Mind Readings: What Makes A Good Conference/Event?

Mind Readings: What Makes A Good Conference/Event?

In today’s episode, I discuss what makes a successful conference or event. You’ll learn what organizers should focus on to make sure you have a great experience. You’ll benefit from the tips I share on speakers, sponsors, sellers, and the magical element that makes the best events extraordinary.

Mind Readings: What Makes A Good Conference/Event?

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Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript. The transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for watching the video.

Christopher Penn: In today’s episode, let’s talk about conferences and events.

One of the most common questions organizers of conference and events like to ask is what they could do to improve the conference experience for individual attendees.

It’s a difficult question to answer because people go to events for different reasons and have all sorts of different goals.

For example, some people attend events for professional development for training for education, they’re at the event, to learn how to hone their craft and their measure of success as an attendee is how much they come away with new information, new skills, new certifications or enhancements of their existing skills.

Other folks attend events for things like networking, right where their goal is to meet and build relationships with other people.

Their measure of success is the quality and quantity of the relationships they’ve built.

Still other folks attend events as sponsors or exhibitors or vendors, where their goal is to sell stuff, sell stuff.

Either at the event, or obtain commitments to purchase after the event.

I can’t tell you the number of events I’ve been to where people are just signing deals right on the expo floor.

Their measure of success is net revenue.

They paid to be at the event and they earned from the event and the greater multiple of you know, earned minus spent divided by spent, which is ROI.

The greater that multiple is the greater the success of the event that is their measure of success.

Did we make some money? So it’s difficult to figure out what makes an event successful, given all the competing agendas that are that are happening, the reasons people come to an event, but almost all attendees also want, you know, basic amenities from events to have fun, to have a good time to experience travel with decent food in a comfortable place to rest your head at the end of the day.

The less attendees have to think the more frictionless an event is, the better the event experiences that is sort of the unspoken rule of events and event planning make them as easy as possible for people to use.

People have a good time in proportion to how easy a time they have.

So to help attendees meet their goals, every event needs to provide infrastructure in service of those goals.

And doing so can be real delicate balancing act.

The reason why is that events require four basic pillars for success.

If you’re an event planner, you know, these pillars, you live these pillars, the four S’s, speakers, sponsors, sellers, sanctuary, right? Speakers, pretty straightforward.

These are the talent, the names on stage at events that convince attendees to attend, right? Sometimes can be a big keynote speaker whose message people want to hear, you know, Tina Fey, Barack Obama, you name it’s a big name.

Sometimes it’s a roster of experts, people with a unique perspective or experience.

But whatever it is, whoever it is, this talent is essential to most events because it gives focus to an event.

People don’t just get together for no reason, they need to have some focal point and the speakers often are that focal point for particularly for professional events, conferences, etc.

Number two sponsors are the advertisers who have run a show in some fashion, right? The big name companies that want to sponsor and get the word out about their products and services to the audience.

If an event knows its audience, well, it can sell access to that audience and command a premium from a sponsor.

You’ll see it all the lanyard badges, but the company’s name on it, the big signage everywhere, the so and so company lounge experience, whatever on the on the expo floor.

That’s, that’s the height of sponsorship.

sponsors are important because they are the operational revenue suppliers that elevate an event from good to great.

They basically provide like a third two thirds, sometimes 75% of the operating budget of an event, especially in advance, so that an event can reserve an event.

a venue or hire speakers.

Sellers are vendors who offer goods and services to attendees typically on like an exhibition floor and expo floor.

Sellers pay a fee to events, and in rare cases pay percentage of sales to the event to give attendees a chance to purchase things they want relevant to their event goals.

You know, go to a marketing conferences, there’s all these companies selling software to people go to a fan convention.

Now this be things like interesting souvenirs or artwork or t shirts, you name it.

Somebody, maybe who’s can’t afford the big sponsorship still wants to sell stuff at an event.

So they buy a booth, and they exhibit as a seller on the floor.

Now, vendors can be sponsors, right? Sellers can be sponsors too.

