Rules to Better Event Management
Organising an event is both rewarding and a lot of fun. There are a great number of things that you need to keep in mind though, when managing your event, whether it is a large conference, a user group or a once off launch of the latest product.
The below rules offer guidelines to help you create a professional, efficient and successful event that can be replicated and become a stable of your professional community. The rules are based on experience from community events, such as user groups, hackdays and conferences like DDD Melbourne, however, the rules can also be applied to commercial and large scale events.
The rules are split into three distinct sections:
1. Before the event
2. On the day
3. After the event
The rules assume that your event idea has been properly researched and you have an audience for the particular field and topic you are addressing.
This cannot be stressed enough. The venue for your event is the absolute most important item to get right and to get locked in.
An ideal venue should be addressing all of the following
- Be able to accommodate the desired amount of people
- Offer appropriate audio and visual equipment for the talks, such as microphones, projectors and power sources
- Is there Wi-Fi available? If not, what is your backup plan (if any)
- Be within budgetary constraints (see rule "Have you got an adequate budget")
Securing the venue as early as possible on the right date allows you to
- Book in speakers – They can lock in the engagement
- Announce the venue
- Determine capacity – You now know how many attendees you can accommodate
- Start promoting the event
- Determine what approximate budget is needed
Securing the right speakers for the topic of your event ensures that you attract the right people wanting to hear what your speakers have to say.
Depending on your level of ambition, you will have to get out early to book in your speakers. If you are wanting to have speakers that are seen as authorities in their field, you will have to approach them many months in advance. It is not uncommon to book in speakers 6-12 months away from your event. In general
- Research the speakers for the topics you want – including watching previous talks and finding feedback for each speaker
- Determine the number of speakers – This can be a range such as 8-10
- Book speakers early – Popular speakers are booked out well in advance
- Have backup speakers ready – cancellations can happen at any time
- This could be others speakers preparing more than one talk
- Inform speakers of your expectations and provide any required information early
- This includes PowerPoint templates, sponsor logos and any venue specific information
How are you going to have a successful event if no one shows up?
You will have to promote your event in any way that makes sense to your topic and approach. The most cost effective way is to use the large variety of online services that are available.
This is the best way to increase discoverability of your event. Meetup provides the following and more:
- Allows people to search and discover
- Allows people to join your group to get updates
- You can easily list your upcoming events and have people join them
- Comes with an automatic mailing list so you can send out announcements
In some circumstances it is worth setting up one or more accounts on social media for promoting and corresponding as the event identity. In technical circles it is especially popular to use Twitter as a way to create awareness about events.
Word of Mouth
Don't underestimate the power of one friend or colleague telling another. DDD Melbourne sold out in 10 hours with almost no promotion except for Twitter and word of mouth. If you are creating a recurring event, word of mouth becomes extremely important as past experiences flow through the grapevine.
Putting on events aren’t free.
You need to pay for some or all of these
- Speaker expenses
- Attendee giveaways
- Printing of agendas, signs etc.
To raise the money for paying for these and to make the event a success you will have to get sponsors on board. To do this, find out what out what it is you are selling to potential sponsors:
- Do they get their branding on your website?
- Can they set up a booth at the venue?
- Is their logo or other material included in event communication?
- Can you share attendees' details (where they have permitted it)?
Sponsorship doesn't always have to be about cool hard cash. It can also include catering, prizes, giveaways, goody bags and much more. There are many ways sponsors can help your event, and it is up to you to determine what benefits you get out of each.
A good idea is to have levels of sponsorship such as gold, silver and bronze. This gives sponsors an option of joining at the level they feel comfortable with. It also has the side effect of potentially being able to upsell the sponsorship, if you have defined your levels well.
When you first start planning your event, a lot of ideas are put on the table and many are great and would improve your event.
However, you need to have a budget outlined, which you can then use to inform these decisions. The budget is generally made up of the expected sponsorship, but can also include grants, event fees and other income streams.
The budget should be revised if circumstances change. This can be due to lack of sponsorship, more attendees than expected or any other factor that has an influence on the budget.
Managing the process of selling tickets can be very time consuming if you try and do it on your own.
A much better approach is to use a service like EventBrite. SSW uses EventBrite for all events, as it allows you to manage all aspects of ticketing
- Mailing lists
- Issuing more tickets
- And much more
Once you know which speakers you want and have established sponsorship and budget, you can start thinking about putting together an agenda.
It is another part of the event promotion and can have great influence on how your event is perceived and the type of audience you attract.
