that the flip chart needs to be visible to all the conference’s attendees, an aspect that should be considered when planning the layout of the room prior to the conference.

As we can see from Ciara Feely’s advice, planning an interactive conference that encourages the audience to think, talk, participate and share their views, need not be complicated, time-consuming or expensive.

Lastly, Ciara Feely shared her thoughts on Weetwood Hall’s conference rooms and facilities.

“What’s brilliant about Weetwood is all the networking space has natural light and they serve snacks all day long so people can munch when they need it and the natural light helps the brain to refresh quicker. This all enables the delegates to participate more when body and brain are nourished.”

In terms of an effective conference with great audience participation, going back to basics seems to be the way forward.

For more tips, experiences, views and advice on conference planning, see Ciara Feely’s blogs on

If you are planning a meeting conference or event, Weetwood Hall has 35 meeting and seminar rooms. Contact our experienced conference team to talk about all your conference room requirements.


Related Posts

Categories: Conferences

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *