So you’re considering running a thought leadership style event, with guest speakers, hot ticket debate panels, and energetic social chatter?
It looks easy enough from an audience perspective. But organising such an event…well, let’s just say the journey is not to be taken lightly.
What’s the purpose of the event?
Think through the event purpose. Will the energy expended = good returns for your company/brand?
Is it to provide useful content for the community at large, or only your customers?
Is to generate interest in your product, or to position your company as a thought leader?
Or is it a combination of all of these?
The corollary of these questions is: who do you see as your target audience?
Is it subject leaders? Technical support people? School leaders? Or school finance officers?
Answering these kinds of questions about your audience is the first step in running a successful event.
Who will be the main speaker(s)?
There’s a huge temptation to go for big-name speakers in order to draw in the crowds.
However, apart from the high fees often charged by such people, I think there’s an additional, and possibly even more important, consideration: authority.
Everyone, especially teachers, is time-poor at the moment. Does anyone really want to spend a day, or even an hour, listening to people who clearly have no direct experience of what they’re talking about?
I’ll never forget once at a conference where the organisers, rather unfairly I thought, put on a talk by an unknown teacher at the same time as a keynote speech by a big name speaker.
The latter’s talk was on the challenges faced in running a school, and what to do about them – even though he had never run a school.
The unknown teacher’s talk was about how to teach computing to children with special educational needs.
That’s the one I attended, with no regrets: she was both engaging and well-informed.
Organising a panel event
It is a sad fact of life that no matter how brilliant your speakers, and how relevant their talks, it will all be for nought if the event is badly organised – or if it even looks badly organised.
For example, if there are two or more streams going on at the same time, with back-to-back talks, it’s frustrating if the end of one talk in stream A comes slightly after the start of another talk in Stream B.
This is not just a matter of timetabling: I’ve organised very complex conference timetables without any overlap at all (my weapon of choice is a simple spreadsheet).
It’s also a matter of discipline.
The people chairing the sessions need to be willing to end the session if, after several requests to wrap things up, the speaker fails to do so.
Obviously, though, you need to tell speakers and chairs in advance that this might have to happen!
The roles of the Chair
I have assumed that your sessions will have a chair as well as a speaker.
Apart from the fact that it’s polite to introduce the speaker, it’s useful to have an extra “body” in the room who can keep an eye on the chat area or Twitter stream, select people to ask questions and, if necessary, make frantic attempts to contact technical support behind the scenes.
Another consideration regarding time is whether you can run the event twice, at different times.
This should be possible if the event is an hour-long webinar.
If you have an international clientele, putting a webinar on at different times is, I think, essential – unless you think people in some parts of the world might be prepared to come along in the middle of the night!
In this respect, you will find the world clock useful.
Registration is important because it means you will be able to contact attendees afterwards, and perhaps persuade them to sign up for your company newsletter or your product catalogue.
Events are a great way to build your list.
It’s axiomatic that when you’re using technology, sooner or later something is going to go wrong.
Do not underestimate the need to have one or two people on standby to sort out issues like people not receiving the link to join the event, or a video not playing properly.
Should you charge for your event?
Obviously, there is a business cost to hosting an event.
Virtual events are cost-effective but lose the networking potential. In-person events create a buzz but can cost a lot to run.
Cost is symbolic of value. If you bring an event together that offers value your audience can’t get elsewhere then it’s OK to charge.
You could differentiate your ticket pricing with e.g. early bird prices, exclusive merchandise, post-event ebooks, and invite-only panels.
Publicise it well
There is some low-hanging fruit in the world of edtech, and you’d be silly not to pluck it.
I’m thinking in particular of educational bloggers who are often more than happy to publicise an event that looks potentially useful. Think about what you could offer them to make it easier for them to write about it.
For example, graphics and logos they can put on their website, speaker bios, and perhaps the opportunity to interview some speakers in advance.
If the event is a paid-for one, offer them a free media pass so they can attend and, hopefully, write about it or tweet about it during the event itself.
Social media for panel events
It’s easy enough to spin up a hashtag for the event, but unless you are expecting serious attendee numbers or President Obama is speaking, don’t hold your breath for big numbers.
Some events also have an associated Facebook group. Is that likely to be useful and cost-effective (bearing in mind the ongoing commitment to moderate it)?
What will you offer attendees after the conference?
A recording of the webinar, or recordings of all of the sessions?
The latter can be quite useful if the conference was organised into two or more streams, as most people can’t be in two places at once.
Finally, don’t forget that your company doesn’t necessarily have to do all the work. Once you know what you hope to achieve from running the event, you could hire an event organiser to get on with it.
But remember not to skimp on the research: caveat emptor – let the buyer beware!