As you know, conferences are the bread and butter of event planners. You plan so many conferences of a similar nature each year that it can be easy to get stale. But, just because conferences have a heavy business-focus, doesn’t mean they need to be (or should be) lifeless! Even on a small budget, there are simple ways to get the most out of conference staging ideas.
With our tips, you’ll see that it’s possible to improve engagement and set your next conference apart from every other one you’ve planned before. So today, we’re going to start by looking at some inexpensive, yet creative, conference staging ideas, followed by some more tech-heavy ideas. If you just started planning your next conference make sure to take a look at our event planning checklist.
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Let’s take a look at conference staging ideas in terms of:
- What your staging needs to achieve
- How creativity can overcome budget constraints to create an impact
- Modular staging for the ultimate in customization
- Enhancing staging with AV
- Using projection for conference staging
Although the content of the conference is what should take center-stage, sometimes attendees need a helping hand to get over the line and engage with what’s being said. That’s where the right environment comes into play – particularly, by creating ambiance with conference staging. Conference staging ideas are often overlooked when it comes to conference planning. But, one of your goals as an event prof should be to use staging as an extension of the brand, to generate interest and display originality.
One way to do this is to plan for branding opportunities. Taking both in-person viewing and event photography into consideration is vital. For instance, the on-stage branding should serve to remind attendees why they are there. You’ll probably include some combination of brand colors, logo and messaging. Use it to connect with your attendees, but of course, make sure it isn’t too overwhelming – you don’t want to distract them from the fantastic content and the speakers delivering it!
As for event photography, consider how the on-stage branding will appear online – whether in official event photography, or those taken by attendees and posted to social channels. To make the most of those branding opportunities, you need to make sure any logos or messaging aren’t too subtle to be conveyed in photos. Remember, this applies to the branding of event sponsors as well.
Another one of your goals will of, course, be to keep it on budget. Just like every other aspect of the event, you’ll have a budget for conference staging. But, don’t worry. Keep reading to find out more on this, so you can learn how to use creativity in place of a big budget.
In the event world, we’re used to seeing examples of things progressively growing bigger and better. That goes for conference staging ideas too. But, we want you to take a step back for a moment and stop worrying about how you’re going to stretch that event budget further every time. Instead, we want you to go back to some conference staging ideas that work really well and aren’t complicated.
Creativity can indeed overcome budgets. Here are some ideas for starting small.
Portable cardboard backdrop
DIY staging. I think we’ve all probably been there at one point or another. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t create something amazing. This church creates their own portable backdrop from white corrugated cardboard boxes and LED uplighting. They even added Velcro strips to ensure it holds fast each time they put it up. Although DIY, enhancing it with lighting creates quite an impact, proving that creative conference staging ideas are possible within a small budget.
Giant styrofoam letters
Another very simple, but effective option comes in the style of classic TED Talk staging. By that, we mean using giant letters cut from styrofoam, which are painted and coated. You know, sometimes you honestly can’t beat real three-dimensional objects over projections. And I don’t know about you, but seeing giant letters like that, seems to fill me with a childlike wonder.
Fabric panel gridwork
The next natural step up from event profs trying to go it alone is to hire a relatively inexpensive option. Like fabric panels that link together to create a gridwork. You can choose to use them in brand colors, and this type of staging backdrop can look good on its own. But, they can also take light, so if you have access to light projection equipment, you can quickly change the color of the backdrop over the course of the conference. Something so simple as changing the backdrop color for each session can give attendees the feel of a significant change.
No matter which conference staging ideas you choose to try, always think about how you can use shape, texture and color to evoke a mood. We’re constantly surprised by the uniqueness that can be created from a particular combination of elements. Make it something attendees will enjoy looking at. It doesn’t have to be animated and shiny, but it definitely should be engaging. As well as your branding, you could also look at your attendee personas to inform your choices here.
Let’s use the staging at the Girlboss Rally Business Conference as an example. The purpose of the event was for 600 women to come together to enjoy a sense of community and discuss the meaning of success. That’s why the uplifting and cheery palette, featuring a few bold highlights was so appropriate. Clean rows of white chairs ensure all attention is directed right to the stage. Although some of the branding is quite subtle, the singular ‘g’ can’t be missed – perfect for those branding opportunities we mentioned earlier.
If you are planning a sustainable conference, or the brand held eco-friendly values, you can get creative. Why not find ways to use recycled materials to create a stage set?
However creative you get with your conference staging ideas, there’s one rule of thumb. Keep it as clean as possible. Power cables and the tech they are connected to should be appropriately concealed. Even the most beautiful staging will come undone by unnecessary clutter. Not to mention, that it will also take the attention of your attendees away from what matters.
Modular staging is a fantastic adjustable system containing easily-assembled, and often lightweight platforms. Reasonably-priced rental sets like these can add instant zest to an ordinary conference. To find out if they could be the right move for your next conference, let’s take a look at the benefits of using rental staging sets:
- Portable or standalone in case you’re working with a stageless venue
- Alternatively, it can often incorporate to your existing stage system, to enhance what is already there
- Customizable to your requirements so that what you get actually suits your needs
- Can be part of your event production package – fewer vendors to coordinate with, equals one less thing to worry about
Now, stage sets are generally going to come in neutral colors like black and grey. But, there’s a lot you can do to dress them up to suit your theme. The rental decks themselves can often be covered with carpet or fabric to give them an instant lift. You can also dress basic staging up with furniture. Statement pieces of furniture not only add an element of interest to the design but can also make conference speakers feel more at home.
