You'd be amazed how fast a full-grown man can turn into a tantrum-throwing child when they’re told that a session they wanted to attend is full. You'd also be surprised (or maybe you wouldn't...) at how a mild-mannered speaker can become a diva when they see their audience consists of only two people. I've dealt with both types of meltdowns while managing events, and neither are enjoyable.
Despite the immaturity occasionally shown by speakers or attendees, the blame for the incidents above lies with me; in both cases I misjudged how many sessions my event needed. In the first example I didn't plan enough sessions, and people were locked out. With the second example, I booked too many, and some speakers had to deal with embarrassingly small crowds.
When you start mixing this with hybrid events, you have even more to think about. Having a virtual component will give you the opportunity to admit more attendees to an event that has typically limited sessions. But, then your speakers also have to be prepared to present with an in-person as well as virtual component. You also need to confirm your virtual event platform can handle this mix.
Planning the right number of sessions matters. It's important for attendee experience, it's important for keeping your speakers happy, and it’s important for your reputation as an experienced event manager.
The challenge is, how do you arrive at the correct number of sessions you need for your conference?
We’ve highlighted a few questions to ask yourself to help arrive at the number of sessions you needed.
What type of sessions do you want?
For in-person events, classroom-style breakout rooms are the norm but beware of over-reliance on this type of session, as people get bored easily. It's good to have a mix of session types, including hands-on-labs and birds-of-a-feather (brainstorms) to appeal to a mix of people and learning styles, and to create variety at your event.
The classroom and brainstorming sessions are adaptable to a virtual environment. You will need to consider the content and if a hybrid session will be conducive to learning or if it needs to be either an in-person or virtual only session to create the best experience. Your virtual event platform will need to be tested to see what works best. A hands-on-lab session may be harder to achieve in a hybrid or virtual environment so keep that in mind as you plan.
Each of these session types is best suited for a certain range of attendees. With Birds-of-a-Feather you want 15-20 people; any more than that and you lose the necessary intimacy. Any less, and it's too small to function well. Hands-on-Labs work best with around 25-35 people. For Breakouts, you want a minimum of 50 people.
Consider offering a variety of sessions at your event including in-person, hybrid or virtual, but also within each time slot. Work to give people a mix of session-types to attend for every time slot.
What energy level do you want?
If a room is half full, it's going to feel dead. Conversely, if it's packed, the energy level is going to be much higher. Around 75% full is a neutral level of energy. For each session, consider what type of session type it is and the room it's going to be held in. For a virtual component, this is a different feel, and your speakers need to be versed in how to keep a virtual audience engaged. You may also want to experiment with different types of sessions in virtual, like shorter bite-sized content such as PechaKucha or 3x3x3.
What are your venues and hybrid event platform capabilities?
How many rooms do you have? What are their capacities? If you only have 5 rooms, you obviously aren't going to be able to host more than 5 sessions at the same time. Concurrently, your hybrid event platform needs to be able to handle of mix of livestreaming, simu-live and on-demand, as well as managing the schedule and content for your in-person experiences.
What does your event look like?
How many tracks do you have? You want to make sure you’re offering sessions in each track.
How many days is your event? How long will each day be? How long will your sessions be? The answers to these questions will give you the maximum number of sessions you can hold. For example, let’s say you expect 100 attendees and 3 rooms. Let’s also say your event is two days long and your sessions are an hour and a half, so across a 9 hour day you’ll have 6 time slots. This means you can have a maximum of 36 sessions across the two days (6*3*2).
How many people do you expect at your event?
Make sure you have enough sessions to allow everybody to attend a session in every slot if they want! Adding a hybrid component will allow you to extend your audience reach and give your event unlimited exposure. If you want to keep an exclusive feel you can even limit the number of virtual attendees depending on your event platform.
Congrats! You've got a solid handle on session planning. If you'd like to learn more about Hubb's event management platform, which has all the tools you need to manage sessions for your event portfolio--allowing you to create a seamless onmi-channel experience, schedule some time to chat with one of our event planning experts.