And very often this the sponsor has a big pavilion if you go to like Dreamforce, or IBM think they are those 40 by 40 booths that have couches and interactive experiences and they sell for like a million and a half dollars.

Dreamforce $2 million for that for the week.

So vendors and sellers and sponsors can be synonymous.

But in many cases, sellers are not folks who can afford the big big sponsors but still want to have something to sell.

Fourth is sanctuary.

Sanctuary is the social environment.

It is the oasis that an event provides.

This is this is the the transitory magical world that a well run event provides like nothing else.

It is a chance to for a lot of people to get out of the office or away from home and immerse yourself in an experience whether it’s an academic conference, a music festival, a fan convention, that sanctuary environment creates the opportunity for magical interactions among attendees.

At the best events, people experience a real sense of like withdrawal almost and depression after an event because they’ve had this sanctuary for a day or two days, or maybe a whole week, where they can, they can be free of their obligations, and just have a magical experience and well run events know that and they they invest heavily in it.

These four pillars, the four S’s of successful events are critical and almost equally important.

An event that drops the ball in one pillar is likely to impede the remaining pillars.

For example, an event that fails to land big sponsors, they’re going to have trouble affording the best speakers, which in turn diminishes the number and quality of attendees because attendees were like, Well, there’s really nobody there I have to see.

But you go to an event that has great sponsors, and it’s like Metallica is playing, right? So that that one s that you dropped the ball on impacts everything else.

And if the the number and quality of attendees drops, then that makes it less appealing to sellers and also diminishes that event sanctuary like feel.

So these things are all connected.

Say an event is really poorly scheduled or operated incompetently, that’s going to disrupt that feeling of sanctuary, people are going to feel instead of relaxed and open, they’re gonna feel like stressed, that’s going to make attendee attrition substantial.

And up at a poorly run event, you will see like 50% of the people if it’s like a two or three day conference, if it’s poorly run, by day two, 50% of the people are gone.

And then by day three, if there is a day three, there’s like two people left.

I remember I was at this one event in San Diego, and it was so this was like a tiny little market cups, not social media market world, but a very tiny little conference is back in 2015.

And then we started with 200 people at this event.

And it was just so badly run that by the by day three, which is when I was speaking, my there were four people left, or people left, needless to say, that that was Christopher Penn: not an event that we want to repeat.

But when you have an event this badly run attendee attrition gets really high, and then sellers don’t hit their ROI goals, right? They’re there to make money.

Sellers are like we’re can’t turn a profit here.

Speakers may simply cancel their appearances, right? Sponsors certainly are not gonna see the value of the sponsorship and negative word of mouth about the event can impair future events, or maybe just cause their cancellation entirely.

So these four S’s are the the heart and soul of a good event.

I want to walk you through two examples of events, one that embrace these pillars and one that did not.

And I want to emphasize in both cases, this is my opinion only.

I cannot speak for anyone else.

But it’s my opinion about my experiences at these events.

Let’s start with the positive.

The event every year that wholly embraces the four pillars year after year, marketing profs B2B for marketing profs B to B forum for those outside marketing doesn’t sound like the most exciting event, but it really is.

This is the premier event for B2B marketers to get fantastic professional development education, right? Every year, you go there to learn new stuff from some of the brightest people in B2B marketing.

Every year, the marketing profs team throws essentially a vacation.

It’s like it’s like going on a cruise disguised as a conference like it’s in Boston.

So you’re not like actually on a boat, but it’s so well run.

That it feels like a vacation that just happens to be for work.

So let’s go through the four S’s speakers, marketing profs B2B forum, they call it MPB to be always attracts interesting speakers who have valuable and interesting perspectives to share.

The keynote talks usually quite interesting, but where they really shine is the breakout sessions and lots of them.

There’s always something going on.

There’s always something to see something here.

So we’ll learn at any given moment from multiple speakers on a variety of topics.

And the speakers tend to Christopher Penn: hang around, right, and not just like hide in the speakers green room, but they’re actually out and about among the attendees.

