Open letter to an event organizer

leweb 2010 day two

A consistent part of my job is to attend events and quite often I’m invited to be on stage. I typically attend conferences, seminars, workshops, most of them are about tech, online business, startups and Internet culture. Maybe in the next months I will attend one of your events, so I just want to help you to avoid some common mistake.

At home I have a big box where I collect all the conference badges. I bet I have more than 200 of them, collected in the last three years. I would love to have great memories about your event when I put your badge in my favorite box.

There are several common mistakes that event organizers commit very often and I hope to offer my suggestions with this post, for the upcoming event you’re organizing.

I organized some events in the past and I committed some of these mistakes. Only now, with more experience I can say they were avoidable but when you are working hard for your event is not very easy to see these issues. For this reason I don’t want this post to be taken as a personal critique of any of the recent events I have attended.

I also know I cannot explore the entire spectrum of event mistakes, so I’m going to limit my scope on the worst 5 errors I encountered in my career. If I’m able to help others avoid these mistakes, I would be very satisfied.

Mistake 5 – Business Model

There is nothing wrong in organizing events to make a living. The best events in the world, such as concerts and art expositions have profit as the main purpose. So why try to hide it? You are organizing the event because of the money. Don’t be worried to say that openly.

Don’t be shy to say that you get money from sponsors. Don’t hesitate to charge for tickets. Just be fair and transparent. You cannot charge thousands of dollars on a single ticket and get dozens of volunteers to work on the conference because you’re promoting culture. It’s stupid and it doesn’t work in the long-term. You want volunteers? fine! publish your figures…

So please, don’t pretend you are doing that for free. It’s not the LiveAid, it’s a tech conference. You are not saving the rainforest, you are gathering a bunch of geeks in a room to do business, to show off their new iPhones and get badges on Foursquare. Of course if you ask them for money you have to provide value back. And guess what, if I pay 10 I want 15 back.

So… let’s discuss value

Mistake 4 – No value, no party

As I said before, if I give you 10 in cash I want 15 back in some sort of value. The kind of value is up to you. You can give me a unique opportunity to meet a guru. You can provide me with the best networking opportunity to meet new business partner. You can give me the best content, in terms of speakers and topics. But you cannot think that I would spend any money just to have a t-shirt, a badge, a huge bag of press material, a half ton of merchandise, a cool pencil, a few gadgets and my name on the guest list. We are not kids and not even kids like to go clubbing if there is no music, no girls, no guys and no beer.

So, please, think about the value you are providing me. It’s not about the gadgets, it’s not about the food. It’s about the people I meet, the content I get and how comfortable the venue is when I’m doing my business.

If it’s a show, make it fun. Real fun. If there’s a networking area, make it quiet and relaxed. Wi-Fi is welcome but we can live even without it, if on stage the right people are there.

Mistake 3 – People on stage

Don’t put idiots on stage. Especially if they are sponsors of the event itself. Wanna know why? because if the event is crap, I will blame you as the organizer and not the sponsor who bored me to death from the pitch.

Are you getting money from the sponsors? good, but don’t allow them to take over your job. Let them to put their names on billboards, on the ticket, even on the toilet paper if they want. But the event is yours, not theirs. Don’t give them access to the stage, unless you are super sure they are excellent speakers and they provide value to the audience.

Always respect the audience, they are your key value.

Mistake 2 – Respect the audience

Have a clear and easy to access agenda. Ask the speakers to strictly respect their time slot. Start on time and follow the schedule. Have an efficient way to inform your audience if there’s been any change in the program. Give them the chance to relax, with frequent breaks.

If you provide real-time feedback, like a twitter wall, you have to be ready to hear the criticism. Sometimes really bad criticism. You need to have an event manager to take care of the issues. If they shout that the toilet paper is gone, the solution is to provide more, not to shut down the twitter wall and to introduce moderation.

At the same time don’t let this real-time feedback to impact your event too much. Don’t let the presenter spend all his time reading tweets. He’s there to present, not to follow the twitter stream. Provide him a stage assistant, who reads the tweets and listens to the audience, in order to react quickly. Don’t mess up the roles.

Mistake 1 – The roles

If you are sick, and you go to the hospital, would you be happy if the doctor is more worried about what you say on twitter about the hospital rather than find you the better solution for your medical issue?

So, define clear roles. You are the organizer, and so you have to organize, not to be the star on stage. If you suck on stage, you suck on stage even if the event is yours. Don’t waste 15 minutes to say how cool your organization is and how many people are in the room and blah blah. Wanna be the one that opens the event? fine. Go on stage, say “thank you for being here, enjoy the event” and get off the stage. Your job is something else. Get out.

The speakers need to be “speakers” and not “influential people with cool job position in cool companies”. Nobody cares about your job title if you suck on stage. And then the event is crap. Get the best speaker and give them the opportunity to be well briefed about the audience, the kind of event, the demographics, the key messages of the event, the kind of speech they have to give.

Please ban the discussion panels. They suck all the time. They are usually an overcrowded group of people, who have never met each other before, too polite to disagree on anything, totally unprepared on the topic, not because they are not experts but because when a topic is very defined there is no discussion and if the topic is too broad no one cares!

Conversational interviews with good presenters, Ignite Talks, Pitches, keynote speeches are way better. And if you have the right people on stage, your event will rock!

A few more details

If you produce videos, pay attention to the audio. If you provide food, get the best food. Always provide water. Lots of water. If people provide you feedback, say “thank you” and shut up. Don’t address criticism on the same day. You are working and you are busy. You will have the time to think about criticism next week when debriefing with your staff.

Conlusion

Even when your event is free, people are giving you their time. Make them happy. Work hard and constantly try to improve. That’s your mission!

Yours sincerely,
“a serial conference addict”

PS: again, ban the discussion panels. Seriously, do it!

Picture from Leweb10 (the best tech event in Europe) taken by Teymur

14 thoughts on “Open letter to an event organizer

  1. It looks like somebody didn’t really enjoy the last event *cough* *cough* he’s been attending. Jokes aside, I’d stress the ‘I-wanna-be-a- rock-and-roll-star’ syndrome that afflicts so many event organizers. Either you are the star OR you are the grunt doing your thing behind the scenes, dude!

    Like

  2. Great post, Luca. I agree on (almost) everything. (Ps: I’ve been @leweb in 2008 and 2009, and I didn’t find it’s worthing 2-2,5k €, but I’m not an entrepreneur so maybe if you’re doing business that’s fine . 0-500€ could be the right range for what I saw)

    Like

  3. Luca,
    great article (it’s a very long post). As a rainforest saver I would have preferred NOT to see all my secret tools in a straight tutorial, but here it is. B-)
    Thinking of the quantity of work I usually need to extract from you 5 straight words, I change my mind and try to READ you, ignoring you when we meet. B-DD

    Like

  4. We’re organizing the first meet up for Italian Travel Bloggers in Rome (Travel Blogger Elevator #TBE12). I’m glad you don’t like discussion panel as I don’t like it either. Would you mind giving me your thoughts about this: we are preparing 4 – 5 hot topics about travel blogging that I’d like to get shared within smaller groups of 10 – 12 people. Overall we are expecting 70 participants. There will be a flip chart and round table for each of these topics and groups. Each group will focus on one topic for 15 – 20 minutes. After that time, every group will have to go on stage and present their thoughts with the rest of the audience.
    Very appreciated!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s