Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
April 12, 201111:10 PM

An Open Letter To Conference Organizers

Dear Conference Organizer,

It's rare that you will get a letter from someone like me. I speak professionally at over 60 events per year, due my industry involvement I also help to organize a handful of high-profile events every year and, top of that, I am a willing, happy and paying participant at many conferences per year. As the years pass and the events management industry continues to evolve, I would like you to consider the following concepts...

Be careful how you market your events... 

In the past, there were many great conferences that simply struggled with their marketing and positioning. Lately, I've been to several conferences that have been marketed so well that the actual content did not live up to the marketing of the event. What does that look like? Session titles and descriptions that are written so well, I would feel stupid to miss them, only to show up and not have the content match the description. It's better to undersell and over-deliver than to hype a session and not live up to the marketing of it.

Prepare your speakers...

Spend a serious amount of time on the phone with the speakers who are struggling with the content they have to deliver. Don't rely on the handful of your keynote speakers to save the entire event. People are paying good money for the entire event, so each session has to be amazing.

Pay your speakers...

I'm sure this one will be controversial (especially because I am a paid/professional speaker), but it's true. Covering expenses and offering free access to the event is not enough. You know the saying: "you get what you pay for." Beyond that, if your participants are paying to attend and you stack your program with free speakers who don't deliver because they're not professionals and have not worked with you to perfect and craft their presentations, you're making your paying clients feel like they have been hoodwinked.

Prepare your panels...

I hate seeing panelists converge next to the stage twenty-minutes before their session for the first-time. If they're not prepared or have not spent any time speaking to one another about how their session is going to run, what level of confidence do you think I'll have in them as a participant? Just like any other performing artist, it's probably wise that they spend some time rehearsing before the big event.

Keep in mind that participants do more than pay to attend your event...

Outside of the registration fee, there are expenses (travel, hotel, food, incidentals), but beyond that there is a hard cost to a professional who is not billing their hours or working for the day(s) that they are attending your event. I wonder how many conference organizers do the math to figure out what their average attendee will earn for each day and if they are delivering more value to them than if they were in the office working? Wouldn't that be the best/easiest metric to use to establish whether or not your event is worth attending?

Surprise and delight...

As prices to attend these events go up, it seems like all of the goodies that used to go along with that price have all but disappeared. From quality nametags and interesting delegate bags to the food and beverage service and the comfort of the session rooms. People are paying money and the expectation is that they are going to be treated as royalty. Don't go cheap on them.

Know your customer...

Many organizers run the same event each year. Instead of bringing back the speakers and sessions that really worked, they try to bring new speakers and different topics in the hopes that the participants from last year come back. That may not be the best strategy. If you run an event and every participant tells their entire team that it is "the event not to be missed," but the next one is completely different and starts suffering from content fatigue, everyone loses: the participant from the first year loses credibility and the new participants don't get the same quality as the year before. Spend some time studying who really attends your conferences (newbies vs. regulars).

Let people connect prior...

At the Radian6 User Conference, Social 2011, last week in Boston, the website had live links to each speaker's Twitter profile. They made it simple and easy to connect to people prior to even attending. You can do this with Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc... and you can even open this up (with permission) to the participants as well. Adding people via Social Media prior to the meet-up is both super-easy and really does allow people to connect and make newer connections.

Now, it's your turn: what can conference organizers do to make their events more relevant to you?

By Mitch Joel


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