There are countless reasons to host an event, a meetup, a workshop, a conference. You can rally people around a cause, gather your peers and clients in one place, use it as a marketing opportunity, raise corporate or personal brand awareness, among other reasons.
And people are using events to do just that. As a testament to their usefulness, just look around and you’re sure to find numerous local and international meetups & conferences happening about every topic imaginable.
Yet, very few are successful. Why?
Bad planning, lack of strategy, no clear goals.
If you’re planning a local meetup, creating an international conference, or hosting a secluded workshop, there are a number of things you MUST take into consideration during the planning stage. Creating an event is easy. Creating a PURPOSEFUL and SUCCESSFUL event is significantly harder and requires effort.
Moreover, if it’s your first event, it takes 5x more effort to get it right. How to find a first speaker when you have none lined up? How to promote the event and build trust when you’re running it for the first time?
It can feel like the loop you’re stuck in when seeking your first job – every vacancy asks for experience, but you need a job first to actually gain the experience.
But don’t let this scare you.
Fortunately for you, we have compiled an event organization strategy that works, with a couple of tools to help you along the way. How do we know that it works?
Here’s the result of our first event on March 15th:
So, here are the 5 steps to run your first successful event:
Step 1: WWW – WHAT, WHY & WHERE?
Identify the event objectives and goals
Start with identifying your event’s objectives. What’s the goal? Why are you creating this event?
The goals should be specific and measurable. The objectives are the plans and actions that you use to complete the goals you have decided. To clarify your goals, list important questions.
Here are some important questions before identifying the goals and objectives:
- What is your value proposition and to which audience? Are you targeting Tech guys, Digital Marketing, CRO, HRs or…?
- What are the key things you want the attendees to leave the event with?
- What kind of activities needed to reach the satisfaction of your attendees at the event?
- How exactly you will be measuring your success? What are your KPIs?
- What is your AMBITIONS GOAL? 2,000 participants? 1,000,000$ in ticket sales?
- How exactly will you benefit from hosting the event? Branding exposure or profit? (do not expect any profits for first year)
Write down the approximate agenda of the event on paper
At this stage, you don’t need a detailed agenda broken down by the hour, but rather you’re looking for a high-level understanding on what will happen. Answer these questions to start with:
- How many days will the event take? One day? Three Days? Or will it be a 4 hour meetup?
- What is the format of the event – keynote presentation, panel discussion, hands-on workshop?
- How many streams in parallel? Topic of every stream?
- How will networking be organized?
As a result, you get a high-level list like this:
ONE STREAM: 3 HANDS-ON WORKSHOPS;
STREAM A: KEYNOTES
- 10 keynote presentations, 30m each;
STREAM B: DIGITAL MARKETING
- 6 breakout sessions, 1h each with Q&A from the audience;
STREAM C: UX & DESIGN
- 6 breakout sessions, 1h each with Q&A from the audience;
STREAM D: INTERNATIONAL ECOMMERCE
- 2 breakout sessions, 1h each with Q&A from the audience;
- 4 panel discussions, 45m each with Q&A from the audience.
Set your event budget
You don’t yet know how much it costs to run the event. So there are only 2 right steps to do:
- Ask us for an estimate at [email protected].
- List all your planned activities in a spreadsheet to predict expenses.
It’s important to prepare a detailed budget in advance and make sure to review and update this budget throughout the event process.
You can use Google Spreadsheets to track your budget – it makes it easy for anyone that needs access to see a constantly current version of your budget.
The most common costs for an event to take into consideration are the following:
- Travel for speakers,
- Food & Drinks,
- Audio and Video Equipments,
- Event branding,
- Activities for Attendee experiences.
And don’t forget to always have a small emergency fund for unexpected expenses.
Determine a location for the event
Accessibility is one of the most important factors when choosing a venue for your event. Some key elements to decide:
- What venue functions do you need depending on the format you have chosen?
- Capacity and available rooms in case you are running several streams?
- What is the distance from public transportation and, if you’re expecting international attendees/speakers, the airport?
- Will guests be able to get to the event location without having any difficulties? Is there parking space close to the event area?
One of the most important factors is the capacity of the venue. What you must know is how many people you expect to attend. Make sure that you have an accurate estimate of the number of attendees, as this might directly limit your venue options.
You should know the room capacity of the venues. Will the attendees for each session comfortably fit into a room? Or will you need to split them into several rooms?
Taking notes of the names, email addresses, and phone numbers of the venue managers will be helpful to get the information you need during the research stage and will help answer your venue-related questions.
Build your social presence
Golden rule – the faster you go online – the better. Even if you don’t have a full agenda, have 0 speakers lined up and are unsure about the precise location, it’s nevertheless the right time to prepare:
- Landing page with main value proposition for speakers and participants (e.g. ecom360.io),
- Facebook page and event,
- Eventbrite page,
- Meetup.com event.
