A big part of my job is hosting events: Webinars, Meetups, User Conferences, Drinks sessions – whatever. And whenever I tell people how I run events l I literally get asked the same questions all the time:
“Why do you do it?” “How do you get speakers?” “How much does an event cost” “How do you get people to come along to the event” “How long does it take to plan?”
So, I figured it was easier to write up some tips & tricks that I wish I had known before I embarked on my first event. I’m no Guru, packing all the great wisdom but I can throw in my 2 cents!
1. Is it just about schmoozing and big names or building a community?
Whether it’s a social, company or industry event, at the end of the day, it’s really is all about appealing to your target customer. There’s always shades of grey, but events pretty much come down to two things: generating heaps of publicity with big lights, razz-ma-jazz and red carpets; or building a community where people can learn, inspire and spread the gospel . . . and maybe sip a cocktail or two.
Sure, you can mix the two, but to run a really great event you need to commit to one or the other – it makes one hell of a difference to the quality of the day.
Not to mention the levels of boredom felt in the audience.
I always recommend creating goals to measure success. For instance, if it’s about fame, fortune and names on big screens then one of your most important success factors might be appearing on the homepage of 3 top publications that brings in 10k users in a day (i’m really throwing out random numbers and ball park figures, but you catch my drift). If so, your event needs to appeal to the general public. You have to have a hook, line and sinker. An angle that will attract the masses in swarms.
Similarly, If it’s about bringing your community together educate, motivate and meet new partners then you’re major goal might be to gain 20 new marketing partnerships, 10 company advocates, and a White Paper with all the speakers to pass out to the community.
2. No one wants to arrive at the party wearing the same dress as someone else
It’s a pretty simple point but probably the most important thing you need to do before diving too deep into the planning. So calm your boots, take a moment, and make sure you do your research and DON’T host your event on the same day some major conferences is going on. Seriously, I know this might sound like silly advice. I spoke to an unfortunate chap who told me about no one turning up to his event as he hadn’t realised a massive conference was taking place on the same day. A quick 5 minute look at lanyrd, eventbrite and meetup will suffice!
3. Don’t be creepy, annoying or weird – but do be persistent.
So, this is probably the most asked question: how do you get cool people on the stage san plying them with Tequila, bribes and money.
Firstly, I flat out refuse to pay people to speak. Not saying you should. Just saying I don’t. And I wouldn’t.
Why you ask? Well:
1) Its way more rewarding getting people for free, who are actually interested in speaking and not just about racking up more numbers in their account.
2) I’m cheap
3) I never even thought about paying a speaker until a handful of people talked to me assuming that i did.
If you want awesome speakers then you have to expect that a million other event organizers do too. I get a bajillion-million emails a day and look at them for about a millisecond before deciding whether to delete, archive, or send to trash. If you’re looking to speak to a top CEOs, then you better believe they do the same thing.
Typically, I’ll email top CEOs about 5-10 times. I realise this makes me sound like an epic stalker. But I swear to god it works. And, yes, before you ask, important folk do check their own email. They might not reply, or forward you to their marketing team or PA, but most of the time I at least get a ‘thanks for reaching out, but sadly I’m busy that day. Keep in touch.’ Or they’re willing to take a call, chat and about the cool things you’re working on. I was in San Francisco for work over 2 months and had Skype calls with at least 5 of the biggest names over there. And that only ever happened around my 5th email. Why? Because I was persistent!
My top tips and tricks on how to get these sort of people on the phone:
- Catchy Subject with all the information is vital. Try and make it sound personal too. You should always research the people you’re looking to talk to. Watch videos, read bios, actually learn about them. For instance: Loved [book title]: Amazing if you did a keynote at my event [name, date, location]
- Sum up exactly what you want in 5 sentences or less. Anything more and people likely get to the ‘archive and read later’ mental state.
- Don’t throw out statements like ‘there will be 400 attendees in the audience.’ Big time CEOs and cool speakers don’t care. Talk about how you’re emailing videos out to thousands of subscribers, offering them a chance to spread the company word and there might be opportunities to scout great talent at the event.
- Don’t talk about your life too much . . . no once cares at that point. The brief “my name is and I work for” is a total waste of time.
4. Don’t throw dolla’ bills like you’re Lil Wayne in the Club.
Budget is pretty much the numero uno from the get go. It’s pretty simple, if you have a budget, stick to it. And if you’re looking to make money from it, double it. In the wise words of Jay Z:
“Got a million ways to get it Choose one Bring it back Double your money and make a stack”
I’ve spoken to so many event organisers who didn’t take the time to sit, concentrate and breakdown the costs and budget allocations. If you don’t do this, then you’re going to reach a point where someone quotes a price and your face literally goes:
WTF! WTF! WTF!
We’ve all been there. A few weeks or days before an event you realise you have 5 dollars to your name, your panic stricken and you start racing around looking for any sort of sponsorship, offering discounts here there and everywhere. Cheeky money shockers are the last thing you want on your mind, so do your best to set realistic goals. But most importantly, if you are desperate for money, try not to bring in partners that don’t make sense to the brand to cover costs It looks a tad desperate.
5. Style is a reflection of your attitude, intention and personality
Whether you work in fashion, music, design or tech; style and tone are vital when addressing your market. Everything in the lead up to the event depicts your company message: tone in emails, website and flyer design, the overall look of the event and venue on the day, the food and drinks.
It’s so, so, so important. It’s all an extension of your thoughts and beliefs so make sure it’s consistent, bold and powerful.
6. Listen to your mother when she said mind your Ps & Qs
The party’s commenced. All hands are in. The booze is flowing at a rapid rate. The music is pumping. Its that wonderful high after an awesome event as you and your team celebrate the hard work FINALLY paying off.
The morning comes, your [maybe] nursing a hangover, and your completely exhausted. You’ll want a moment of calm and relaxation, just don’t forget to put time aside to send out post-event thank yous. The day after an event I always try and take the time to sit down and write a personal email to the speakers one-by-one, telling them how much I appreciated them taking the time out of their day. I’m not paying anyone, so I can at least take the time out to really let them know how they helped make the day awesome.
It’s the little things.
Then I send out a group email to all the attendees, with a link attached a survey. Feedback sheets are literally the only way that someone will tell you if they honestly enjoyed the event.
Surprise, surprise, no one is going to tell you that your event sucked to your face. It might not be fun, but honest feedback makes for a better event next time.
7. Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game. (Michael Jordan)
Listen, event planning is stressful. Co-ordinating people is hard, there’s a lot of logistics to sift through, and money can be a total bitch. I have numerous spreadsheets filled with numbers and notes tinged with madness.
It’s pretty much one of the most fun jobs you can ask for. Think about it, you’re literally responsible for tens, hundreds, maybe thousands of people having a totally awesome day. All at the same time. In the same place. You’re literally the reason they either end up toasting cursing your name. Maybe I’m a bit weird, but I think that’s quite exhileratingl! It’ not often you experience massive thrills in your day-to-day job. You have good days, bad days, and special days when you maybe get a promotion, go home, pop a bottle of champagne, and phone everyone you know.
Events let you have the best time with your colleagues, friends, users and total randoms. You all get to ride the high, feel like proud of what you did for the day – that’s so much fun!
So, if you’re looking to steer into the event world my main advice is: CHILLAX. Stop worrying about the spreadsheets, and enjoy the challenge in the madness!