What makes a good conference?

27 05 2011

There’s no big mystery behind what makes a good event, but we know a lot of you simply don’t have the time to cut through the organizer’s marketing and decide if an event is a ‘must attend’ ‘must speak’ or ‘must avoid’. There are a few simple tricks that will help you cut through the fluff and get to the core of an event quickly.

Firstly, how much does it cost to attend? Not all the best events in the world cost a month’s salary, but you can get a good feel for how prestigious an event is by how much they charge.

Who attends? If you dig deep enough, most organizers provide delegate stats or at least something a little more substantial than the front page claim of ‘the number one event for CIOs!’. If your speaker is C-level and the event mostly receives director level delegates, you’re going to look rather silly.

Who covers it? Most events have some media presence (unless they’re held under Chatham House rules – an entirely different kettle of fish) and you will generally find details of previous coverage on the site. If not, check the media sponsors and partners for an idea of who will be there. Also check if sessions will be filmed and hosted online.

Who else is speaking? Often speakers won’t be announced until near the event, but checking the event’s twitter stream, looking at previous speakers and talking to the organiser will usually give you a good indication. Keep a particular eye out for competitors!

Who sponsors? Often the sponsors at an event give you a strong feel for who sees the most value in it. If the sponsors are all blue chip companies in your field there’s a good chance it’s a worthwhile event. If they’re smaller and quite specialized then you’ll be able to infer which field sees the most value in being at this event.

This is by no means a conclusive list, but once you’ve worked through this list you should have a much better feel for the conference and so be in a stronger position to decide whether to get involved. However, for those cases where it isn’t so clear cut, or if you simply don’t have the time and resource to spend investigating events, a specialist Speaker Bureau can help provide clear and concise advise to help you make the right decision.





Inaugural conferences – should you speak?

22 04 2011

In the current conference landscape there are a lot of new events emerging, catering to specific niches and addressing the latest topics and trends. Some are extensions of existing events (like D’s Dive into Mobile) and others are entirely new events.

However, not all of these events are of the same quality and it can be hard to decide which invitations for your CEO you accept, which you repurpose for one of your VPs or Directors and which you politely decline. Even when the organiser has successfully run a ‘rock star’ event for a number of years you can’t guarantee that your CEO will be amongst his peers on a highly visible platform.

We always recommend erring on the side of caution for inaugural events. Even if you’re hoping to get your speakers out to ‘cool’ and upcoming events, you need to be certain that the right speaker takes the stage. If the organiser asks for your CEO for their inaugural event but can’t name any confirmed speakers, give you proof points about who’ll show up and which media will cover the event, then the alarm bells should be ringing.

All conference producers have ‘pressing deadlines’ – brochures need to be printed, agendas finalized and so forth, but the truth is you can usually wait until the event fleshes out a little more before confirming your speaker. Try giving the organiser some time to confirm other senior speakers and take some time to check for any buzz around the event. If the organiser has only managed to name a few directors and managers as confirmed speakers politely decline to speak this year, but signal your interest for next year’s event (when there’ll be ample proof points for you to pore over).

Of course, there’ll always be those events that are simply guaranteed to succeed due to the strength of the organisers brand and those will be no brainers. But where there’s doubt, don’t be afraid to substitute a lower level speaker in the inaugural year to scope out the event… You can always send your CEO to steal the show next year.

Finally, where these opportunities are not clear-cut a trusted third party speaker bureau consultancy will be able to help evaluate events and invitations and recommend the best course of action.





The truth about keynotes: is it THE slot to have?

11 04 2010

Good question.  We often have clients come to us and tell us that they only want a keynote when the speak at a conference.  Fair enough.  A keynote is traditionally the premier slot at any event and for the most part I would agree that this is an excellent slot to have as it sets you apart from competitors and the rest of the speaker list.  But this shouldn’t be used a benchmark for what value you get out of speaking at a conference, or whether you should bother speaking at an event or not.

There are few observations I’d like to share with regard to keynotes….