So there’s someone that you see, like, and you want to talk to them, you can probably find them and, like, ask them questions outside of their session, which, which is pretty rare pillar to sponsors, MPB to B’s laser focus on a valuable niche audience B2B marketers makes attracting sponsors very straightforward for them.

sponsors who want to reach B2B marketers, marketing decision makers, know that the event is year after year, a reliable bet for their budget, because you know who the audience is, you know exactly why people are there, you’re not going to run into, you know, people who are selling something B2C, it’s a B2B event.

The sellers, my company, Trust Insights, we’ve exhibited at the past at marketing profs shows, and the exhibit halls always crammed full of companies who have fun and interesting stuff to share.

As both a past seller and a frequent attendee MPB to B goes the extra mile for their sellers ensuring the exhibit hall is the highest foot traffic place in the event.

They put meals there happy hours drinks, all the social gatherings are in the exhibit hall.

But it’s done in a way that feels organic and integrated.

So you just kind of want to hang out there.

But of course, they’re giving the sellers as much foot traffic as you reasonably can.

And critically, they avoid diverting focus from the exhibit hall by not hosting major activities elsewhere.

It’s everything’s in the really nice exhibit hall.

And finally, sanctuary, this this is I think where marketing process B2B form shines the most.

As I said earlier, ease is proportional to enjoyment, the easier you make things for attendees, and everyone else, the more enjoyable an event is from the moment you register.

Marketing profs B2B form makes things easy.

There’s a solid mobile app all the time that keeps you up to date with what’s going on.

And there’s professional signage everywhere to make sure that you don’t get lost and no shortage of people who are happy to help you find your way.

The staff is always helpful and friendly and eager.

These are the people who somehow it’s got to be either coffee or something.

They’re giving them something, but they’re generally always happy to help you out.

And one thing that separates the show from pretty much every other conference on the planet, there are legitimately delicious meals to enjoy, included with your ticket price, plus parties, gatherings and activities.

It is all inclusive.

It is like it’s like going on a cruise, right? It is so easy.

You don’t have to satisfy any, you know, basic needs outside of the event.

Right? Breakfast is their lunches, their dinners, their if you want it, there’s fitness, there’s yoga, there’s all these things that make it it’s such an all inclusive event.

Marketing process B2B form recognizes the vital importance of that sanctuary, that community, their theme year after year is welcome home, right? Because they recognize the value of sanctuary, the value of community, the value of like minded people, finding their, their group, right, their people, and getting a break from regular life.

The event doesn’t take itself too seriously and recognizes the attendees are the beating heart of the event, right? sanctuary is first among equals.

The activities are fun.

They’re not compulsory, again, like a cruise ship.

But everything centers around making sure people have a good time.

There’s welcome parties, buddy systems, icebreakers, and a busy but not impossible schedule.

That ensures if you want it, there’s always something to experience from morning yoga and photo walks around the city, Oktoberfest pretzels.

And, and of course, the greatest showman of B2B marketing and Hanley, they pull out all the stops to ensure that it’s fun, easy.

You’re only lost if you want to be.

It’s incredibly easy to have a good time.

There’s a reason why, you know, whenever marketing props ask if I’ll speak it at B2B form, I say yes, out of moments, you know, thought or hesitation, you know, Chris, would you speak? Yes.

Don’t think about it.

They do everything right.

But they get sanctuary the most right of all.

And even though it’s a it’s, you know, they’re about equally important.

If you have to bet on one, as an event planner, bet on sanctuary, bet on your community.

So let’s look at a contrary example.

I won’t spend too much time on it.

I recently attended the halo bearer convention in London put on by a company called fan fusion.

Unlike a marketing conference, this is a fan convention for fans of the Netflix TV series warrior, which you’ve heard about from the past.

Same for s framework.

And again, remember, these are my opinions only I can’t speak for anyone else.

Speakers a fan conventions defined large by how many of the personalities from the show a fan the fans care about are in attendance.

And for for reasons unknown to attendees, the folks who are the speakers who were contracted to attend the event, some case canceled at the last moment, or significantly curtailed their appearances.

