How to Make a Large Conference Feels Intimate

How to Make a Large Conference Feels Intimate Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen's Park

Expanding knowledge, finding solutions to problems and presenting new products or services are just a few reasons why people attend conferences and summits, but one of the top reasons is networking. Making serendipitous connections, for many, is among the greatest benefits of attending large-scale professional events. As meeting organizers, we aim to help delegates connect and find their tribe in a room full of strangers.

For an event that hosts hundreds of attendees, it is crucial for organizers to make the experience feel intimate and relatable, and to ensure a valuable event experience for each individual. Here are our tips for breaking the ice and boosting engagement at large-scale events.


Pre-Event Cocktail Sessions

Poolside cocktail party at W Kuala Lumpur
A rooftop cocktail party on the 37th floor of Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen's Park

When people go on business trips or fly out to attend a conference as a representative of the company, most likely, they will arrive a day or two earlier so to settle in and rest up before the event. Organizing a cocktail or dinner reception the night before can be a welcoming sight for these attendees especially after a long flight or being in a foreign country not knowing their ways around town.

Greet the decision-makers with a C-suite lunch or meet employees from overseas offices at a poolside cocktail reception. A fun, laid-back networking gathering before getting down to business will not only be appreciated by every hard-worker who deserves some relaxation, but also participants who will fly out right after the event due to their busy schedules.


Cozy Venue Setup

The Grand Ballroom at JW Marriott Hotel Singapore South Beach can easily be transformed into an intimate event space
JW Marriott Hotel Singapore South Beach’s Grand Ballroom in a classroom setup
Theatre setup is perfect for events with a large number of attendees such as lecture-style learning sessions
JW Marriott Hotel Singapore South Beach’s Meeting Room is a perfect cozy meeting space fitted with lounge chairs

Just because it’s a 3-day conference with over 500 attendees doesn’t mean packing endless rows of chairs into a single conference hall is your only option. Set the tone right with a venue that matches the purpose of your event.

Look into the sessions on your agenda and think about the goal of each event and what would be the best setup to facilitate those goals. While a theatre set up can cater to lecture-style sessions, consider arranging breakout sessions in a more relaxed and comfy meeting space for smaller sharing sessions on your agenda? Swap out regular chairs with lounge chairs or transform a single event space to adapt to the needs of multiple events. This way your attendees won’t have to feel uptight all the time and get to connect with the speaker in a more intimate setting.


Connecting by the Love for Food

Private dining rooms provide the perfect space for exclusive dinners parties as well as corporate board meetings
Pesce Stagionato - Estate Chardonnay cured kingfish, macerated grape, Roasted hazelnut (paired with De Bortoli Villages Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2016)
Gnocchi con Ragú di Agnello - potato gnocchi, spiced lamb shoulder ragú, cherry tomato, whipped ricotta (paired with De Bortoli Single Vineyard Section A8 Syrah 2013)
Tiramisu - Mascarpone, Savoiardi, coffee, Noble one, crostoli (paired with De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillon 2010)
Wine tasting sessions can be both educational and enjoyable for event attendees

Engaging meetings encourage people to talk. Design activities throughout your conference or event that encourage group discussion. Try creating smaller groups that allow shyer participants to contribute and express their thoughts more comfortably. Private dining rooms provide the ideal setting for such purposes and are great alternatives to conventional meeting rooms.

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. If a cocktail reception isn’t an option, take inspiration from Le Méridien Kuala Lumpur where the team took their guests on a sensational excursion on their tastebuds with refined and ingenious creations, especially paired with exquisite wines from the De Bortoli range. Guests were introduced to various food and wine pairings and learned about the characteristics of each wine. 

Host a wine tasting or wine and food pairing event for meeting attendees slash wine and dine lovers perhaps the night before the conference. Ask your attendees what their favorite dish or wine is and get them to warm up to expressing opinions or ideas before the “real business talk” in the day that follows.


Energize Your Delegates Before the Event

Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen's Park Thai Fit concept is a blend of cardio and traditional Thai dance and Thai boxing
Guests can learn a unique dance from traditional Thai dancer
Morning Thai boxing class led by professional Muay Thai boxers

When it comes to engaging your delegates, consider activities that can really get your attendees involved physically, to begin with. 

Start the day with exercises that boost the mind, enhancing the ability to learn and create throughout the day. Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park energized meeting attendees not only through stimulating content but also through physical exercise! Rather than just offering a

normal exercise or yoga session, the hotel introduces its “Thai-Fit” concept, which is a contemporary blend of cardio and Thai traditional dance as well as “Muay Thai” – traditional Thai boxing. Guests are able to interact with professional Muay Thai boxers and local dancers– a great way to start a brilliant morning and to learn more about a popular local sport and the Thai culture too. 


