This past week, I attended #140conf in New York City, where some of the biggest names with the widest reach on Twitter came together to discuss the platform’s future.
Instead of recapping the event with a play-by-play, I’d rather share one key observation I made during the event that, I soon realized, applies to conferences as a whole:
Always deliver more in person than you deliver online.
More of what, you might ask?
Whether you’re a conference organizer, speaker or attendee, your goals may differ but the same rule applies: You always want to get more from the people you’re staring at than what they make available to you digitally.
But in order to do that, you first need to give more of yourself.
Web time is compartmentalized; face time is linear. Face time is worth more.
We have to earn the benefits that come with face time.
Here’s how you can do that.
10 Tips for Conference Organizers
- Promise attendees, speakers and sponsors one specific payoff; then deliver it.
- Start on time, stay on time, stop on time.
- Make it easy for attendees to network before, during and after the event.
- Don’t enforce your event’s brand at the expense of your audience’s experience.
- Nourish the attention spans of your attendees.
- Sponsors deserve better than being chained to display tables and ignored.
- Provide more value than the ticket price would suggest.
- Would you pay to attend your own event? If not, add value until you would.
- Be conscious of homogeneity; sexism, racism and cronyism damage when implied.
- Promoting your event doesn’t stop when the event itself stops.
That last point deserves some explanation.
Having organized several live events myself, I’m very aware that the core team of organizers is generally exhausted by the time the event is over. The last thing anyone wants to do talk about an event they’ve already been talking about for months.
But you don’t have to. Instead, assign one person from your promotions team to cultivate and curate the best of what other people are saying about your event. This includes:
- Finding the most revelatory blog post recaps from attendees
- Seeking out the best photos from the event
- Identifying the most important videos filmed at (or about) the event
- Interviewing the sponsors to obtain their immediate feedback
- Asking the speakers for a list of their favorite event sound bites
Then, the week after the event, post your curated summary of conference-based media on the event’s website and email it in a final e-blast summary to all sponsors and attendees.
Because the buzz surrounding your event will now be shrinking, just as your attendees have finished recuperating from their live experience. They need a reminder of who they just met and what they just learned. Plus, those who couldn’t attend this time around will need proof that your next conference is going to be a can’t-miss event.
And if you don’t do it now, everyone’s memory will turn to mush. (Trust me, without documentation, all live events quickly become either legends or lost weekends. And no one wants to pay top dollar only to immediately forget why you matter.)
10 Tips for Conference Speakers
- Stop repeating your bio; we can find that on our own.
- Don’t thank the organizers for inviting you; save that for the VIP room.
- Tell me a story. Data without context is just numbers.
- If your entire presentation consists of information I already know, you’ve failed.
- Ditto presentations comprised of things I could discover by Googling you.
- The auditorium is your bedroom. Dazzle us. We paid for it.
- Everyone in the room should want to hear you speak again.
- Always leave time for a Q&A.
- Don’t make your entire speech a Q&A; the audience paid to hear you, not itself.
- Leave us with an action item, so your revelations will live on beyond your exit.
- Bonus points if you rejoin the audience after your presentation; it reminds us you’re human.
10 Tips for Conference Attendees
- You paid to be there (with your money, time or both). Use it.
- Don’t come to sell; come to help.
- You’re not required to listen. If the stage is dry, seek wisdom in the gallery.
- Every conversation you have could change your life.
- Spend less time documenting the event than experiencing it.
- A speaker is more (or less) than a sound bite; anoint your saviors accordingly.
- Nobody wants to hear your pitch; they want to know why you matter.
- Identify one interesting thing about yourself; when in doubt, talk about that.
- Always make time for the after-party.
- Always leave the after-party before you can’t.
And one bonus tip for everyone:
Time Stops at Live Events
At least, it should.
Online, our attention is perpetually assailed by more information than we can process. As such, any interaction that lasts “too long” automatically starts to feel “wrong” because we feel compelled to look elsewhere for input.
At a live event, we have the luxury of turning off the endless stream of stimuli and really focusing on the human beings staring back at us. We can have one-on-one conversations without the obligatory multitasking.
For me, one of the high points of #140conf was a late-night conversation I had with C.C. Chapman and Matthew Ebel in C.C.’s suite at the Roger Smith Hotel. We talked about family, technology, business, theology, sex, money and the future — essentially, everything but Twitter. (Which, at a Twitter conference, is impressive.)
That’s not the kind of conversation that fits into 140 characters, or a blog post, or a series of emails.
That’s the kind of personal connection that makes all the digital work we do worthwhile. It reminds us that our machines connect us to complex humans with more to say to one another than we can ever squeeze into our momentary sampler platters of partial attention online.
And I have no idea what time it was when I left.
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