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Why we need to rename — and rethink — the general session

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In an age of personalized attendee expectations, our events should be anything but general

A version of this blog originally appeared on

The term “general session” is pretty universal when it comes to events. It’s a catchall used to describe the introductory meeting at a trade show or conference, or even the daily kickoff that gathers all attendees at an event before sending them off to the show floor or specific session tracks.

But at a time in our industry when we’re striving to design the most relevant brand experiences possible for an ever-evolving audience, should we be referring to anything as “general”? It’s the exact opposite of the direction in which we’re moving, counterintuitive to the push for personalization that not only speaks to attendee wants and needs, but also helps to drive attendees to the right actions after an event is over.

That’s why it’s time to revisit the idea of the general session and figure out a different term and approach that fits into the new landscape of the event industry.

Rethinking the purpose of the general session

General sessions are often treated like homeroom, collecting attendees together to prepare them for the day ahead. General session content may be loosely associated with the overall theme of the event, but usually with a broad position and not a personalized message.

This presents a huge opportunity for event marketers to bridge the gap between general session content and the rest of the event. By utilizing the general session as a jumping off point for individual sessions or tracks, rather than an interesting but non-essential speaker or presentation, it becomes the beginning of a cohesive journey for attendees and a reference point for all the content they learn along the way.

Personalizing the general session

With general session audiences ranging into the many thousands at large events, creating a personalized general session experience may seem like a daunting task. But there are technology solutions that can help to inform the structure and content of the session, as well as guide the conversation and provide points of interactivity during the session.

Second screen technology gets attendees involved in a session, no matter the size, by leveraging attendees’ always-on-hand mobile devices. Attendees can answer polls, ask questions, follow along with the speaker, and so much more via their devices during a second screen-powered session. And the instant analytics from those interactions can help brand marketers shape the event even as it is happening, taking attendee experience to the level of hyper-personalization.

Extending beyond the general session

But why stop the possibilities at the end of the general session? Technology can also be utilized to keep conversations and teaching moments happening beyond the general session, something attendees can interact with throughout the entire event. We must move on past a simple survey or other high-level, low value touch points and better leverage the time and attention of attendees.

Using mobile apps, social media, and unique event formats creates ways for event marketers to connect attendees both with content and with like-minded peers, helping attendees to extend and exchange knowledge and establishing valuable additions to their professional networks.

So what can we do to transition from the general approach to something more suited to the needs of the modern event attendee? Take the personal approach in every way possible. Let’s usher in the era of the “personal session,” where attendees feel like they’re having a custom-tailored brand experience alongside hundreds, even thousands of others having their own personalized moments.

Because when we make it personal℠, events are elevated to memorable, meaningful experiences — where there’s no room for generalizations.

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