All week we have been talking about events: which are the good ones, how to be a great speaker, how to be a great attendee and how to blog about it. At the end of the week we are again looking at actually organising an event: how hard is that really? In a special Google Hangout today we talk to Gemma Birch, who organises the International Search Summit, Laura Roth, who is part of the organising team of SES and Kelvin Newman, the man behind Brighton SEO. Apart from the hangout we already talked to Gemma and Kelvin (who are also State of Search bloggers) and asked them what the hardest part was of organising an event. Based on that we listed a couple of things you need to be aware about when organising your own event.
Speakers: they can be your worst nightmare
One of the hardest things (off course) is getting the right speakers. We’ve talked about speakers several times already this week and it is clear: good speakers are key, but also hard to find. But once you have the speakers you aren’t free of care yet, as Gemma Birch describes:
“Speakers is definitely one – not just getting the right speakers but having them commit to the event, meet deadlines for sending bios/descriptions, not drop out last minute – and not do lazy presentations or sales pitches………I’ve had many sleepless nights over that!”
So when looking for speakers keep in mind that even though someone can be a good speaker, he or she can still cause trouble!
Sponsors: it has to be worth the money
One of the hardest things about organising an event is getting the right sponsors for the right amount of money. Sponsors mostly make their choices or where they will be exhibiting or sponsoring in the beginning of the year so that is when you need to talk to these, at that point potential, sponsors. Kelvin Newman says about sponsoring:
“Finding sponsors can be tricky, though I know because of our scale we do find it quite a bit easier than other events. It’s all about proving value for money and thinking creatively about who might want to build relationships with the search community. One of the hardest aspects is all the people who are sponsors are marketer’s through and through, so they know exactly what they want from sponsorship, that means you often have a lot of people interested in one aspect of sponsorship and few keen on others. But that’s also a good thing, it means people are trying to be more creative than just turning up at the event with an exhibition stand and expecting business. Last time we had stands with table football tables, roller racing and evening in the evening an inflatable velcro wall, that kind of creativity means the companies involved get much more out of their sponsorship.”
Key when looking at sponsors is to mirror them towards your target audience: do they fit, will they really have potential clients they can find at your event? A sponsor will be looking at number of attendees, type of attendees and how much they can potentially ‘sell’. And they will off course look at how special your conference is opposed to others :).
Control: you’ll lose some of it
One of the hardest things is probably not having control over everything as Gemma points out:
“There are a lot of things in relation to the conference that are out of your control, but that could have a negative impact on the event. E.g the venue doesn’t deliver what they have promised, the Wi-Fi fails(9 time out of 10), the heating breaks, a speaker cancels at the last minute, a speaker goes way over their time slot…… the list goes on! Despite not being able to prevent some of these things, as the conference organiser, you need to manage them as best as possible and minimise the negative impact on attendees, which isn’t always easy.”
Tip here is to accept you don’t have control over everything, but do try to get as much done as possible!
The audience: what they want differs
As with becoming a great speaker as organiser of an event it is very important to look at your target audience and give them what they want. Many come for the sessions, but don’t underestimate the networking ability you need to provide, as Kelvin points out:
“We know that networking is one of the main reasons people come along to BrightonSEO and the Content Marketing Show, but at both events we attract hundreds/thousands of attendees and we’re expecting 2000+ along to the next BrightonSEO in April, that’s a lot of people and can be a bit overwhelming, especially for first time attendees. We’ve got a really friendly crowd but we are looking at ideas on how we can help people meet people who’d they’d like to get to know. I’ve seen events like A4U expo doing speed networking, that works like speed dating, which I think is an interesting idea, but I can’t see working with our audience. We’ve taken a slightly different approach with small round tables or about 10-15 people all with similar jobs, i.e. people who work in-house at travel companies, people who run SEO agencies, people responsible for Content Strategy etc. giving them an hour and a half, some beers and a sponsor to act as a moderator, we ran five last time round are going to at least double that next time round.”
The problem however is that you probably can’t make everyone happy. Everything wants something else so it seems, as Gemma has experienced before:
“At any event there will be a range of attendees – and they all have different things they want to get out of the event. Especially with ISS, which is just one track, every session can’t possibly be relevant to every person – so it’s a challenge to try and balance the events to make sure that the sessions are varied, but also that there is other value to be gained outside of the presentations too.”
Very important is to listen to your audience, provide them with as much as they want, but to also keep in mind you won’t be able to serve every need, if you try that you will most probably get lost in details. And also, if someone complains, do not take it personal. Gemma says:
“On a personal note, another challenge is not taking it personally when people complain or criticise the event…it took me a while to get to grips with that one (and I’m not sure I’ve fully succeeded yet).”
Remember: It is not easy
Probably the most important thing you need to know when organising an event is that it is not easy. It is hard work, but also very rewarding! Today (in an hour) we will be doing a live hangout with Kelvin and Gemma and Laura Roth about this topic. You can follow this hangout on our live hangout page and ask questions via Twitter or in the hangout itself. See you there?
It’s Event Week on State of Search!
It’s event week on State of Search this week! We are looking at everything around events, looking forward to SES London and helping you make the best choices you can make when it comes to attending, speaking or choosing your events. This week is sponsored by Marin Software