If you decide you would like a rental deck for your next conference, we suggest you don’t let a modular stage set be the only reason you choose a particular company. You see, your regular AV/production company may be able to rent it anyway. Those modular sets are pretty common and are easy to rent so if that’s what you’re interested in, you might be able to get one through your regular vendors.
As we mentioned earlier, the possibility to reduce the number of vendors you need to coordinate with is going to make your life as an event planner easier. Alternatively, even if your preferred vendor doesn’t have access to a particular staging system you had your eye on, you could talk to them to see if there’s a way they can take inspiration from that modular set and create something for you.
Another reason why modular staging is such a great idea is because of how versatile it is. You see, using a system like this can help you create a non-traditional stage shape so that attendees surround most of the stage, rather than just being seated in front of it. A more open and interactive atmosphere can help attendees feel like they are part of the conference, not just spectators. You can get really creative here, with circular, semi-circular, hexagonal or even trapezoid options.
Working with a full-service event production company has the significant benefit of being able to supplement conference staging with AV too. This helps to create an immersive event and branded experience – vital when you’re trying to create a conference with a difference. You can use an event theme to inform your staging decisions and help your preferred event production company bring your conference vision to life. Let’s take a look at a few key AV options to tie into your conference staging ideas:
Conference audio must always be expertly controlled and pleasing to the ear to ensure your attendees stay engaged with the content, and don’t miss a thing. That means when planning your stage design, microphone and speaker placement is incredibly important (and any foldback placement too!). No matter how excited you may get by conference staging ideas, make sure the practical elements like speaker placement aren’t sacrificed.
It’s a good idea to use lightweight LED lights for your conference, to minimize the amount of rigging required. That’s because lightweight LEDs can often be fixed to a venue’s existing points.
At the very least, stage lighting should ensure presenters look alive (not washed out) and the lighting is a comfortable level for attendees’ eyes. They shouldn’t have to strain to see, but attendees shouldn’t be blinded by the lights either. This could lead to their eyes being tired, so they’ll start looking around the rest of the room, and their attention span will drop. It’s important when planning your conference that audience lighting is sufficient for attendees to be able to take notes if desired, but it also shouldn’t detract from presentations occurring on the stage.
So, that takes care of the practical nature of conference stage lighting. But, ideally, your event lighting will be used to enhance the physical features of your staging and create ambiance. We’ll have more on this in a moment, where we dive into the world of projections.
If you want to include added extras at your conference like audience polling and live social feeds (e.g. event tweets), then having a staging setup that incorporates an LED wall is vital. If the conference you’re planning is large, it’s worth adding multiple well-placed flat screens. These help to create various viewing angles and provide better visibility for the audience. Get creative with your use of on-stage screens and think about how you can use them for:
- Static images
- Important statistics or diagrams
- Relevant quotes
- Live-stream video-conferencing
Perhaps your budget is less limited, and you’re wondering how to make your conference staging a little more unconventional. In that case, rather than using LED screens or even standard projector screens, you could explore creative uses of projection. Let’s take a look at some options:
3D projection mapping
3D projection mapping is the epitome of creativity. Team up with your AV company and see how you can get creative with projecting detailed images or video onto 3D surfaces. Although projection mapping with moving media is incredibly exciting, you do need to make sure not to get too carried away and detract from the presenter.
You could easily take a step back from 3D projection mapping and opt for the projection of images onto an existing flat surface instead. Once more, you don’t need traditional projector screens to bring this to life, just a flat surface. That surface could be the stage backdrop, stage floor or even the ceiling above the stage.
Off-the-shelf products like PowerPoint can be great tools to use for this type of projection. That means you can easily fade from image to another or use basic animation commands. For added decadence, try something like a fleur screen as the stage backdrop with the logo then projected onto it.
What we love about creative uses of projection is that you don’t need to concentrate only on specific images. But, you can also use the techniques to create texture and color to evoke a mood. Like this example of the staging for 10th ANF Congress. There aren’t a lot of elements, but the clever use of lighting, texture and color fills the stage in and creates quite an impact, all while staying on-brand.
It’s commonplace to include a company logo on the stage backdrop at a conference. Using metal or glass gobos have been a particularly popular way of achieving this. But now, you don’t need to spend a lot on a colored glass gobo. In fact, we’re excited by the idea of replacing gobos with projectors and a PowerPoint-created logo.
Often, this makes for a crisper image and an unlimited choice of color. You can even change it throughout the event with animation, or to make it tie in well with your conference theme. Brightness and distance can be an issue. But for a smaller venue and short distance, an off-the-shelf projector achieves a great result. You can have a lot of fun with it, too.
Final thoughts on conference staging ideas
Conference staging plays an essential role in planning a conference that’s engaging and original. We encourage you to think about different ways you can using staging to showcase the brand or event theme to connect with the audience. Remember, it’s not a case of ‘go big or go home.’ There are less expensive, but still creative options available to you.
What aspect of conference planning do you struggle with the most? Please share in the comments.