"Has anyone found an effective way to keep an audience at a multi-day conference - all the way through the last speaker? I have tried lots of things but am still looking for the key."
Start the conference focused on your attendees and their individual goals. I have experienced this with Adrian Segar. It is a logistical challenge but have the attendees introduce each other in the first sessions to everyone else. Have each attendee state what they do, why they are there and what their goal for being there is. Create all or shift content onsite to meet the needs stated in this session. Explain to everyone how important it will be for everyone to stay to the end in order to do a similar wrap up session based on the introduction and goal setting session (which attendees love by the way). Your most powerful tool on site is the energy and enthusiasm of your attendees. If you can make them feel like they are meeting their goals (meeting new people, learning, and empowered) than you have a conference that attendees do not want to end.
Find out more about the "Unconference" or "Peer-Conference" method here: http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/about-peer-conferences/
A few words about color and comfort:
Energize your spaces! Meeting rooms can include hot exciting color combinations to energize people and wake them up. Hallways and business center can be blue or green rooms that calm people down. Any area where people would be stressing like registration maybe - make sure their are soft calming colors. PLaces where you want attendees on the edge of their seat use bright exciting colors.
Make sure seating is comfortable but not bed like. Make sure attendees are comfortable sharing their knowledge and being a part of the conference. Engagement will create retention. Food should be available but it should be brain food. Stay away from bread heavy continental breakfasts and junk food. Cereals, yogurt, tea, healthy popcorn, fish, vegetables with dip, health bars and plenty of fruit.
Healthy food is not an exact science because we as humans can choose not to eat what is healthy and we can choose to eat what is really bad for us. For a few tips on designing your conference menu check out this article that features insights from Jamie Oliver, Celebrity Chef/Food Activist and Andrea Sullivan of Brain Strength Systems: http://www.meetings-conventions.com/articles/brain-food-comes-to-meetings/a41288.aspx
Find the original conversation on linked here: http://www.linkedin.com/groupAnswers?viewQuestionAndAnswers=&discussionID=59829593&gid=36271&commentID=63992997&goback=%2Egmr_36271&trk=NUS_DIG_DISC_Q-ucg_mr#commentID_63992997 There are some great responses to the question not included here.