Get ready, the Autumn conference season is about to begin!

22 08 2011

September is almost upon us, with most people are coming back from their holidays with a renewed vigour – and conference organisers are no exception!

September is typically a very busy month in the conference world with organisers attacking their last bit of planning and marketing for their Autumn events, and starting their planning for their Spring 2012 events.

While it’s probably too late to pitch a speaker for most of the Autumn events, it never hurts to try and sometimes there are drop out slots to be filled, or slots left due to a conference producer being a little behind on their planning!

It’s also a great opportunity to look at early 2012 events and get in touch with the relevant organisers to ask about their timelines and whether they’ve started work on their agenda yet. Remember you should be looking about six months ahead if you want to target events.

For example, below are a few events that are putting their agendas together right now, so it’s an ideal time to get in touch:

Happy pitching!

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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.





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.





ad:tech – still pulling in the numbers

4 10 2010

I visited ad:tech last week and took a few laps of the exhibition and thought I’d quickly share my thoughts with you. As usual for a free exhibition the Olympia was rammed (as were the local pubs!); whilst a lot of the footfall will have been tire kickers and junior staffers sent to check out the vibe and the competition for their bosses. This is normally always the case with ‘free to attend’ events – it really dilutes the quality of the audience. The paid-for conference is one area of the event where the quality of the audience increases, and there was a very good line up of speakers this year.

The seminar sessions (that take place on the exhibition floor and again, are free to attend) were surprisingly well attended, with delegates pouring out the doors and a fairly impressive line-up of speakers compared to the usual free exhibition dregs; of course ad:tech also monitors delegate attendance and flow by scanning barcodes, helping speakers follow up with attendees.

However, there seemed to be less money being spent by exhibitors on average this year, with most resigned to the default white gazebo and a small stand; although many used their space creatively and came up with a nice gimmick or hook to create footfall.





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.