How to plan your 2017 conference/workshop
Happy New Year! I hope you're here visiting because you're excited to kick off a year of connection, collaboration, and community through events.
On Tuesday, I woke up to a full inbox with fun requests for people who have finally decided that 2017 is the year of their first workshop or industry conference. Which always makes me so excited, because I know that there's nothing better than getting all your people together in a room and finding community in your wins and your struggles.
What I do always want to say to the people that want to host events is that they are LABOR intensive, TIME-consuming, and if you're unsure of your profit model, can be expensive.
If 2017 is your year of the event, here are some considerations you should take into account.
The reality is that there are only 12 months in a year, and most creative business owners vastly underestimate the amount of time it takes to plan and deliver an industry event.
I'm not saying you can't do a big conference with fewer than two months to plan, I just generally like getting sleep and not being so stressed out for two months that I can't even have a normal conversation (but if you hired me, I'd say "You only have two months to plan, so no, you cannot do an industry conference in two months.")
Events should be fun and they are inherently stressful, so I want to warn you about the amount of work you're taking on. My recommendation? Don't do an event without planning for it for at least 2 months and don't do a BIG event without planning for at least 4. Got a little more time? Here are my format recommendations:
Two - four months: A three-hour, evening event, that is more of a roundtable discussion than a content-packed seminar. I recommend 50 or fewer people, making it highly intimate, and ensure there is lots of white space for connecting, chatting, and networking.
Five - seven months: A one-day workshop/conference, with limited outside speakers (the more speakers, the more presentations you have to vet for relevancy, and the more travel itineraries you have to manage!), 100 - 150 attendees max. I don't recommend making it a multi-day event unless you're confident in your audience, because usually, for multi-day events, people will be traveling from elsewhere and you need at least 6-8 months to market an event people will travel to.
Eight - twelve months: Two-day conference, 100 - 350 attendees (or more, depending on your team size), using multiple speakers.
**Please note, these are not set-in-stone, simply recommendations based on my experience.
There are four categories of event planning that you'll have to head up when you decide to do your first event. They are:
Content and Theming
Pre-Registration and Communication
The final two may seem a bit similar, but the reality is that one is a very public customer-service based role, whereas the other one is more of a behind-the-scenes role.
These four areas of work within an event take place somewhat in phases, but most of them are ongoing process, from the time you have the "a-ha!" moment to host the event to the very end of event day.
Content: This is the biggest thing to think about before you even get into ticket prices and budgeting. Content is basically the value that you're providing to your audience, and what your entire marketing message will revolve around. It's important to have a really solid content plan so that you can adequately describe to your attendees what they'll get in return for the ticket price.
2) Workshop/session titles
3) Printed handouts or workbooks
4) Post-event videos, photos, or prompts
5) Any social media add-ons (like a private Facebook group or Slack channel)
(PS a content plan is also initially called your event agenda. The agenda should be somewhat firm to start with, but it's okay to slowly add new content as the weeks and months go on and you add speakers, sessions, and panelists.)
Marketing: Of course! Marketing!
I won't go super deep here, but marketing is essentially the plan to get people to actually come to your event.
Marketing for an event usually falls into three categories and can include:
1) Native marketing (ticket launches, blog posts, tweets, social media, email marketing, or anything done by your company to get the word out to your audience and your audience's audience)
2) Collaborative marketing (working with influencers, retail companies or online companies, or speakers to spread the word to their audiences)
3) PR (whether as a guest on podcasts or getting mentioned by traditional media)
There are TONS of other methods of marketing (including traditional advertising), but these are just some of the things to think about when you begin selling tickets for your event.
Also, it's important to note that most people won't need to use ALL the avenues of marketing, if you're only selling a small number of tickets, or you have a highly engaged audience.
Pre-Registration and Communication: This is the "customer service" aspect of your event, which includes setting up your ticketing website, sending emails to those who have signed up with information about the event, and being the go-to point person for emails, questions, and any public-facing troubleshooting issues. This team or person often also coordinates volunteers.
People vastly underestimate how much time this piece of the event takes, as with any big event, you can get stuck in your inbox answer angry (or excited!) emails all.day.every.day.
Event Delivery: The planning part is the part that people seem to understand the most, because most of us have done a dinner party or wedding at least once in our lives.
However, the most common reason that there are #eventfails or added stress the months and weeks leading up to your event is because a decision is made waaaaay early on in the planning process, but the "how" of the decision is never thought through.
I see this commonly at events where people who have attended events and conferences before say something like "we did this really cool thing and it was super easy and streamlined and doesn't need anything other than us letting people know about it!" to which I always respond by pouring myself a drink and take a deep breath before explaining that the whole job of a conference planner is to make sure that everything feels organic and natural and like "no one even knew that it had been planned!"
An example here is video livestreaming. I get many, many requests for livestreaming of events, because content can be repurposed into lead magnets. Which is a cool idea!
And all you need is a laptop and some internet and VOILA, livestream, right?
No way! Livestreaming is a costly process. You need to have an on-site network to handle the bandwidth that livestreaming takes up plus, a video operator and a dedicated staff member to monitor the livestream in case the platform goes down. And at the end, you have a ton of backend work like editing the resulting video that comes out from the livestream.
Which is totally doable at most events, but HOLY COW a big undertaking that comes from someone saying "we should do a livestream!"
An event that endures
At the end of the day, you have to prepare mentally and physically to take on an event of any size and scale. I always recommend a collaborative team be instituted at the outset, whether it's volunteers or paid team members, because events are hard to do alone. Plus, creating a lasting impact with an event can better your business and your position as a thought leader in your niche.