And while this is not an uncommon occurrence, believe me as an event planner, there was no backup plan.

The net effect was a wildly shifting, unpredictable schedule and a lot of dead time, like three to five hours of just sitting around with nothing else going on.

To sponsors, to my knowledge, there was no lead sponsor of the event.

Without a lead sponsor or any sponsors, an event has to rely solely on ticket prices and vendors to earn revenue, which can impair the level of service that you can provide.


And that that was evident, at least to me.

Three, the sellers, the sellers received, I would say, pretty minimal support from the event at one point culminating in a very public meeting in the in the in the halls about about the lack of support.

I actually volunteered at one of the tables, a friend of mine was selling some merch, and I got to relive the retail days of my youth.

And yeah, there was very negligible promotion of the vendors.

So it was very difficult for the vendors to earn money from the event, right to get a positive ROI.

There was one stand next to next to the one I was in, where they got there were so far down the end of the hallway, they got almost no foot traffic.

And I’m pretty sure they did not have a positive ROI for the show.

And of course, that would dissuade you from attending future shows as a vendor as a seller.

And finally, sanctuary.

At a fan convention, sanctuary is the cornerstone of the event, right? This is not a this this was not a professional development conference where, you know, if you miss on community that could be overlooked or forgiven if the educational content of the event is superior, right? That’s true at a lot of conferences.

But when it’s a fan convention, community is everything.

And this event didn’t have that, at least, again, from my point of view, there were inconsistent interpretations of convention rules causing really significant friction between event staff and attendees.

And there’s a whole bunch of stuff on Twitter, if you want to go see it, a wildly shifting schedule with no room locations on it.

No online schedule meant that multiple attendees missed things that they had paid for, including me with no recourse, there was no way to get that back.

The same schedule also meant you know, sitting on your butt for a really long time, which is fine if you’re attending with a group of friends, right? There were people gathered who were friends gathered around playing cards on the floor of the hall.

But if you were a solo attendee, could be a very isolating experience.

Communication from the event was done on Twitter instead of in a mobile app, which is problematic, particularly if you’re not on Twitter or you don’t want to use Twitter.

And, and despite the fact that, you know, at the the mid and upper tiers, the ticket prices were comparable to a professional conference.

There were no meals refreshments provided at all, which means the shared experience of dining together and meeting new friends was less likely.

Did it still happen? Yes.

But the event didn’t enable it, which meant lost opportunities for creating sanctuary.

Again, if we think back to marketing process B2B Forum, if you don’t have to go anywhere and figure out food and stuff that you know, the meals are there, you create those opportunities for new connections, you can sit down and break bread with someone else that maybe you don’t know.

And it’s easy.

It’s easy.

That did not happen at the fan event.

So these two events marketing process B2B Forum, and they’ll fan fusions Halo bear could not have been further apart in how skillfully they executed the four SS the four pillars of a successful conference.

In fact, Halo bear went so badly that the company announced they’d no longer be doing any warrior none events.

And then they deleted all social media accounts, which was like, that’s, that’s, that’s a reaction.

Meanwhile, on the other side of things I’ve already submitted by talks and my workshops for marketing across B2B Forum for the fall.

I’ve and my workshops already been accepted.

I am so excited to go home again.

So excited to be at marketing across B2B Forum this fall.

And I hope you’re there too.

If you plan events, if you’re an event planner, conference planner, or you’re thinking about becoming one virtual or real life, big or small, embrace the four pillars of success, speakers, sponsors, sellers, and sanctuary.

Follow the examples and best practices set by events like marketing across B2B Forum.

If you have to choose where to invest, and you have limited resources, invest first and foremost, in sanctuary.

Sanctuary is the environment that you create for your community is first among equals.

And it is your strongest foundation for a successful event.

If you want your event to succeed, if you want word of mouth, that will keep people coming back year after year and encourage sponsors and sellers to invest in your event.

You’ve got to bet on sanctuary.

Charge a little more if you have to.

But don’t sacrifice on creating that sense of community.

Thanks for watching.

Talk to you next time.

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