When I was an IT consultant I used to build custom database management systems—complicated, company-specific software that handled the unique way an organization did things. The normal way to do this is the Microsoft Word or kitchen-sink approach. Add every feature and ability you can think of (or that any important customer asks for) into the application. Then, let the user work with the entire glory of what you’ve created.
Over the years I found I could make a good living creating integrated systems that did things a little differently. Instead of company staff facing a complete set of menus, choices, and features, most of which they never used, I built interfaces where users only saw the functionality they required. Once logged on to the system, it appeared to contain only the functions and information needed to do their work. Yet, because the software spanned the entire company, any departmental changes were immediately available elsewhere in the organization.
Employees loved these systems because they gave them just what they wanted and no more. Without unneeded menus, options, and reports, employees worked with minimal distraction, leading to less stress and higher productivity.
Large traditional conferences exemplify the kitchen-sink approach I described above. The thinking goes: “if we have a program that includes sessions on anything that attendees might want, then they’ll come and be happy”. And perhaps this seems like the only answer, given that traditional conferences, at best, do a poor job of predicting and then offering what attendees really want.
Give attendees just what they want
Well, we can do better. When we ask attendees what they want to have happen, it turns out they are remarkably good at telling us. Especially if you’ve just presented them with a smorgasbord of possible topics gleaned from the entire group. That’s what the Conferences That Work roundtable and peer session sign-up sessions do. First, they uncover participants’ needs, experience, and expertise. Next, within a couple of hours, they turn these discoveries into a conference program that optimally matches just what attendees want, and no more.
Attendees love these conference programs, because they contain just what they want and no more. Wouldn’t you?
What do you think about the feasibility of determining your conference program at the start of the event?
(Part two of my reflections on EventCamp 2010, held February 6th in New York City. Part One here.)
As at every good conference, it was the people who made EventCamp 2010 most memorable. I can confirm that #eventprofs are just as cool face-to-face as online! To be warmly accepted in New York City by members of a virtual community that I joined just ten weeks ago, and to enjoy curiosity and interest about my book and Conferences That Work from members of the professional events industry for many years was a great experience for me.
I made and strengthened many relationships at EC10, and I learned some interesting things. Hopefully some will be new to you as well. Here’s a summary:
Paul Salinger: 1) Oracle runs thousands of events every year. Oracle’s European face-to-face meeting attendance was falling. Making them hybrid events (f2f events with a simultaneous remote audience) has turned this around. 2) But Paul is not a fan of the current generation of commercial virtual event platforms.
Twitter is being used successfully to drive retail sales to physical venues (e.g. “first 100 people to whisper “puppy” at our New York store get a free cupcake”).
In a similar vein, Jeff Hurt kindly explained to me how FourSquare is being used to cross-market between businesses that are close to each other (“check in at this hotel and get a free drink at the neighborhood bar tonight”).
How to price attendance at virtual events compared to the price for traditional attendees? No agreement at EC10 – one person had successfully charged the same (~200 people, half present half remote) which surprised most people. Someone suggested trying a contribution model.
Robert Swanwick recommended posting video clips of conference presenters online before the event starts, giving participants an advance look so they can better choose the sessions they attend.
Tools for event streaming: Robert mentioned Procaster for stream editing and his product twebevent [Jan 2013 update: alas, twebevent is no more] which is available in a free version.
Jeff Hurt gave everyone a Post-It note and asked us to “write what you want to learn in this session”. He had the notes read out, while simultaneously grouping them into similar themes. Then Jeff facilitated a session discussion and exploration of these themes, while skillfully weaving in his own comments and thoughts. This was a simple and effective technique for letting groups effectively explore the issues they want to explore.
Have an “MC of remote audience” who monitors the back-channel (usually a hashtagged Twitter feed) for audience questions and comments and communicates them to the local audience.
Find out who your brand champions are (specific customers who are enthusiastic evangelists for your products/services), stay in close touch with them, and be real nice to them!
Google “social media releases” to find out about how to write them – they’re not the same as traditional press releases. You can build social media releases on pitchengine or prweb.
What’s the most common technical problem for hybrid events? Not enough Internet bandwidth! Mary Ann Pierce told us that for several thousand people, she supplied dedicated 100MB service!
Here’s a great idea of Jeff Hurt’s to help to keep a balance between the needs of face-to-face and remote audiences during a session. Periodically, have the f2f audience hold five-minute discussions in small groups, while the speaker interacts directly with the remote audience!
Remember that the typical attention span of an attendee at a session is about ten minutes. Consider switching your mode of interaction frequently to hold attendee interest.
Don’t just stream events. Record the stream and make it available on demand. A lot more people will watch it that way.
