Over the past 3 years I’ve spoken at and attended a few dozen marketing and social media conferences. Luckily, most of these events have been solid, and even when I have spoken at events, I try to stay around for the rest of the event as an attendee. Now is the time when a lot of events are gearing up for Fall planning, so wanted to share some of what I’ve learned over the years as a conference organizer, speaker, and attendee.
How to make your event better from the speaker’s point of view:
1 – Pay your speakers. Seriously, don’t you dare ask your speakers to work for free, so that you can profit. I put in an average of 40 hours of time in preparing and rehearsing every session I lead at an event. That’s a full workweek of time, and any speaker would having at your event will do the same, or more. Yet there are many events that will charge $500-$1,000 per attendee (or more), and not even offer to cover travel for speakers. If you are charging $1,000 a head and can’t afford to compensate your speakers, then you shouldn’t be organizing events. And no, offering a free pass is NOT considered compensation, it’s expected from the speaker’s POV.
Now sometimes you can’t pay speakers. I get that, so what you need to do is make every effort possible to make your speakers comfortable and make them feel appreciated. Pick them up at the airport so they don’t have to get a cab. Leave a gift basket waiting for them in their room with a thank-you note. Make sure they know where their room/venue is, and that they have all the equipment they need.
2 – Give speakers as much information as possible on who will be attending your event, and what they want from the speaker’s session. Work with them to make sure that the content they are creating will be consistent with what the audience is expecting. If the speaker is better prepared, then they will deliver better information, and the attendees will get more value from the event. And it will save the speakers time.
3 – Make sure all Audio and Video equipment is working BEFORE the speaker arrives. Check with each room and make sure the setup is correct. This should be done in the morning before each day’s sessions start. Then throughout the day have as many people as possible going to each room and making sure each speaker gets their laptop set up properly. And check with the venue and see if they have any additional Powerpoint clickers that your speakers can use. Most speakers will have their own, but a few always seem to need one.
4 – Introduce the speaker when their session starts. This isn’t a huge thing, but it saves the speaker from walking around the room at 1 min prior to starting and telling the room to please be quiet because it’s time to start. And it saves us from reading our own bio, which really isn’t something that a lot of speakers look forward to.
5 – Record each speaker’s session and offer them a copy of the video. This is also an incentive, so if you absolutely cannot afford to pay speakers, remind them that they’ll be provided with a copy of their presentation that they can use for their own promotional purposes.
From the attendee’s point of view:
1 – Let the agenda dictate the speakers, not the other way around. Too many conference mess this one up. You need to pick speakers based on their background being suitable to the topics covered at the conference. You don’t want to pick a ‘name’ speaker and then tell her ‘you can speak on whatever you want!’ Your attendees aren’t paying to see popular speakers, they are being sent there by their company to learn how to improve the company’s marketing and social media efforts. You need to give them speakers that will help them learn how to do this.
2 – Give attendees the opportunity to interact before, DURING and after the sessions. A lot of events have gotten much better about adding in networking opportunities as well as tweetups/meetups at the end of each day’s sessions. That’s great, but you also want to build ways for attendees to interact into the actual sessions. And it goes beyond having Q&A in the last 10 mins of each session. At the events where I have worked with the organizers, I have always pushed for sessions that follow a ‘core conversation’ format, where the session isn’t led by a speaker, but rather a moderator or 2 that are there to facilitate a free-flowing discussion among the attendees. Because attendees learn more by discussing with each other what they have learned. For example, in the morning there might be separate sessions on creating a social media strategy, and the ROI of social media. Then in the afternoon, there could be a ‘core conversation’ on how to improve the ROI of your social media strategy. Where the attendees carry over the thoughts and questions they had from the morning’s sessions, and discuss them with the two people that led the morning’s sessions.
3 – Make sure the venue has space available where impromptu meetings can be held, and work can be done. A happy byproduct of attendees connecting with each other, is that they might actually get some work done. Attendees might discover a potential partnership, or they might want to connect with a speaker about hiring them. Or some of us introverts might simply need to duck out into a quiet hallways for a few minutes on a comfy couch to check our email 😉 Big hallways are also a great place for a speaker to meet with a few attendees to give them more personalized help dealing with the topic they spoke on. The bottom line is that you don’t want to make sure that all your attendees are in every session, you want to make sure that when they leave the event, they feel like it was a good business investment. This year’s SXSW was easily the most valuable event I have ever been to from a business perspective, and I attended a grand total of TWO sessions in FOUR days.
4 – Encourage speakers to attend and participate in the sessions of other speakers. Let’s be honest, not every audience feels comfortable asking questions, and there can sometimes be a lull, especially waiting for that 1st question. If this happens, it’s a good idea to have a few speakers in the session (who are likely fellow experts on the topic of the session), that will have a good idea of some of the questions that the audience will likely have, and can jumpstart the conversation around those points. Additionally, attendees may want to reference a point raised in another speaker’s session, during their answer. For example, if an attendee is making a point about mobile marketing, she might reference the discussion that occurred that morning in CK’s session.
5 – Give attendees something unexpected. The 1st Small Business Marketing Unleashed I spoke at in 2008 was held in a hotel that was a replica of The Alamo. At one of the evening dinners at a Marketing Profs event, we were entertained by a magician. Most events are very boring, you are shuttled from one session to another for 2-3 days. Give attendees a unique experience, do something different to make your event stick out from the others they will attend this year.
What other things have stood out to you from the events you have attended? What are some examples of events that delighted you? What has been disappointing to you? If you were in charge of organizing a marketing/social media event, what would YOU change?
UPDATE: Speaking of speaking, I would be remiss if I didn’t let you know that the latest LIVE #Blogchat event has just been announced! It will be in September in Atlanta as part of #SMIATL.