Acquire a New Skill

Participants pick up new skills along with Insta-worthy feeds
The Westin Grande Sukhumvit, Bangkok offers food photography workshops led by professional photographers

On-site workshops that are more leisure in nature allow delegates to take a break from business and pick up a few new skills. Guests at The Westin Grande Sukhumvit, Bangkok can enjoy a two-hour food photography workshop presented by two professional photographers who shared their technical and creative skills and demonstrated how to photograph food in the most tantalizing fashion on mobile phones. What’s great about a mobile food photography workshop is that the participants are creating shareable moments of the events, a boost in social media exposure for the event itself.


Incorporate Ice-Breaking Games

Simple team-building or ice-breaking activities such as egg transportation game can be both affordable and fun-filled
The three-legged race at the lawn of JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa
Take ice-breaking games out of the meeting room

Group activities are opportunities to push attendees to get to know and work with one another.

By incorporating simple ice-breaking or team-building team games at your next event, you can ignite creativity, encourage collaboration and build trust among participants. Often these games can be executed affordably and carried out both indoors and outdoors. 


Dissolve Corporate Hierarchy Through Team Sports

Surfers Paradise Marriott Resort & Spa boasts a tennis court and a basketball court on its rooftop that offers stunning views of the Gold Coast as the backdrop
Surfers Paradise Marriott Resort & Spa offers outdoor sports afternoon breaks for their event-goers
Circuit training at W Brisbane’s Great Room

Events that require bringing employees of all levels in a company together can be tricky. Employees who are at a junior level can find it hard or uncomfortable interacting with the company’s executives or their direct supervisors. Hence, in order to encourage such interaction, event organizers must come up with ways to break the ice between the participants and their work titles.

One way of dissolving the corporate hierarchy is to put everyone in a foreign setting where the attendees are equal, for instance, on a sports court. As communication and teamwork are the keys to success for any team sports, team members will have to talk, discuss and put everyone’s strength in good use in order to win. This is an opportunity to rearrange the hierarchy by letting those who are good at the sport to lead and make the calls, regardless of the position they hold professionally. Additionally, team members can discover new qualities of each other and junior staff can also gain a boost in confidence. 


Make a Difference with CSR Activities

The Courtyard by Marriott Bangor assembled hygiene kits for people in need
Getting delegates involved in simple kit assembling activities is a meaningful way to end an event
Marriott Worldwide Business Council in Phoenix assembling meal for undernourished children around the world

If your company is supporting a cause or perhaps you are organizing a conference on sustainability, this is a great chance to put those values in action by including group activities that can make a difference to the community or environment. Instead of wrapping up the event with a happy hour, participants can take part in a short, meaningful and collaborative community service event. For instance, packing necessities for the homeless, assembling meals for undernourished children, or putting together hygiene kits for families in need, these activities can all be easily carried out at the event venue and don’t take up as much time as off-site initiatives.

Join hands with a local charity to make an impact during the event
Attendees are connected through collaboration and the meaning behind the event
Community service activities are great alternatives for wrapping up your event

For agendas with more flexibility and space for off-site events, perhaps take your delegates out on a day-long activity. The team at the JW Marriott Hotel Surabaya joined hands with a local charitable organization to build homes in Indonesia. Through sweat and teamwork, event attendees are connected beyond the professional level.


Encourage Sharing

Social media wall at a conference held at W Shanghai - The Bund
A tuk-tuk was used as a photo booth at The St. Regis Bangkok

Have you ever been to a multi-day conference or business event and not been able to recall when later asked what the highlights were?

Create moments your delegates can share, whether that is on social media with their friends and colleagues or an on-site social media wall with other attendees. A photo booth is an easy place to start, whether it is a printed backdrop or an intricate installation, there is something to fit every budget. Take cues from The St. Regis Bangkok where the team transformed Thailand’s signature auto-rickshaw, a tuk-tuk, to a uniquely-Bangkok photo spot.

Dance performance at a corporate dinner
Aerial hoop performance at W Shanghai - The Bund

Experiences delegates have commonly shared during the event can easily open up small conversations with new acquaintances and co-workers that can lead to long-term, meaningful professional relationships and even friendships. Performances and entertainment are easy to talk about topics for meeting delegates from different backgrounds and professions. They also give your participants a break from weighty meetings and business activities. Looking for more entertainment ideas for your event? Check out some of our Sure-Fire Ways to Keep Your Guests Entertained.


Harness the Power of Event Technology

Live polling technology in practice at a conference at W Shanghai - The Bund
Incorporate real-time polling results into your conference content
Organizers can gather instant feedback from conference attendees with real-time response technology

Technology connects people in many ways. Conference attendees and the presenter can ask questions and give instant feedback with the help of real-time response technology such as Slido, Poll Everywhere, Mentimeter and Swift. Boost audience participation with live audience polling apps by asking them to vote on certain topics during a presentation, then integrate the results into conference content in real-time. This way, we let the audience guide the session and contribute to the presenter’s sharing, incubating an atmosphere that encourages the exchange of ideas and opinions, paving ways for smaller group discussions.


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