What I’ve learned from running conferences solo

What I’ve learned from running conferences solo

26th November 2018 by sarahamp0

Running my first conference in July 2017, was a very stressful, emotional and rewarding experience. I had unrealistic expectations in October 2016, when I decided that Cork and counties outside of Dublin deserved their own digital marketing conference. I was going to have 1000 people attend the conference and thought the tickets would sell themselves, as digital marketing is becoming more and more important for small businesses- I was very naïve.

My first mistake – pre booking too many costly speakers before I knew the realistic ticket sales. I had to cut 2 international speakers to save the conference- which was my first mistake.
I wanted Amplify to help marketeers upskill and network, especially outside of Dublin, and I succeeded- I ran Cork’s first digital marketing conference with 250 attendees, of whom, 89% stating they ‘got what they wanted out of the conference’.

Since then, I have (on my own) organised 2 successful annual conferences and our first seminars in Limerick last month, we have had over 587 paid attendees with a solid plan for 2019 – 7 nationwide seminars and a bigger and better annual conference.

But none the less, I made many mistakes and continue to learn and grow – here is a candid list of things that I have learned:

Quality of Speakers Content

Ensure Speakers have specific areas of expertise so their presentation will be unique and relevant to the audience. Give them guidelines of what structure you want . Have a 60 second elevator pitch at the beginning for them to talk about themselves and their company. I am now making sure speakers give 5 ‘how to’ strategies, 3 real life case studies and 5 trends and tips. So the audience get real practical value from the talks, not just inspiration.

Engage with suitable sponsors well in advance!

I still have issues with this – find the right sponsor who can grow with you. For my first conference, I didn’t even secure a big sponsor to help fund the conference- which was a big defeat for me. I left it too late to engage with companies about sponsorship opportunities and most of them had their resources allocated for the year . To be honest I don’t think I approached them properly either at the beginning- it’s all about relationships. My last sponsor for the Limerick seminar got 17 sale leads from the room of 120, he gave a website UX checklist at the end of the seminar and impressed so many people, they wanted him to fix their website – success for both sides.

Stick to a solid pricing structure

Know what your  early bird price , discount prices for groups/students/start ups and late comers prices are and stick to it. A lot of tickets are sold in the final 3 weeks, so I find it best to finish the early bird 2 weeks before the event to help know your numbers and reduce night before ticket sales. For my last event I sold 10 tickets the day before.

If you fail to meet your target for early bird ticket sales, don’t panicked and extended it and extended it; as it will reflect poorly on the value of the conference. Create hype about the conference before early bird tickets even go on sale!

Serve hot lunches and have tea/coffee available at all times 

This might sound not as important as the other points, but it was the no.1 proposed change on our surveys.

Don’t underestimate the chance of sessions running over time- I now give 10 minutes between speaker sessions / workshops so we always finish on time – your attendees will appreciate it.

Have a large networking element to your event – whether it be after drinks, roundtables or an event app with list of attendees.

Pick the right channels to focus your efforts on promoting the event

Personally I wouldn’t run radio adverts again, it didn’t suit my type of business as the listenership isn’t your niche target audience- aside from that, I did get brand recognition which was needed for the first year of the conference

Market on LinkedIn & Twitter. I LOVE FACEBOOK- it’s my go to platform for social advertising and for a lot of my clients; but for this conference, LinkedIn and twitter sold most of the tickets.

Promote Speaker promo Videos and blogs , promote what they can learn from the conference and the location!

Use Olark or Tawkto to have a live chat with visitors on your website

I interact regularly  with visitors who have questions about suitability, content, speakers etc. and because I answered their queries live, we sell more tickets and show we aren’t robots.

Hire a PR Company! 

I still find it hard to get a main newspaper to publish one press release about the conference. I underestimate the work of PR agencies – they have contacts within the industry and know what hook to focus on in writing the attention grabbing press release

Hire a Tech/AV Team

For my first annual conference I had no av team, just the hotel staff and our we had issue after issue. Now I make sure we have a tech team throughout the whole day, back up laptops, all the cable connections anyone could need, and I finally bought my own lepel mics.

Make the event space your own

I haven’t implemented this yet but I am for 2019 investing in our own speaker couches, mics, and event props  for the stage to add more creativity and branding so really immerse themselves into the experience.

Ensure you have a strong network of relevant Promo Partners who will promote the conference on their social media and to their network of businesses in exchange for complimentary tickets.

In all, I cannot wait for 2019! I am so grateful to all our attendees, sponsors and promo partners for supporting us.

Thank you for reading this and hope it was of some help.

You can contact me on twitter anytime @sarahamplify

-Sarah (Founder)

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