Be ready to rework your page several times and know that this is absolutely fine. When you first start – you are selling your event to speakers. Afterwards, you sell it to participants and at the end you are building trust for future events. Every step requires a slightly different value proposition.
For instance, speakers seek to connect with other great speakers. Attendees want to learn and network. And, building trust for future events can revolve around the successes of your previous event. Do your research and make sure your value proposition reflects the interests of your audience at each stage.
Step 2: WHO WILL BE SPEAKING?
It’s time to ensure you have the first keynote speakers to start promoting the event. The call-for-speakers has a snowball effect – it’s hard to get the first one, but, afterwards, the amount of options will grow quickly.
How to get your first speaker?
Start with friends and the network around you (clients, business partners, old connections). That’s how we got our first speaker from Amazon (even though he was ultimately unable to attend, his initial participation helped to attract the rest of the speakers).
As a first time event, you need to get renowned names on-board to make your conference attractive and more appealing for both participants and other speakers.
What to do in practice?
- Research similar conferences and make a database of all relevant speakers you find interesting.
- Prioritize the speakers (Higher and Lower priority) depending on your event format.
- Prepare your pitch – it should be very short and persuasive. After reading it, they should feel like it is your 10th event in a row and the speaker is very lucky to get an invite from you. Make it very personal – if their social network profile has Photography listed as a hobby, make a note of some scenic locations nearby your conference venue.
- Outreach to speakers via LinkedIn and Cold email (do not spend money on InMails, connect people instead).
- Fail, learn, repeat again from step 1. Be ready to rewrite your pitch several times and look for new speaker options every week.
IMPORTANT NOTE: you need to expect that 1-2 speakers may not show up at the end, need to have a PLAN B in mind.
Step 3: WHO WILL BE PAYING?
If you are not ready to invest yourself, attract sponsors. While it is very difficult to get good sponsorship options for the first event, it will be much easier for the second year!
Do not forget that sponsorship is not only about money, but also:
- Media mentions (e.g. free articles in Media in exchange to the free tickets),
- Potential partnerships with other conferences and barters,
- And at least discounts for stuff you need for your event in exchange for mentions during the event.
During your first event you do not have much bargaining power, so be prepared for creative financing solutions!
How to attract Sponsors for your event
To alleviate the financial burden of the event, finding sponsors and supporters is recommended.
First arrange a list of companies, organizations, and individuals who might be interested to sponsor your event.
The most likely and best fitting sponsors would be the ones that share a similar audience and which will see direct benefit to their company from participating in the event.
Identify what you can offer to the sponsors. It should be more than just displaying their logo or a few extra visits to their website.
For example, if you share a similar audience, you might provide them with a detailed data report, analytics and survey responses.
Most of the sponsors see your event as an advertising place for their company. They want to see numbers that forecast a successful event. Your offer can include a spreadsheet with data that shows the audience demographics, their engagement on social media, and so on.
You can provide multiple tier options. Tiered sponsor packages include a list of the options and what you will provide at each level.
Here are some things you can offer sponsors:
- Announcements on-stage,
- Speaking opportunities on the event,
- Brand Logo placements at the event,
- Mentions on social media,
- Provide information via Email campaigns,
- Opted-in user data,
- Coffee breaks / food coverage.
Get in touch with us at [email protected] and we’ll send you our sponsorship package template!
Step 4: WHO WILL BE ATTENDING?
Promote your event
First of all, make sure your website has all of the necessary event details. This is imperative to your success. It should be clear for attendees and participants alike what they’re signing up for and how will they benefit from it.
- Be active on social media
You can share the photos and details of the event on social media to attract more people. If you have hosted an event before, you can share attendee testimonials to gain the trust of future potential attendees. Sharing value-added content, such as articles diving deeper into the themes of the conference, with them will make them feel involved rather than just advertised to.
Whenever you mention your event, make sure you are including the event hashtag. Adding a hashtag helps stay on top of people’s minds.
- Event listing websites
You can share your event on event listing sites such as 10times, meetup, Eventbrite to gain more attraction from people who are interested to attend an event.
- Email marketing and Cold Email
Keep in touch with your email subscribers and attendees by sending regular emails or newsletters.
- Sell special tickets
You can offer different types of tickets for your potential attendees.
- Early bird tickets
These are discounted tickets for people who would like to buy in a couple of months in advance.
- Group tickets
You can provide a discount if the person wants to buy multiple tickets as a group. With this strategy, people would have more encouragement to invite someone they know.
Launch giveaways across all your social media channels. This way can provide you additional outreaching with people who would share your post.
You can offer a discount or free service to your attendees for every referral that they make.
