Over the past decade I have attended, participated in and conducted countless corporate events. I've mediated panels and led discussions for Fortune 500 companies. I've spoken to tiny groups and large audiences for all sorts of industries. I’ve helped organize my firms’ monthly meetups, training sessions and sales events locally here in Philadelphia.
Some of these events have been great. Some have been terrible. I’ve learned a lot.
Are you a meeting planner for an association? Are you putting together an event for your small business or Fortune 500 company? If you are, then here are the seven simple things I’ve learned that will make it successful.
Make sure your event has a clear objective so you can measure whether you succeeded or not. Is this for lead generation? Revenue generation? Branding? Community service? Is it a customer facing event that's meant to deepen relationships and say thank-you? Is it a sales event for hot prospects? Does having a thousand people there mean the event was successful? Or is getting a thousand registrants more important, regardless of whether they show up or not? When the event is over, how will you know if it was worth it?
Rather than create your own audience, find one that's already there.
It's much harder to fill a room when you're starting from scratch. So why recreate the wheel? Every day there are hundreds of events happening around the country with tens of thousands of attendees. There are trade shows in Vegas, association meetings in New Orleans, sales conferences in Dallas and chambers of commerce breakfasts in Louisville. The seats are already filled and the meeting planners have done their work. Why not leverage these audiences? All you need to do is provide a few good speakers, helpful content and most likely a sponsorship check to smooth the path. That way you won't have to worry about who's going to show, let alone all the other details of a meeting.
Pick the right location and time.
I've done events in cities, suburbs, conference centers, convention halls and meeting rooms near airports. Where's the best location? That just depends on your audience. You want a place that's central, with lots of parking and easily accessed, unless your audience is mostly located in the city where you just want a place that they can quickly get to. The timing is another matter but here's what I've found: afternoons later in the week seem to be more attractive to people. So... a nice event on a Thursday afternoon in a downtown location might be the perfect launching point for the attendee who can then go out to dinner afterwards with his or her spouse. Try it!
People avoid sales events. Make sure your event is not overly promotional. Sure, include your branding, add some signs and make sure that people know who’s paying for the drinks. But the content should be technical, useful, informational and helpful to your audience. If it’s too much of a sales pitch people will not come and the people that do come will walk away annoyed.
Give yourself time to promote.
It's not just about the event. It's about the conversation before the event! Setup an event at least 90 days in advance and then use that time to spread the word and talk about it. The heavy marketing should come about three weeks beforehand. But use the event as a door-opener and a conversation topic with new or existing customers.
Stop spending so much money.
I don't know what it is about big companies but boy do they like to overspend on events! No, you don't need to serve lobster and champagne. No, you don't need to have two dozen executives and managers fly in from all over the world to attend. No, you don't have to rent out the ballroom at the Waldorf or employ a large audio/visual team. What you should do is keep it simple. A simple food spread - coffee and Danish (dare I say bacon?) in the morning or maybe beer and wine in the late afternoon. Rent a simple meeting room at a simple hotel. Tell your executives to stay back at the office (don't they have better things to do?) and only have one or two people from your company attend. You don't have to knock it out of the park with a thousand-person event. A series of events that attract a hundred people can be done much more affordably - and with a lot less stress.
Involve people with an audience.
Consider partnering with other companies that are like-minded - but make sure they have an audience. The same goes for prospective speakers or moderators. What you want is to tap into other peoples' communities to market the event and make them aware of what your company offers. Make sure your "partners" are doing this with as much zeal as you are.
Give some swag.
People like free stuff. Include some. An Amazon gift card. A flash drive. A USB charger. As part of your marketing consider giving away a bigger ticket item - like an iPad or an Echo - as part of a drawing at the end of the event.
Leverage the event for future content.
Spend a few extra bucks and bring in a video team. Have them live stream the event on Facebook or YouTube. Promote it before and after. Record the event, edit it, chop it up into digestible bites and then distribute nuggets of wisdom from the event on your website and social media platforms over the next six months. Have the video people interview attendees, speakers and executives. If you do a podcast then do it live from the event. Have your marketing person take lots of notes and follow up with a series of blogs. Use that session to generate content that will last you many months ahead.
Are live, in-person events even worth it in 2018 when there are so many other places to get content? Yes, they are. It’s only at a live event where you can shake hands, meet people, network and be…human. Online events certainly have their place and should be used in conjunction with live events. But you should always have a few live events as part of your annual marketing and communications plan. If you want them to be successful, I hope you’ll consider the seven things I’ve listed above.