Audiences are expecting a lot more from conferences these days.  Long gone are the days when delegates were happy to pay full price just to be talked at – they want interactivity, they want to ask questions, they want networking.  In short, they want value for money.   In this respect, keynotes are not also the showpiece of every event and in fact if the conference organisers do a good job at putting them together, panel discussions are much more engaging and exciting for audiences.  A panel full of competitors for example or even representatives of different parts of the industry value chain can really get sparks flying and you often learn more from these sessions then you ever would from the one-way pulpit preaching that a keynote can sometimes be.

Secondly, some conference organisers can be a bit sneaky and many now call any old stand-alone slot a keynote in order to attract higher-level execs to speak at their event.  This can lead to speakers being misled as when most people think of a keynote, they imagine themselves being the first speaker or having a slot that is somehow exclusive.  There can often be disappointment when they arrive and find that they are one of 20 ‘keynote’ speakers throughout the day. Do your research and ask penetrating questions of the organiser about the format and structure of the sessions.

Finally, a keynote slot won’t hide poor presentation skills or a poorly prepared presentation and in fact, with the great expectation that a keynote brings from the audience, it can be detrimental to your communications goals and brand image.  If you are fortunate enough to have secured an opening keynote slot at a great event – PREPARE!  Treat the whole thing like a Broadway musical and practice, practice, practice.  Invest the time and effort in making the content great and the speaker the best he or she can be. It’s a show folks, the audience wants to learn but also be entertained. Many companies that we work with do this exceptionally well and even have a whole internal team dedicated to the task. As a result their presentations are outstanding and they are constantly asked back to present or asked to new events on the back of others.

So step back and have a think about what you want to get out of a conference (sales leads, networking, raise brand profile, etc).  Granted, you don’t want to be stuck in a back room session on the afternoon of the last day of the event, but if the people you want to meet or influence are at the event, chances are you can still be memorable, achieve your objective and gain value from paticipation, regardless of whether you have a keynote slot or not.





Know your enemy

3 03 2010

In our previous post we mentioned being conspicuous by your absence – competitor analysis is a very important aspect of speaking that a lot of companies do very poorly. There are essentially two key elements to this: knowing what your competitors are doing at an event you are speaking at and how this will affect you and overall knowledge of your competitors presence at events throughout the year.

It’s an old cliché – but knowledge really is power. Research the details of your particular session and plan for every possible scenario; it’s not uncommon for a competitor to ask a difficult question from the floor or undermine you in their own session. Much like you would for a media briefing with a journalist, consider the tricky questions you may be asked and prepare a response, particularly if you’re speaking on a panel session as you may be open to questions from any number of stakeholders.

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You should also consider where on the agenda your competitor is speaking; if possible try to get a better speaking slot than them. Morning of the first day is best and the graveyard slot should be avoided (late afternoon of the final day). If you know the producer’s time-line and contact them early enough you have a greater chance to influence the planning of the agenda.

It’s also important to track your competitors’ presence at live events throughout the year. Once you know where they’re speaking, what they’re saying and even how much they’re spending at events you can better plan your own speaking strategy. The best way to do this is by enlisting the help of a specialist third-party who can research this information and build a picture of what your competitors are doing and (if they’re worth their salt) recommend a suitable and strategic course of action.





The year ahead: Recovery

3 02 2010

It’s been a tough year for everyone, although certainly some sectors have been hit harder than others and the conference industry has reflected this. We’ve seen new events in certain areas (particularly cloud computing events), but some of the old stalwarts have delayed, downsized or closed their doors entirely.

Taking all due care to knock on wood, cross our fingers and hang lucky horseshoes on our desks, we predict that growing confidence in market recovery will underpin many popular themes and ‘opportunity’ will start to outweigh ‘threat’ on conference agendas in 2010. We also hope to see some of the larger, higher quality events whose doors shut this past year return to form.

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It will be interesting to see if this bullish mood translates into increased delegate numbers in 2010, let us know what you think in the comments.