Five tips (+1) for search conference organizers to please your visitors

This post was originally posted March 8 2010 and has been updated. One of the best ways to get quick access to what is hot or not in search and to learn a lot in a short amount of time is visiting one or more of the bigger or smaller conferences in the world about search marketing and related topics.

The conferences serve another purpose also: talk to those who can help you take the next step in your search experience and the way you work in search. With that I mean the people who are doing groundbreaking work in the industry. They not only find out what works, they are also willing to share that information.

You can see that I think going to conferences is a good idea. And by looking at all the badges of conferences I visited over the years, you can see that I’ve visited and spoken at quite a few and am therefore able to take a good look at what is good and what is not.

In this post I would like to address not the visitors of the conferences, but instead the organizers. Because the way a conference is organized makes how successful the conference is for its visitors and makes how much you can learn and how much its worth. Five tips for conference organizers.

Tip 1: Get the WiFi straightened out

Visit a medical conference and your wifi will be excellent. Visit a web-conference and chances are you will have lots of trouble getting the right connection. Why? Because every single visitor there is web-minded and probably wants to be online as much as possible. Because of the exploding mobile web and now devices like the iPad, every visitor on a conference has the need for an internet connection. With applications like Twitter and Facebook, which are easily accessible through mobile devices, everybody wants to use the conferences wifi, to check what is going on or even upload images. Here’s where conference organizers get in trouble. The wifi usually isn’t capable of serving all these visitors who want to go online.

This usually is a problem which is difficult to solve for the organizers. Some of the times the wifi is ‘part of the deal’ in the deal the organizers make with the venue.

So what can conference organizers do to get the most out of there internet? I would suggest a couple of things:

– Get not one, but multiple wifi-networks out there, differentiate them in different rooms to get the ‘load’ off
– Make specific bloggers-spots with cable-internet so they are sure to have the best connection
– Give the press / speakersroom their own internet

Conferences have grown smarter on this over the years, you now indeed see separate Wifi connections for speakers or sponsors in Expo Halls. WiFi seems to be better, but in general it is quite slow. Some organizers even try to set up their own connections, outside of the deals. That probably is not a bad idea at all.

Tip 2: Power outlets and Extensions

How many hours does your laptop work without power? Probably a lot less than you were aiming for. A well know sight at internet-conferences is visitors looking for power adapters. If you are the one lucky enough to have that one adapter in the room you will get a lot of envy from others.

A shortage of power cords could lead to what I call the ‘towel’ effect. Someone places their stuff on a chair and desk and leaves it there for the rest of the day, “claiming” the spot, while not being on that same spot for half of the day. The lack of power makes that by the end of the day most bloggers are out of power, thus not writing about the conference.

So what can conference organizers do about this power shortage?

– Make the before named bloggers-spots and have next to the internet power supplies
– In the main room where all conference visitors gather, make tables and put down power outlets below every table. That way everybody can power up their laptops in between sessions or when not visiting specific sessions. The bloggers will be grateful and show that by writing extra content!
– Make special ‘booths’ where you can leave your laptop, phone or iPad to charge

Readers add-on: A tip in the comments should be added here: “If you go to a conference in a country where your laptop’s power cable needs an adapter do work, it is very helpfull if you can buy an adapter at the conference rather than having to leave the conference for a while and try to find one in the “city” = waste of time.”

Tip 3: Food and drinks

One thing which is always something which makes visitors talk is food. Many conferences have improved the food they serve drastically in the past few years. Lunches are mostly good. And they need to be good, because the one thing you don’t want is to have bad comments about the food you serve.

The problem with the food is that there are usually long lines. It could be an idea to go and work in ‘shifts’ and have speakers sit at the tables where people go have lunch. So combine the ‘meet the experts’ with the lunch.

One thing is probably even more important than lunch however: coffee. As a conference organizer, make sure there is plenty of (free) coffee, especially in the morning. No coffee is probably worse than a bad lunch. Make sure that in the morning your visitors have fresh coffee and something to go with that and they won’t miss the first session.

Tip 4: Speakers quality

Many visitors pick their sessions because of which speakers they see on the list. Those speakers however might not be the best speakers around. A good name isn’t always a good speaker. And as a conference organizer that is difficult. You can’t see every speaker out there so you have to trust that speakers are good. A tough job.

There are a couple of things an event organizer can do to get the best out of their speakers:

– Get a couple of big names in there, the names people will know from the web, but not too many!
– Don’t be afraid to give ‘new’ speakers a chance on speaking, there might be some beauties in there
– Don’t make panels to big, give speakers more time than just ten minutes. SES is doing a good job now by decreasing the number of speakers on panels, that will add on to the quality of sessions
– Go out and find new talent by visiting other conferences
– Work together with smaller conferences to get familiar with speakers who can grow on to the ‘bigger’ ones.

Tip 5: Network opportunities

One of the main reasons people go to conferences, next to the content off course, is networking. People want to do business or want to simply talk to those they haven’t seen in a while. Make sure that in conferences you give the visitors that possibility. You even have to make room for it in your program.

Some things you should keep in mind as an organizer when it comes to network opportunities:

– Don’t make the program so full there is no room to network
– Create a good networking area, also places where people can sit without being disturbed
– Create an online environment in which people can see who is coming and who they want to meet up with
– Get them in the bar! The best place to network is in the bar. Try to get your visitors in there and they will remember you conference for ever!

Tip 6: Networking drinks are meant to be drinkS not A drink!

Finally a quick one: the networking part on tip 5 is usually ‘taken care off’ by a networking drink at the end of a day. Usually these are sponsored. But the sponsor seems to only want to pay for one drink per person. Now many people still don’t show up, so they will never pay for them all, but giving people ‘just’ the one drink will only push them away from the event even quicker. Don’t be so cheap here, keep them at the bar by giving them a few more!

These are some tips for conference organizers. There are many conference organizers doing a great job already. I just wanted to give my insights on what I believe are points which are important for me as a visitor of conferences. I’m now off course very curious about your ideas. What is your tip for conference organizers?

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Bas van den Beld

About Bas van den Beld

Bas van den Beld is an award winning Digital Marketing consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the founder of State of Digital and helps companies develop solid marketing strategies.