That’s my list. If you were at EC10, feel free to add yours!
(This is the first of two posts about EventCamp 2010. This one contains my first impressions; tomorrow I’ll write about what I learned there.)
Yesterday I attended EventCamp 2010 (#ec10) in New York City, a remarkable one-day conference organized by a colorful group of folks who coalesced around the #eventprofs hashtag on Twitter. In one year, their online connection generated enough energy to fuel the hard work needed to put together and run a successful face-to-face and simultaneous online conference for progressive event professionals from all over the U.S. A big shoutout to Christina Coster, Jessica Levin, Mike McCurry, Mike McAllen, their volunteers, and all the other folks involved for all their hard work putting EventCamp 2010 together.
EC10 was billed as a hybrid conference. While I’ve used the term hybrid to refer to conferences that are a mixture of peer conference and traditional conference, the #eventprofs crew use it to describe a conference that’s both face-to-face and online. Some 70 of us came to NYC, with an unknown (to me currently) number virtually. Since even I can’t be in two places at once, I couldn’t experience what it was like for the remote audience, but I’m very interested in reports from members of the #eventprofs community who attended online.
One really cool thing that the EC10 organizers did was to stream live interviews with each sessions’ leaders right after the session ended. This gave the remote audience exclusive extra content, with even the opportunity to ask questions directly afterward (remote questions were also answered during the sessions). It was like TV award ceremonies, where the cameras go backstage and the TV viewers get content that the physical audience doesn’t. The interviewer was the remarkable Emelie Barta, who I’d recommend to anyone needing smart media-savvy company promotion. While I’m handing out kudos, all of us owe a big vote of thanks to Core Staging who donated their time and equipment to make it happen for both the live and virtual conference.
When I walked through the door of the charming Roger Smith Hotel, I had never met a single member of #eventprofs face-to-face. That changed in the next few hours as I fell into conversation with #eventprofs luminaries at Lily’s Bar, and later 22 of us took cabs for a meal at Piolas. Those little Twitter avatars I’d seen over the last few months were replaced by real live people. What fascinated me was how the spirit that I had felt in our online conversations came right through face-to-face. And no longer was our conversation restricted to 140 character tweets and blog posts.
I was really surprised by the professional diversity of the folks I met at EC10. Convention center managers, trade show presenters, hotel sales managers, social media consultants, trade booth designers, association staff, marketing professionals of every stripe, show service vendors, eco-event organizers, event management gurus, the list goes on. I didn’t meet anyone who seemed to be a direct competitor of anyone else – everyone had their own niche, servicing a unique set of needs. Perhaps this is a reflection of the fact that the events industry is HUGE ($100B per year), but it was cool to learning more about the field from every person I spoke to.
We had a full day of sessions on Saturday from 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. The program had several sets of simultaneous sessions; I chose sessions on creating a hybrid event, integrating social media on-site, creating an online conference community, and balancing the needs of face-to-face and remote audiences. The latter was my favorite, run by the skillful Jeff Hurt. Jeff showed himself to be a master of finding out the group’s needs and then leading a focused discussion that uncovered many useful insights. (And he even ended on time!) I also enjoyed Samuel J. Smith‘s fishbowl (a favorite group technique of mine) on the on-site integration of social media. But every session contained nuggets of useful ideas and information.
For me there were only a few minor negatives to the event.
I was disappointed that the conference program ended up having no free time slots for alternative sessions proposed by several conference attendees. I offered a couple of sessions related to Conferences That Work, but with worthy pre-announced sessions filling all the time we had, I didn’t get a chance to lead a session. (OTOH, there was widespread interest in my book, and I sold many copies, making my suitcase a lot lighter on the return journey to Vermont.)
The hotel’s wifi connection often buckled under the strain of live streaming and the highly connected attendees, which led to somewhat unpredictable Internet connectivity.
The clever unannounced lunchtime entertainment was entertaining, but took away time I would have preferred to spend on our energetic mid-day conversations.
Deirdre Breakenridge’s closing general session was, for me, the weakest. While a knowledgeable and likable speaker, she didn’t ask the audience what we wanted to hear about, and gave a prepared talk that didn’t really grab my interest. It was noticeable that, unlike other sessions, the #ec10 Twitter stream reflected very little of what she said.
After a high-energy but very enjoyable day, those of us who didn’t have to jet off somewhere else retired to Lily’s once more and from there, walked a block to Connolly’s where I greatly enjoyed dinner with Karen Levine, Jenise Fryatt (the famous @lyksumlikrish – my favorite Twitter name), and Traci Browne. And then I staggered off to bed…