What Does It Take to Host a Successful Conference?
As a software solution provider for the events industry, I’m sure you can imagine the pressure involved in planning and hosting an event for people who actually do it for a living! And yet, here we are, fresh off our 2016 annual Global User Conference, no worse for the wear and stronger than ever. The 2016 conference featured a record-breaking number of attendees with 13 countries represented, over 55 cumulative hours in training and just as much time for valuable networking opportunities. Additionally, this year we added two days after the conference that were devoted to more extensive training courses. (for a glimpse into our world!)
It was a major success because we were able to commit our time and resources to building up momentum and energy, both internally and externally.
A vast majority of that success can be attributed to the many years of experience driving the goals of each and every event that we host (both our EMEA and AP regions host conferences as well). Ungerboeck has been in the events business for quite a few years – thirty-one to be exact – but it is an industry that can change substantially from one year to the next. The events that we host are executed solely by the staff here at Ungerboeck but the learning opportunities never cease to exist. As this was my first year at our conference, I was more than ready to dive in head first to find out what makes an event tick and to gain some additional insight on what it takes to host a successful conference. Here’s what I found:
I think, first and foremost, one of the most important aspects of this year’s conference was the drive to build up the energy of the event before it took place. Our Digital Services team talks about keeping your event live 365 days out of the year (check it: #event365) and we practice what we preach!
In order to get staff engaged and ready for the major event of the year, we started planning internal promotional and educational campaigns months prior. Through contests, promotional materials, and a full-day event at an offsite location (a movie theatre complete with popcorn and sweets!), we were able to show our own employees that this year’s conference was not one to be missed. The presence of one engaged, excited employee is better than simply having five passive bodies.
Your employees are your biggest advocates. When they feel passionately about the brand and understand the key objectives of the event, the messaging to attendees can be more of a conversation rather than a sales pitch. This energy then carries over to the live event. That first impression at the registration desk can help set the tone for the rest of the event. If each interaction with a company representative is initiated on a positive note, you’ll find it a tough atmosphere to beat.
We talk about having an open line of communication between staff and operations, attendees and services like it’s going out of style. But that’s because it’s not. This is front and center at our conference where anyone (including me!) can approach any staff with a question and be assured of the right answer (or be directed to the best resource).
Making this work doesn’t just happen. We made a strong effort to develop and present internal messaging prior to the event to identify key staff members depending on their major role(s). Even when you run a venue or event every single day of the year, a staff member might be out, titles and responsibilities may change, etc. but when those changes are communicated, the chances of a misstep lessen significantly.
All About the Now
The planning stages of our conference begins very early on and though the format essentially stays the same, it is adapted to fit the needs and wants of our audience and the current market as the year goes on. Being at the forefront of these changes is imperative for any event to be a success. Give the people what they want, right? Luckily this is where technology and innovative thinking become our friends.
Live polling, live streaming, tweets in real-time; it’s all about the now and being able to capture the audience while they’re engaged. When you can provide the audience with an opportunity to interact, you’re cultivating conversations. We meet face-to-face for meetings and events because that kind of presence cannot be replicated in the digital world. This is a major “want” of attendees at a show; use social media to initiate those conversations and keep them going even after the event has closed.
Fuel for the Fire
Who better to discuss current industry trends and topics than those who are involved with them each and every day? I’ve had the opportunity to speak to handfuls of our clients via email or phone before but there is nothing that can compare to having a live-action conversation. The relationship goes much deeper than a name displayed in black and white. I am happy to have been a part of our conference and I am even more excited about the additional insight that I’ve gained by being that much closer to an event.
I have a generous heap of new perspectives into the events world and I look forward to sharing them with you. Stay tuned for more.