Running an event takes more energy and dedication than we usually realise from the outside. Organisers of paid or free events of any kind have to deal with a lot of things that we, as attendees or spectators, only see if something goes wrong.
And most of the time, you’re totally right: you spent money (or gave your time), so you expect a certain level of quality, like access to drinks, food, seat, facilities and attractions on time. Stepping into the organiser’s shoes for a minute can give you a different perspective. Probably the only way to realise how hard it is to make an event run smoothly is to organise one.
Today I want to share some of the learnings I had organising the Pint-Sized Marketing Meetup in Dublin, Ireland for almost a year so far. Just to give a bit of background: our evening meetups started in October 2017, they’re free and consist of 3 short talks of 15-20 minutes per night, having around 50-60 attendees at each meetup. This is a brainchild of Learn Inbound, a large conference hosted in the same city since 2013.
I hope to give you some background into the energy and time invested in running a (small) event and give you some insights in case you’re considering running meetups; to help your event run smoothly and not make people search who’s behind the event for the wrong reasons.
To do things right and not in a hurry, give yourself a couple of months. There are a lot of things you’ll learn “on the go” and simple questions like “do we have enough chairs here?” or “will the music from downstairs disturb our event?” will prove to be a challenge if you don’t give yourself time to visualise the scenarios and risks.
Finding a venue was the first challenge I had. We have a small budget but still wanted a place in the city centre, on a Thursday evening, with seating for at least 50 people, in a private space and AV system ready to use. Luckily for us, Dublin is full of what we call “function rooms”, which are basically private areas or rooms in pubs. I contacted or visited over 15 locations to find one suiting our requests and understanding we wanted to organise something professional.
This goes without saying, but once you booked the venue and date, you need to promote it. The fact an event is free helps a lot to convince people to get a ticket, but on the other hand, the compromise attendees make is not strong either. A busy day at work, friends at a nearby pub, good or bad weather, any external and unexpected event might make people change their minds in the last minute and a low attendance even if your guest list is full. Didn’t take long to find out that our drop off rate was averaging around 50%.
Trying different formats is also important. Our initial idea was just to gather people for networking and we covered the first drink and some snacks. After two events, we decided to add 15 minute talks, mixing new and experienced speakers. The interest went through the roof!
Months later, we secured Intercom as a venue and decided to use Meetup.com to promote the event on top of our regular mailing list and social channels. From a quiet month (where we realised too late we were competing against an important World Cup match and a rare beautiful sunny week), we increased our attendance by 300% from one event to another. The insights here are: keep trying small new things to keep your audience engaged and growing, tracking the interest in the weeks before your event, any risks, and any other events you might be against it.
You need to find speakers and topics that will suit your audience, and let them leave feeling their time was worth it. Sure, the event was free, but people are still giving their evening time to a work-related matter instead of doing something more relaxing.
While we’re still talking about speakers, two common problems you probably will have: last minute cancellations and talks that are pure sales pitches. Being honest, we knew this could happen but still only learned the hard way. In a few cases, we watched talks that could have been better. Not just my opinion, but we had similar feedback from the audience as we usually contact them after each meetup to ask their opinions. Not to brag, but in the majority of cases, we are proud to have very strong scores and see many of the same faces event after event.
It’s finally happening! You got the date, the speakers, sold tickets and have a full house. Today you will be praised or judged by both your audience and your speakers. I always try to arrive at least 1h before we open doors as there are always little things to do, including some of the following:
- Are all slides working as expected?
- Is the comfort screen working?
- Do we need a second computer to transition between presentations?
- Do speakers know the speaking order and time?
- Who’s on the check-in desk and do they all have the attendees list ready?
- Does our team know the answer to basic questions (WiFi, Bathroom, etc)?
- Do we need to brief the venue team on anything?
- Are there enough seats for everyone we’re expecting?
Some of the above will be the same if you stick with a venue, so the work will be a little easier over time. However, don’t assume people have the answers on the top of their tongue. You might have someone new working at the bar or they might have a different event nearly every day and won’t remember your requests from last month.
I sometimes see little details we could have done better just as the event starts, so it’s worth taking a mental note. Here’s one from the top of my head: having more people from our team on check-in at the peak times to avoid a line of people waiting to get in. For repetitive or planned tasks, try some project management tools or event something simpler like Google Sheets with the tasks, dates and who’s is responsible for it.
This is the time where you want to make everything running smoothly and people only referencing you because they loved the event and speakers because they learned loads!
Tips from other organisers
I reached out to other marketing meetup organisers asking for ideas I haven’t covered above. Steve Morgan is behind the Cardiff SEO meetup since May 2016, holding an event every two months. He had a valuable idea to kick off with the right foot back in the days: “I sent a survey to 15-ish SEOs I knew locally asking what they would want in an event, which helped to drive its direction in the early days.” You can also read more about his first learnings running his meetup in a post published here at State of Digital.
Another of Steve’s suggestion is to make your way to the stage to gain a new perspective. “Make sure you do a couple of speaking gigs yourself so that you can see it from ‘the other side’. You can be a better host to speakers if you do some speaking yourself & realise what you could do with”.
Start planning your next event ahead is a great way to keep your audience interested. “Who are the prime audience, likely to come to your next event? Those that came to your first one, of course” explains Andrew, who runs a free SEO meetup called Optimisey in Cambridge, UK.
“Whilst the audience are still buzzing about all they’ve just learned, I tell them when the next event is and who the speakers are. This means you have to plan at least one event ahead,” he advises, not forgetting that having more events planned ahead is also quite important. Also, use this final opportunity to thank your sponsors once again.
His last tip is to give those already attending your event a chance to save on the next event with their tickets. “You can then offer an ‘exclusive’ early booking window to your attendees – not only a great way to fill your next event but also to incentivise/reward your attendees.”
What else would you advise to other marketing meetup organises? Any learnings from other types of events?
A quick promotion from my side: the Pint-Sized Marketing Meetup is looking for sponsors for the Pint-Sized Marketing. The package is low cost as we’re basically aiming to cover costs like drinks and swag. If you want to chat, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.