We’ve all been to big tech events and trade shows and witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly.
How can we ensure things run as smoothly as possible at our gatherings?
Let’s start with the basics of tech event management.
Whether it’s SXSW, Black Hat, or any other major summits, many components are usually involved in a big tech event – keynotes, exhibits/network lounges, and training/breakout sessions. In addition, there are digital elements such as hotel blocks, event layout planning, event promotions, the registration process, event apps, and even your event theme, as well as creative design.
Bringing events to life is stressful and tedious work. If everything goes well, it’s expected. If something goes wrong, attendees and management notice right away. It’s hard to please everyone with variables not under your control.
However, I know many event managers thrive on managing complex events. Therefore, I have high respect for event marketing professionals who manage events with ease and don’t freak out when things go wrong.
How is it possible to plan and manage everything effectively with so many moving parts?
Event management is teamwork. Although you have one event marketing manager accountable for the whole event, the critical event elements are parceled out in different segments to different owners.
Start with a plan!
For a complex event with many elements, it’s vital to have an event plan that lays out the essential elements:
- Event objective
- Event goals
- Event theme or tagline
- Target event attendees
- Attendee acquisition strategy
- Keynote speakers line-up
- At-night entertainment
- Content tracks
- Budget breakdown
- Exhibitor and sponsor revenue breakdown
Although you won’t have all the elements mapped out in advance, you should have a master deck and fill in the blanks as time progresses. Then, use this master plan to update management and internal stakeholders on a regular basis.
Integrated on-site and online customer experience
Given that it’s a physical, in-person event, event managers tend to focus on the on-site experience. However, the digital experience is an equally significant part of the in-person experience, from the initial online registration and mobile app interactions, to on-site check-in.
With the Covid-19 pandemic, many events opt for “touchless” processes with minimal person-to-person contact. Registration kiosks are set up, allowing attendees to self-check in to pick up badges and goodies themselves.
There is still a team at registration to help out if needed, but attendees do most of the work. This is very similar to current airline check-in services.
There is an app for everything. Event-centric mobile apps are a great way to help attendees prep for the event before they show up, as well as guide them to different areas when they are on-site.
Therefore, it’s crucial to source a registration platform and mobile apps that can be integrated with each other.
Here are some helpful links to find registration and mobile apps that work well for events.
The attendee acquisition strategy is a must to get butts in seats
Many large tech events are tailored for developers, customers, or channel partners. Since you already have an established audience, the purpose of attendee acquisition is more about helping potential attendees understand the agenda and upcoming product announcements or training.
In this case, getting them to come is easier because they need to either get product training or get certified to sell future products.
In many events or conferences, they don’t have an established core audience that would come back year after year. Therefore, event promotion and attendee acquisition are critical; otherwise, they won’t fill seats.
In my personal experience, attendee acquisition is the most crucial element of event planning, next to content and keynotes.
Many event organizers use a combination of organic and paid media, as well as full-blast email and targeted LinkedIn outreach strategies to build up attendance.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer for event promotion and attendee acquisition. Instead, you need to do trial-and-error across many channels to see what works for you, from paid social, paid search, media/TV coverage, influencer promotion, and even account-specific email and LinkedIn outreach. There is no shortcut.
For attendee acquisition to work well, you need a budget and solid messaging hooks. Your messaging hooks are your content tracks and keynote speaker line-up.
Having high-quality track sessions and good speakers are unique differentiators that you can dial up to attract potential attendees.
Attendee acquisition strategy goes in hand-in-hand with agenda planning.
Content is still king!
Many event attendees decide to attend based on content tracks; you need to build a solid event agenda.
They want to answer questions such as “What can I get out of it if I travel to this event?” Therefore, it’s essential to understand what your customers are looking for to be able to build your content tracks based on that.
In many tech companies’ conferences, there are many tracks based on trends and product topics. However, determining the track and classification takes time.
Also, a content track will change on a regular basis depending on speakers’ search and availability.
In reality, as long as you get the key contract tracks down, such as 5-8 main tracks, the other tracks tend to be moving pieces. That is OK. Build solid main tracks and use those titles and content to drive attendee acquisition.
In many cases, you also need to understand the popularity of session topics and speakers to project the number of attendees and assign rooms for each track session.
Content tracks, conference room planning, and attendee acquisition are interlocked as part of event planning.
Session Content Management Tools are essential
To organize hundreds of sessions, you need to set up processes using a digital tool. For example, a tool allows speakers to submit titles and descriptions and a committee to approve/reject submissions. The tool should also enable speakers to upload their finished presentations.
I’d recommend building a high-level content tracking process first; then, sourcing the tools based on the proposed process, you may need to work with vendors to modify your process based on their tools.
Having digital tools with established processes will help you manage hundreds of sessions. It’s still daunting, but tools can make it a little easier.
Use the tool from start to finish, not just to upload the final content for each session. Also, ensure the one you select can track file versions, presenters’ names, events, and presentation dates. Integrating that with your agenda will give you a clear view of who will present what and when.
Generally, the shelf life of content used at events is short. It’s nice to have a record to track topics, mainly since some events occur yearly.
It’s also important to designate each session with a fixed identification number. The session numbers may change from event to event, but there will always be a permanent number for you to track.
This is similar to how you can change your name, gender, or address, but your social security number is for life.
Keynotes and training sessions are totally different from each other.
In the case of keynotes, it’s a much bigger stage with more complex lighting, audio, and theatrical requirements. In addition, presenters tend to spend a lot of time adding personal touches and last-minute changes. So, you need to allot on-site rehearsal time for big keynotes, especially if there are demos involved.
Keynote speakers tend to change the flow of their presentations during rehearsal, so ensure that keynote producers have the final presentations, solid show notes, and a detailed flow before showtime. Feel free to do several run-throughs to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Event managers need to have the mindset that almost everything can be sponsored or sold and work closely with the sales team to maximize revenue if revenue is important.
Many event organizers will put exhibitors and sponsors as the number one priority because that’s the money-making part of the event!
A solid list of exhibitors and sponsors can also be a nice draw for your event, in addition to sessions and keynotes.
Having a great sales team is essential to selling exhibitor and sponsor deals. Event managers will work with the sales team to create a solid sponsor package.
Most sales managers spend a lot of time figuring out different sponsorship packages and their benefits.
Many sponsor package elements are closely tied to all the event elements, such as showcasing vendors’ names on-site or via your mobile app, including vendor speaking sessions as part of the tracks, offering keynote opportunities, event networking activity sponsorship, etc.
Although there are standard packages, many sales teams would ask event managers to accommodate customized requests from exhibitors and sponsors.
These requests likely impact the agenda, session planning, space layout, and more. As an event manager, you need to be able to connect the different dots to coordinate the changes and requests from exhibitors and sponsors.
In many events hosted by tech companies, it’s not about making money; it’s about making a show with a fantastic attendee experience, solid content, and killer keynotes.
Exhibitors and sponsors can bring another layer of experiences to the event.
With the pandemic, in-person events have gotten even more complicated. Many events have morphed into hybrid scenarios with in-person and select online tracks for attendees who don’t want to travel. In addition, the pandemic adds extra burdens on event organizers to take measures to keep the event safe.
When you plan events, it’s essential to identify key elements and how you want everything to look. Then, create your plan based on that.
There are always glitches and hiccups when the event goes live. Stay alert and address issues when they come. Try to stay calm and enjoy your hard work. Have fun on-site!