People who weren’t able to make a purchase by visiting your site can be your potential target to advertise. You can get their attention again with display ads or with an email reminder.
- Media outreach
For larger-scale events, it’s good to have media partners. Publishing relevant articles on popular news sites can kindle interest in your event among people you might not otherwise reach. To interest media outlets in a partnership, you can offer them exclusive access to your event for coverage.
- Warm-up events
It is especially important for the first-time events. Build trust before your main event is happening by organizing high-quality free events as warm-ups before your main one. It’s a proven way to build hype around your main event + great ice-breaker.
So, what are the practical steps?
As soon as you have a great landing page + first speakers signed-up, that’s the signal to get your first participants! If your brand is not strong enough and after declaring your event to be publicly available there’s nobody signing-up (that’s how it usually happens!), then you need to take everything into your hands and:
- Build a CRM of potential visitors, your target audience:
- Spy on similar conferences and meetups,
- Look for local big companies you would want to attend,
- Extend your clients and partners a free invite to warm-up your relationship & have some guaranteed attendees.
- Find their contacts – invite in LinkedIn as a default option.
- Prepare your pitch for participants.
- Try standard advertising methods (good to try, but experience shows little to no ROI):
- Facebook Ads,
- PPC (AdWords, Bing),
- Banners in media outlets.
- Try better advertising methods:
- Personal Facebook Ads, i.e. boosted posts,
- Collaborate with influencers,
- Flyers in your target audience’s frequently visited locations,
- Physical letters to the offices of your target clients,
- Referral campaign (bought one ticket? Invite a friend and save),
- Partnerships with other conferences,
- Share databases for mailing campaigns,
- Social media mentions,
- Agree on bulk offers and ticket exchanges.
- Run a smart and creative outreach campaign. Like this.
- Fail, learn, repeat. Be ready to rewrite your pitch several times and look for new creative advertising methods every day.
It’s still not working? You’re not trying hard enough!
NOTE 1: Keep in mind, if your conference is for B2B, it takes more time to convert the client. This can be because the employee of a company needs to not only find out about your conference, but also confirm their participation with managers, agree on days off with HRs and only then buy the tickets!
NOTE 2: you can expect the following distribution of ticket sales: 30% of tickets sold during the early bird stage, 40% sold 1-3 weeks before the event and the other 30% are sold in-between the previous two.
Step 5: HOW TO ORGANIZE IT ALL?
You should have different people working on the Sales and Event Organization part. The organization should be on-going in parallel with your sales efforts. It usually includes the following points:
- Finalizing the detailed agenda,
- Day to day communication with speakers (when is the speech, format of presentation), accommodation details, help to finalize the topic etc.),
- Travel and accommodation arrangements for speakers,
- Food & drinks arrangement,
- Communication with venue manager,
- Booking performance and fun activities for participants engagement,
- Preparing promo materials for sponsors,
- Ensuring all deadlines are met: presentations for speakers, materials for sponsors, tech. details from performers,
- And many, many more!
At the end of the day, if you won’t deliver a 5-STAR EXPERIENCE for the participants and speakers, people won’t be interested in attending your next event. Make sure to make it PERFECT, especially for your first event.
2 helpful tools to stay on top of your event planning
To organize your event plan even better, follow our event planning checklist.
Also, to keep track of all your tasks for the event, you can use our trello board template.
Feel free to modify them to best suit your needs!
Step 6: POST-EVENT ACTIVITIES
Wait, the article’s about 5 steps & we’ve covered everything for creating a successful conference. What’s number 6?
Post-event activities are crucially important to ensure all your efforts get maximum exposure.
Some concluding activities you should take care of before your well-deserved vacation:
- “Thank you” letters to speakers,
- Satisfaction survey for participants,
- Sharing speaker presentations,
- Preparing event video highlights,
- Gathering all social mentions and social proof for the next event,
- Updating the webpage with post-event information,
- Opening waiting list for your next event,
- Keeping participants engaged with post-event email marketing,
- Post-event media coverage and review.
OKAY, IS THAT IT?
That’s it on a very high-level, but we did not mention small things like speaker-only dinner organization, social media management during the event, interviews with the speakers, after-party, and so on and on. Do not hesitate to get in touch at [email protected] with questions or if you’d like further details.
Creating a purposeful event can seem like a lot of work, but you will get as much out of it as you put in. By organizing it in a measurable and goal-oriented manner, you can expect to extract actionable insights that help inform your future strategies, be they related to further event organization, business development, or audience analysis.
The goal is to reach the right people, offer the right incentives, and do it at the right time. Efficiently taking care of the organisational tasks, will allow you to focus on getting the most value out of your event for both yourself and your attendees.
Scandiweb is the organizer of the international conference eCOM360. If you have any questions, are looking for further assistance, or have your own tips & processes to share, do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected].