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Avoid These 4 Hazards When Organizing a Conference

These days even smaller companies are putting together conferences to attract new users and inspire current ones. However, planning these things is fraught with peril, from bad Wi-Fi to budget overspending.

In the fast-paced world of technology, startups are always searching for ways to separate themselves from competitors. One of those ways is to connect with communities of influencers and customers by inviting them to speak at or attend a conference created by the company itself. Some of the world's hottest tech companies, from Box to Salesforce to Oracle hold these, and smaller, lesser-known companies are getting into the act too.

If you're thinking about creating your own conference to unite people around your brand and product, there's a lot of work ahead of you. There are also quite a few pitfalls you need to avoid. Here are some of the biggest:

1. Failure to Do Your Research (Especially When Budgeting)

Give yourself enough time to fully research all of your objectives when planning the event, because you will probably need a backup plan for various portions of it. Give yourself at least a month of time if you're planning a multi-day event. Your research should include these questions:

  • What are the goals of the event?
  • Which is the best city to hold it in?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • How many people do you want to attend?
  • Are there similar events happening around the same time?
  • What is your budget?
  • How much can you overspend (without getting fired)?

Last minute changes can occur. You have to be ready ahead of time for them, so you won't be as stressed out if they happen. "You might need extra money for promotion with only a few weeks to go," says Liv Longley, marketing communications at Searchmetrics, which provides SEO solutions for large companies. "You might need to fly in speakers and provide hotel accommodations for them. Some will agree to speak at the last minute. Do your research and know this may happen ahead of time."

2. Not knowing your audience or your speakers

Two of the biggest battles when planning an event are getting the right speakers and attracting the right audience. When you know who you want your audience to be, you can begin identifying the right speakers. For example, are you trying to reach enterprise companies, chief marketing officers or developers? That has a huge influence on who should be talking to them.

One thing to note, just because a speaker comes from a great brand, doesn't mean they are a good speaker. Make sure you talk with your speakers to find out their style. Do they make a room laugh or are their presentations technical and serious? "By knowing the speaker you can determine the flow of the day," says Longley. "Going too serious at the wrong time of the day could leave your audience falling asleep. My advice, make sure you place your heavier content in the morning and lighter content in the afternoon."

3. Getting Your Hashtags and Wi-Fi Right

These may sound pretty basic but they are utterly vital to the success of the event. For your hashtag, go shorter with the event name. It will make it easier for folks to share and help you really keep track of what people are saying. At Searchmetrics recent event "Visibility '14" the team used "#Visibility_14" as a hashtag. In the end they decided that it was perhaps too long a term. Next year they plan on using "#VIS15." This also has the added benefit of freeing up character space.

As far as Wi-Fi goes, what you need is the strongest signal available. Almost everyone is on their phone or computer during a conference, scanning through emails to make sure there is no crisis happening while they are out of the office. Therefore, make sure you ask the venue for the best Wi-Fi they can offer.

"Not having the strongest Wi-Fi possible can lead to some pretty negative and interesting feedback," says Longley. "At a past event we had, the Wi-Fi was awfully slow. Many guests complained and some even wanted to be compensated for the inconvenience, and mind you that event was free!"

4. Avoid Saving Last-Minute Logistics to the Last Minute

This can include a variety of important details such as:

  • What will make the conference enjoyable for your attendees--i.e. have charging stations and unlimited coffee (not just during coffee breaks).
  • Put together a post event follow-up. Prepare the framework and message you want to deliver after the show to save time. For example, many attendees are going to want a copy of the presenter's presentations. Get permission before the event from the speaker.
  • Create a detailed plan that includes pre, during and post event actions for the company. Share with teams like sales, management so they know what they need to so. (Includes number of attendees and marketing activities pre and post)

Don't Avoid This:

Have fun! Events can be very stressful with a lot of moving parts, from missing speaker presentations, to last minute additions, shipment issues or catering fails. At the end of the day, all you can do is take it one step at a time while having fun, keeping calm and knowing you did your best. Also treat yourself to a spa day after the event.

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Last updated: Jul 28, 2014

JOHN BOITNOTT | Columnist

A journalist and digital consultant, John Boitnott has worked at TV, newspaper, radio, and internet companies in California for 20 years.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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