How To Get Conference Delegates To Unplug

How To Get Conference Delegates To Unplug

In a world where everyone obsesses about connectivity, it’s not easy to convince delegates that a Wi-Fi-free zone is a good idea.

Desktops, laptops, tablets, phones and wearable technology – not only is there an abundance of devices that allow for connectivity, but the internet can generally be accessed anywhere and anytime. Getting people to switch off completely is not easy, says Professional Conference Organiser, Carla Rossouw.

“Out of the city does not necessarily mean unplugged. Many country venues simply just provide a more relaxed environment than those in the city. There is no denying, though, that with our hectic lifestyles a bit of nature and a bit of relaxation are always welcome. Unplugged conferences are often exactly what is necessary,” says Rossouw.

A digital detox or unplugged conference, she says, allows a conference organiser to really grab delegates’ attention. Not being able to access email or social media or even just the ability to make phone calls, immediately focuses all the attention on the task at hand – the conference being attended.

The first step for bringing about a successful unplugged event is therefore to make sure there is no access to technology – phones, tablets, laptops or any other devices should not be allowed and even if they are in the pocket, it’s essential to choose a venue that has no signal connectivity, rendering them pretty much useless.

Megan McIlrath of Event Affairs, says taking delegates outside into nature is one way of really making an event unplugged. “It can be done very stylishly and does not mean that delegates have to be at the mercy of the outdoor elements,” she says.

The bush creates the perfect environment for unplugged conferences, says Mcilrath, but it can have extreme weather. “A glass marquee, for instance, brings a real sense of elegance and caters for the weather but for all intents and purposes delegates are outside. Nature is all around them.”

Corporates are tired of the same old, same old, says Rossouw. “The allure of an unplugged conference is that it gives them an opportunity to break away from the rat race and experience something that they have not been exposed to before. The focus of these events is often less work related and more personal and interpersonal.”

She says unplugged events work well as a bonding exercise for work teams. They are also valuable for corporates that want to create a more personal experience for the individual in terms of a ‘back-to-basics’ exercise.

  • “This can be achieved in a variety of ways, for example a walking safari or letting the team take part in a conservation project like tagging animals.” Rossouw says when doing an unplugged event, it is often helpful to keep the entire event unplugged. In other words, basic or tented accommodation with basic facilities where people are forced to talk to each other rather than being able to retire after a day of conferencing or team building to a luxury hotel room to just reconnect with technology.
  • Cooking for oneself out in the bush is another great way of connecting and can be quite an experience in itself.

Rossouw says the secret to unplugged is not necessarily in how creative or extraordinary the experience is, but rather that it’s difference from the usual. She advises that these types of events should be kept for relatively small groups and limited to two or three nights. Too long and too many people make for disaster.

Rossouw and McIlrath agree that the bush gives the perfect opportunity for interaction and a variety of activities. From get-togethers in bomas to getting rid of the Powerpoint presentation and the tedious presenter, it’s all about the change of scenery and minimising technology.

“In my experience, most corporates enjoy venues that give an opportunity to experience the outdoors, thus venues in the countryside are often more appealing. Instead of being cooped up in an office most of the time, they are able to breathe fresh air and be out in the open,” says Rossouw.

Source: Liesl Venter. Image: Mainstream Minimalist



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Bewitched by the magic of France, Melissa Jane Cook is an intrepid explorer. A lover of traversing the globe, she eagerly absorbs different cultures and laps up the magnificent oceanic experiences. Wooed by words and writers alike, her penchant for facials, chocolate, owls and bugs, is surpassed only by her fascination with the stage aglow in lights or bookshelves that heave with stories, where characters invite her along on their marvellous journeys.