Our thoughts on IP Expo

4 11 2011
On the 20th October, we attended the 2011 edition of IP Expo, one of the UK’s largest and fastest growing IT infrastructure events, where some of the biggest names in IT converge annually.One of the biggest attractions of the day was the Google Apps Lab, which demonstrated to visitors how Google Apps helps teams to increase their productivity using real-time collaboration.A multitude of significant players from the IT sector attended, including Neil Crockett from Cisco and David King, CTO of Logica – but the most buzz surrounded one particular speaker: the co-founder of Apple, Steve Wozniak, and with the huge media focus and expression of public sadness surrounding Steve Jobs’ recent death, his presence was greatly anticipated.

Wozniak delivered a keynote in which he spoke about his early days at Apple, taking risks in technology, and Fusion-io, his latest gig. However, when delivered, Wozniak’s presentation came off sounding disappointingly like a sales pitch, rather than the inspirational speech that many were expecting. As we have pointed out several times over the last few years, its never a good idea to use a speaking opportunity as a platform for a sales pitch.





Dealing with tough questions from conference audiences

6 05 2011

This morning I came across this piece offering advice for answering tough questions at meetings and events and thought it was worth sharing as tips for dealing with tough questions from the floor at conferences or ambushes from your competitors.

This article offers great advice for ensuring you come over well when without with difficult questions, but doesn’t cover what we believe to be one of the most important steps – preparation. In many cases you will know the likely topics to be raised and can take the time to prepare some stock answers – whether it be making sure you have some helpful facts and figures to hand or just the company line on the issue. This is often overlooked as once you’ve planned your presentation and practiced in front of your mirror all evening it’s easy to forget about the Q&A and making sure you’re prepared for every possibility.

Unfortunately, preparation also has the pitfall of making your response seem prepared and insincere – it’s very important not to appear to be feeding someone a line. You must take the time to digest their question and appear interested. Points 1 and 2 of the linked article go some way to covering this, but it’s also important to pause before answering, helping you look like you’re contemplating the issue rather than towing the company line. Further to point 1, alongside not rushing to offer platitudes you should also be careful not to nod whilst listening to their question (particularly if you’re about to disagree with their opinion!). It’s a very tough line to walk, between being prepared to tackle tough questions and not appear to be fobbing people off with pre-prepared lines, but if you remember to take your time before responding and be prepared to adapt your responses for each question you’ll avoid any disasters.

As a final note, it’s very important to never get angry. Sometimes your competitor will ask an awkward question or make a quip from the show floor that’s solely designed to be inflammatory. It can be hard not to take this personally or see it as an attack, but it’s important not to let this get your back up – if you’re lucky enough to have a keen sense of humour and a quick mind, then quip back and swiftly move on. Otherwise, take the high ground and move the conversation on elsewhere.





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.





Virtual Conferences: Here to Stay?

18 05 2010

Like us you’ve probably noticed more and more ‘virtual events’ and online conferences cropping up, particularly in the web 2.0, social media and cloud sectors. Perhaps you’ve spoken at or attended one of these events or were wondering whether to include it amongst your targets for next year. Either way we’d like to share our two cents and hear your thoughts in the comments.

From a purely financial standpoint it’s clear why these events have evolved; production costs are vastly reduced, there’s no limit on delegate numbers and there’s a significant long tail effect following the conference as materials remain hosted online and social networking tools remain active. Virtual events also place fewer constraints on your time, as a speaker you can record your session when it’s convenient for you and delegates can view the sessions that interest them most in their preferred order; revisiting those they found most useful.

Many virtual events now have virtual networking lounges and various social media tools which stay active year long allowing you to chase long tail leads; in essence it’s the online version of a one-to-one event, or business ‘speed-dating’. Some end-users even prefer this as it’s very convenient and removes the face-to-face nature of ‘the sell’ and the pushy salesman in a cheap suit cornering you between conference sessions!

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However, the face to face nature and live networking is the primary reason many attend live events, and that of course is missing from a virtual event; they lack the live engagement and personal interaction that you get with a ‘real’ event. There is also a tendency to trade ‘attendance for attention’; while it’s a cost-effective way to reach a large number of your target audience, delegates are often distracted by things going on in their office so there is far less meaningful engagement. There is also no guarantee that the level of delegate that signed up is the one actually ‘attending’. Often a junior member of staff will ‘attend’ and gather necessary information to condense and present back to senior executives.

Clearly virtual events are continually improving, and some certainly rival the real world events they’re replacing, but we don’t believe they’re yet ready to take the mainstream. Virtual events may be a useful medium to get the due diligence for a product or service out of the way (case studies, track record, stats, service requirements, etc), but when it comes to closing a deal or making a sale, it still takes personal selling – networking just isn’t the same without a physical handshake and a business card to take home to your sales team.

We look forward to the day we can ‘jack in’ to a conference and feel the virtual warmth of someone’s hand (and the luke warm watered down coffee!), but until the technology is such that virtual events feel real and allow for face to face interaction we don’t believe they’ll be replacing any premium real world events.

Of course if you think we’re wrong let us know in the comments – we’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences of virtual events.





Measurement – an open call for your thoughts on measuring speaking programmes!

11 05 2010

We’ve been thinking a lot about measurement recently, the various things our clients want to know about their speaking campaigns and the things that we track internally. In our experience, just counting bums on seats is not really a decent measurement tool – there’s a plethora of useful information to collect from an events programme, but everyone is looking for something different and measurement is hard to enforce.

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Most people simply don’t have the time or the resource to collect and analyse the wealth of data potentially available in a speaking campaign, and this is where a specialist agency can help. Whether you’re trying to demonstrate the value of your conference speaking programme – or just deciding whether to speak at the same events next year, it’s necessary to be able to call on data outlining the value of your activity. Of course, depending on your goals, there are different aspects of your speaking campaigns you can track, such as sales leads from conference networking or how many decision-makers from your target group that you met; so this is our open call to you, our readers: what do you measure in your speaking campaigns? What do you wish you could measure?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the value you get from conference speaking and what’s important to you in terms of measurement and how you go about it.





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.





Quality over quantity – a targeted approach to running a speaker programme

19 02 2010

It always amazes us when we start a new year and look ahead to the expanse of conferences on our radar; every year without fail many well known organisations blindly speak at or sponsor the same events again and again. Often, seemingly, without having a clear idea of what they want to get out of the event or if it will meet their business goals.

By using this blanket ‘more is better’ approach these companies lose a great deal of money and resource; their frustrated spokespeople likely come back from poorly targeted conferences wondering why they travelled for two days and spent hours working on a slide deck to speak to 12 people who are not even in their target audience – worse if they suffered the same slog the previous year!

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This is why we believe it’s essential to re-assess your speaking goals constantly and to seek feedback from your spokespeople – how many people did they speak to, did they get any sales leads and was the event well run? The organisations that get this right start with a proper brief, do the necessary research and map out all the events they would like to speak at for the year, evaluating them against a set of criteria based on business goals and ROI.

If you don’t know the conference landscape well and haven’t got the experience with organisers to be able to map out the entire year in advance you should consider looking to an external specialist agency. The ability to pre-plan your strategy and ensure you focus on only the most relevant events will help target your message and decrease your costs.