If you have multiple speakers for your event, it is a good idea to send a draft agenda to speakers and have them confirm their attendance and time. That way you can confidently publish the agenda with no further changes.
It is relatively easy to get volunteers for your event, but it is often something that is left until the last minute.
You need people to help you make everything happen. Unless you have attendees willing to pay lots of money for tickets, you won't have the luxury of paying staff to make the event happen.
Volunteers can come from many directions such as
- People interested in coming to the event and wanting to help out
- Other user groups where you yourself is volunteering
- Friends and colleagues
You can almost not have enough volunteers and with a bit of notice you shouldn't have any problems finding them.
If you are providing food and drinks for the attendees, this needs to be booked in and confirmed.
Use the following checklist to ensure you get catering right.
- Dietary requirements – Are there any specific requirements, such as vegetarian, gluten free, kosher, halal etc.?
- Is there adequate access to get the food and catering staff into the venue?
- Is there a designated area where food is served?
- Is the venue allowed to provide food for attendees?
Your event must have a registration area clearly signed and easily identifiable.
Further, your registration process should be efficient and simple. What has worked well at DDD Melbourne is
- Have enough people ready for registration first thing in the morning. More is more.
- Be able to find individual name tags and/or welcome packages quickly. Sorting alphabetically could be useful.
- Have a clear entry and exit so people aren't creating a bottleneck
- Use only electronic registration (apps and devices) where it improves the speed of the process.
Attendees will go to the registration area to register (if applicable) and they will go here to have any questions answered as well. A registration area should be
- Clearly visible – Put up adequate signage and announce where the area is
- Always manned – registration should have permanent staff there to help any attendees that require it at any time
- Be at a central location, but not in the way of where people are walking
A successful event happens when all the actors know what their role is.
Have a list of tasks and jobs ready, which you can then distribute among the volunteers on the day. Update the list as tasks are identified throughout the day and make sure there is only one designated person that is in charge of the list.
If each volunteer know exactly what their job is, there is less standing around, less overlap between tasks and less time wasted. And more time for the volunteers means they can enjoy more of the event.
Make sure your event is well signposted, so your attendees can find not only the venue, but also important areas within it.
Your signage could include the following
- Directions from nearby transport, such as train stations and bus stops
- Registration area
- The agenda for the day to inform attendees of what is next
- Nearest toilets
- Room numbers (if the venue doesn't have that already)
If you have offered sponsors booth space, make sure you have a designated area they can be set up in.
Sponsors are likely to want access to the venue before the event starts. Make sure you take this into account when you plan the day. Possibly even get some volunteers to help sponsors get ready if they need it.
Every event is prone to run over time for one or more segments of the day.
It is important to have one or more time keepers that makes sure speakers and breaks run to time. Even slipping 5 minutes a few times will mean a significant delay at the end of the day.
A few roles that might be worth assigning on the day are
- MC to entertain attendees when they are waiting as well as introducing key speakers
- Ushers in each room or location to get things started on time and wound up as well
In order to make your next event even better, you need to be able to collect feedback on the day from the people that were there.
There are a few options on how to collect the information.
- Use a feedback form such as the one from SSW
- Set up an online survey using services like TypeForm
The best time to get attendees to fill out the feedback form is before the last session of the event. This is when people are still reasonably engaged and the people wanting to leave early haven't left yet.
Sometimes it is also worth getting attendees to evaluate individual speakers. This can be done with something as simple as red, yellow and green tokens to indicate how well a speaker did after each talk, or you can set up an elaborate online rating system. It really depends on what you are trying to achieve and what information you need.
Your attendees have all gone home with a mental boat load of information and great insights. Now is the time to follow them up and remind them of other events, how to keep in touch with you and where to find more information.
This is not meant to be a big sales pitch necessarily, but you want to capitalize on your event being fresh in their mind.
Create a follow up strategy which could include
- Add attendees to CRM for later follow up and communication (if they have agreed to do so)
- Send out a thank you email with more information such as
Thank you for joining us for breakfast and for the gift of your most precious resource - your time.
It was really great to meet you today and have the chance to discuss .NET development with you.
As per today's presentations, here are some useful links to you:
1. SSW TV - Videos by developers, for developers: http://tv.ssw.com
2. Webinar series - DevSuperPowers: http://www.devsuperpowers.com
Looking forward to hearing from you soon.
After the event it is also critical that you analyse the feedback. Why else would you be gathering it?
Look for trends in the data and evaluate what you can do better next time and what you should possibly leave out.
Audience shots are great except when you don’t have a full house. In this case you should move people to be next to each other.