Put a kid in a candy store and they will attempt to pluck all the colorful, sugar-coated, highly shiny objects in sight. When it comes to events, we are often like the kid in a candy store -- looking at the shiny subjects.
Of course, intellectually we know nutrition comes from elsewhere, yet we want to snack on yummy celebrities and easy to talk about (and do, please) topics. We want the emotional blanket of rubbing shoulders with all the other cool kids who are in it for the point-scoring value. See and be seen.
Like good nutritionists, good event organizations understand the power of a balanced program. Along with the necessity to draw attendance comes a need to provide a satisfying menu -- too many courses and your guests will be feeling bloated, too much of the sugary stuff and your attendees will be bouncing aimlessly off the walls.
Where the seven "shoulds" of conference organization might be unattainable in a less than perfect world, taking just one step in the right direction will improve the experience considerably.
That step is content. Good event organizers know the power of using an organizing principle or theme and then connecting to it stories and sound advice that comes from earned experience.
Then looking harder at the pool of practitioners to draw from. Eric Ries and Sarah Milstein, co-hosts of The LeanStartup Conference, founds that the common conference organizer’s argument that we don’t know any black people in tech or that women didn’t apply to speak just doesn’t hold up.
It is not easy to uncover those stories and find those people.
The astounding number of Twitter and LinkedIn bios that list the magic trifecta of "speaker, author, and social media expert" does not provide a good starting point -- no differentiation on topics or level and type of experience. Social is a horizontal competency, like saying I can talk and do math.
Putting together a good program is like producing a successful show -- the people in attendance keep the experience as the main take away. This is valid for agency- or company-sponsored events and general admission-type conferences.
Having produced 100 general admission events as well as three major multiple-day client conferences, and having spoken at more than several dozen events myself, I can say I empathize with event organizers.
Here are some thoughts on how to create experiences worth attending:
- develop an original theme that aligns with the core deliverable -- for example, if you are hosting clients, what overarching type of change is their line of business, industry, or profession experiencing?
- assess the topics connected with the theme by both quantitative and qualitative research -- for example, via customer interviews, and through your customer service or support logs; what is problematic and keeps coming up? Conversely, what is working well and needs spreading to others?
- filter by using considerations about what helps further the firm's or agency's core value proposition as well as clients' learning and experience -- don't just educate the head, work on the whole person and be engaged on bubbling up opportunities for relationships and connections
- work to get the most appropriate speakers on the roster -- this is a challenge, because often we don't know what we don't know; so if everyone in your circles is quoting someone, you have no idea there are even better someones in other circles. Mingle more, make it your business to both provide access and build relationships across domains; doing a blind review on the merits of content like Ries and Milstein did is a fantastic method to do this
- take the time to coach the speakers on the type of event you are envisioning -- even well prepared speakers could be out of sync with the experience you are producing; this is the part where you shift a bit to director and provide some coaching
- orchestrate the sessions to have a natural progression throughout the day -- for example, put the strategy in front of the tactics -- preferably there is one coheasive track to keep the conversation flowing within the whole network in attendance. Hard to resist the multiple tracks, I know
- consider the day of the event as the starting point of a new phase of organizing, and not the end point -- much remains to be done to pull off an off the charts good experience at the start of the program; details matter, connecting people in person matters; being in the moment to catch speakers being fabulous matters a great deal
- make it your business to follow up the event with a delta of what went well and what could be improved and to stay in touch with speakers -- I am astounded at how few organizers do this; when you select well, speakers are practitioners and they have colleagues, partners, and clients who might be ideal for the next event
Obviously, a million things go into organizing an event, it's not all just about content. Get the content right, and you are well on your way to earn stellar attendance and afterevent buzz.
Good event organizers use the power of ideas to their advantage by engaging with novel approaches.
Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effects on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.