I’ve attended a number of professional social media conferences in the past six months. Each delivered value in its own way, but each could also have done better. If you’re organizing a conference, or thinking about doing so, please consider this my feedback in advance:
1. Power Up
People who attend your social media confab are most likely heavy social media users, yes? To a person, they’ll want or need to live-tweet, live-blog, visit websites being discussed, take notes, manage email, file a story, take photos. Even the fiercest battery in the world won’t power their MacBook, Blackberry or Sure Shot for an entire day. Make sure that every attendee – not just press, or those who arrive early enough to sit near a wall – has access to power.
The 140TC conference at Skirball last September got it right. They provided power strips under every row of seats. Not only did this mean a grateful audience could stay connected all day long, it meant more people stayed in their seats for the panels and presentations, and fewer people crept out to find somewhere to charge up.
2. Pipe Down
If you need to have a private conversation during a speech or presentation, take it out of the room. When you’re standing in the back of the room, or just outside the (open) door, we can hear you. Unless we’re right up front, we can probably hear you better than we can hear whoever’s onstage speaking. Yes, even if you’re “whispering.” Not only are these sidebars disrespectful to whoever’s speaking, they’re incredibly annoying to those of us trying to pay attention to that person.
Inexplicably, conference organizers themselves seem to be the worst offenders. If your conversation really cannot wait until a break in the action, take it completely out of the room, and make sure to close the door behind you. How do you think it looks to those of us who have paid to attend your conference when you’re not even paying attention? If necessary, assign one or two of your volunteers to go around and politely ask people to stop chatting or take it elsewhere. Even if the people involved include you.
3. I Didn’t Catch Your Name
For meetings themed around social media, it’s incredible that conference organizers don’t do more to facilitate connections between attendees (again, 140TC is a happy exception). If it’s a Twitter-centric conference, how about including Twitter handles on the name badges unless the attendee requests otherwise? Many people use Twitter (for example) under a company name, nickname, or other alias. Instead of or in addition, include their website (see example at right) Give your attendees, many of whom may have met online but not in person, an easy way to recognize each other.
While you’re at it, make sure you have a way to print badges on the fly for walk-up registrants, to correct typos, replace lost or missing badges, etc.
Last, please provide a conference directory, with a list of those who registered, their Twitter (or preferred) ID, company and title, and email address (again, withholding any or all of that data at the request of the attendee during registration). This is a huge value proposition to those in attendance.
Perhaps paradoxically, I’m not a big fan of attendee lists being published online in advance. Sure, let us know the celebrities or social media superstars who will be speaking. But for security purposes, I don’t need the entire world to know my future travel plans.
4. They Call It Social Networking
I’d wager that a large chunk of conference attendees rank the networking aspect of the meeting as high on their reason for being there. For some, it’s the primary reason they’re there (amazing as your speaker lineup may be). Smart organizers such as those behind this month’s Gravity Summit build “networking breaks” into the schedule .
In addition to letting people stretch their legs, use the restroom, or check their voicemail, these breaks allow attendees to exercise their social butterfly without ignoring the panels and presentations you’ve worked so hard to put together.
5. We Want To See As Well As Hear
Unless your conference or breakout session is taking place in a room with terraced seating, and/or it’s being projected onto a video screen, make sure the speakers or panelists are on risers. I’d have thought this would be obvious, but it’s not. A recent breakout session I attended took place in a narrow but long room (perhaps 18 rows of chairs). The panelists were seated in the front of the room, but on the same level as the audience. No one much past the third row could actually see any of them, which meant we weren’t sure who was speaking at any given time. It also meant we couldn’t identify those with whom we might want to follow up afterwards. This was frustrating, not to mention somewhat unprofessional. Please invest the few extra rental dollars in risers for your panel seating.
That’s My Two Cents
These are some of the things I’d want the organizers of the next conference I attend to know. What have I left off the list? Anything with which you take exception? Please add your thoughts in the comments, and feel free to share this post with event planners you know.
Ricardo, I agree completely. Speaker bios – or a web page with links to the presentations – would be fantastic. Thank you for the comment!
Awesome name badges with Twitter ID’s printed on them would be great (not entirely necessary, but great nonetheless).
What I really like is the suggestion you offered to have volunteers or other organizers police the venue for chit-chat, asking offenders to please step outside. There’s nothing more annoying/inappropriate then when someone answers their phone during a presentation (I’ve seen/heard it happen one too many times).
As for everything else, I don’t think you’ve left anything out. I think you covered everything really well.
One suggestion I would make to the presenters/speakers, is to have a one-sheet bio or services sheet to distribute to the attendees. I think that would be really helpful in connecting them for follow up with all of those in attendance.
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