Sunday, January 18, 2009
Social Media Conference organizers; Here's what I want to see
I attended and spoke at several social media/marketing conferences in 2008, and already have several trips planned for 2009 (Keep up with where I'll be this year by checking here). Almost every conference had areas where it shined, and some that were lacking. I know that right now many people are planning events for later in the Spring and Summer, so here's some tips on what I'd like to see:
1 - Reliable internet access and plenty of power outlets. Over half the events I attended had problems with spotty internet access, and some had few or no power outlets. Organizers, assume that every attendee will be bringing a laptop and need a power outlet. Make sure the conference center or other venue you contact has the capability to handle this, as well as every attendee trying to access their wifi network at once.
2 - Lengthy breaks between sessions. At least 15 mins, 30 mins is better. What happens when a session ends? Audience members almost always go to ask the speaker(s) questions. If they know they only have a few minutes till the next session starts, they might not ask those questions, and move on to the next session. Give them at least 30 mins, that way even if they all leave and go to the next session, that gives them time to meet each other before the next session starts.
3 - Make sure you have enough room for everyone that wants to attend a session. This was another problem at several conferences, attendees not being able to see a session, because the room was full. I remember at one conference I wanted to stay and talk to the presenters afterward, but I knew I had to leave immediately to go to the next session so I could make sure I got a seat.
4 - Pick a venue with big and open areas, and extra rooms for impromptu meetings. This is where SXSW excels. The best part of SXSW happens in the hallways, and there are plenty of them. Wide open areas are more comfortable and it encourages to meet and form breakout groups to discuss what they have learned. Marketing Profs Digital Marketing Mixer was also at a venue with plenty of area for attendees to break off and meet with each other.
5 - Encourage speakers to attend the entire conference, and as many sessions as possible. Speakers are a key draw for any conference, and you want them to be as accessible as possible to the attendees. And this ties into Point #4, but if your conference has speakers that are accessible, you might see them meeting with a group of attendees after one of the sessions.
6 - Have built-in networking/meetup opportunities. This is a must if your event is more than one day. Make sure you set aside some time (first night is usually the best for a multi-day event) for attendees to get together and mingle with each other, and the speakers. The key to a great social media conference is learning, and that is greatly facilitated by interaction. If you create ways for the people at your event to meet and interact, you'll increase the chances that they'll learn.
7 - Have FUN! I attended and spoke at two Small Business Marketing Unleashed conferences in 2008, and hope to be at two this year. One reason why I love SBMU is because Jennifer and the gang go out of their way to make sure that everyone learns a ton, and has a ton of fun. Whether it was speed networking, an ice cream sundae bar, or playing life-sized Jenga, SBMU does a great job of keeping attendees entertained, laughing, and bonding.
8 - Don't worry about being huge, worry about thrilling your attendees. This is for people that are thinking about launching their first conference this year. Don't be upset if your first event has a smaller crowd than you hoped for. Instead, make it your mission to absolutely thrill the attendees that do show up. I'll reference SBMU again. The Houston show last April was their first event, and the attendance was well under 100, probably closer to 50. But Robert, Vicki and Jennifer went out of their way to make sure that those 50 or 60 attendees had an amazing 2 days. Their goal was to thrill the attendees for the first SBMU, with the hope being that they could justify having it again this April. Instead, the attendees absolutely raved about the April event, so much so that they decided to have another SBMU just 5 months after the first. And that September event was roughly DOUBLE the size of the first SBMU. Jennifer explained that about 40% of the attendees came from Twitter, where attendees from the first SBMU encouraged their followers to come to the second event. So don't worry if your first event has a small crowd, if you can convert that small crowd into an excited group of evangelists for your next conference, then you are set.
At the end of the day, you want to create an event that fosters a learning environment. This space is in a non-stop state of flux, and your attendees are coming to learn. Don't disappoint them, establish an environment where they are encouraged to participate, and where the speakers are encouraged to interact with them. The people that will be attending your event are hungry for knowledge, so make sure that they go back home with a plan of action, and excited about the new possibilities that they uncovered during your conference.
If you have attended social media conferences in the past, what did you like/dislike?
Pic via Flickr user JackieBaker330