When you take your work offline and create a live event, getting people to attend can make or break you.
Stepping into the unknown and doing a live event is one of the toughest things you will ever do.
This article shares the harsh reality of putting on an event, it’s something that can take you to the edge, both mentally and physically. And if it’s perceived to be a failure, you’ll end up with more than just a bruised ego.
Let me define a live event:
– It’s something you create for others that they pay to attend
– It’s something that has a defined topic area
– It’s not a workshop for a small number of people
– It’s not a networking event, although networking has a role to play
– It has an over-riding, multi-faceted narrative, rather than being about the delivery of one message
– It has a build-up
It’s something where you set your sights on over 100 people spending a day together
The two most critical things to your success are:
1. Getting people to come
2. Getting people to come
I’m sharing this article as it’s also the topic for the August 29th You Are The Media Lunch Club. Whilst I would never consider myself an event impresario, I do have two annual conferences and three years of organising the regular You Are The Media Lunch Club under my belt, so I come at this from a place of personal experience.
Let Me Share Why
If you’re thinking about setting up that Eventbrite page but have never put together an event before…Stop! Don’t do anything until you read why it’s such a tough thing to do:
It’s difficult not to come across as spammy.
There’s nothing worse than being on the receiving end of a relentless round of emails and social posts with nothing else to say, other than talking about the speakers.
I’ll put my hand up – I do this and will be doing it again in 2020 but at least it’ll be via something that’s already well established i.e. this weekly email. If you have something to sell and there’s a clock ticking, you have to convince people, but you can and should find a way where there are benefits for your audience, beyond it being just a sales tactic for you.
The event cannot sit in isolation – you have to create an ecosystem around it.
When you don’t have anything to say apart from “you must come to this,” you go straight back to the point above, you become a ball of spam. Time and effort should go into making your activity about more than just selling. Curate and share content (your own and others’) around the main event – your blog, newsletter, social media feeds, audio and video content can tie into and amplify your event.
You get a return from the time you put in.
There are no short cuts or hacks. If you’re going to do the big occasion justice you have to give everything to it, particularly if it’s something you haven’t done before.
Time doesn’t constitute paying for Facebook ads or posting on LinkedIn every other day but kicking ‘the build it they will come’ mentality as far away from you as possible and really belting yourself in. Be present and share far and wide away from your own space, e.g. access other groups by, say, talking at a regional networking event, guest blogging, securing an interview on a complementary podcast or reaching out individually (i.e. not a mass email) and starting online conversations with specific people within your network.
Don’t be afraid of going niche.
Creating a generic, “business/any type of business” event only looks like the easy option at the start. In truth, it’s far tougher to appeal and attract attendees when you have a very loose, catch-all theme. These are events that are formulaic, have no hook, no heart and are too prevalent. A more zoomed in focus built around a niche interest is far more compelling. It’s something Matt Desmier explains in this You Are The Media Podcast.
When you look to do a lot of the work yourself, you stand a high chance of becoming exhausted, particularly if events aren’t what your main business is about. This is something I documented and had to face up to in the build-up to the first You Are The Media Conference in 2018 (read dealing with burnout). Although it’s difficult to admit to, you end up doing much better by recognising that you have to get other people to help out. You can’t do it all on your own.
It’s not just about how hard YOU will have to work.
You’ve decided to commit to something – that’s great – but as event organisation will invariably come on top of all your other everyday commitments, it’s not going to be just about you. The all-consuming nature of your undertaking will affect your family/relationship dynamics. For instance, the day after the 2018 conference, whilst messages of thanks and congratulations were coming in, I could do no more than spend the day asleep on the sofa, exhausted and oblivious to everything.
Build your event around the irreplaceable value you create by doing something live.
Or, don’t get distracted by the peripherals – goodie bags, special-offer, early bird tickets etc. In this age of easy access to any number of inspiring TED talks, you have to give people something they can’t access online and wouldn’t normally come across. YATM events offer attendees the opportunity to get up close to world-renowned speakers and, for instance, at for this year’s Conference, as well as lunch we had games at lunchtime and everyone closed the day with a G&T, wine or beer in their hand whilst watching the last speaker.
You can’t lie.
There’s no place to hide when it comes to putting on a live event. When you live life behind a screen you can manipulate or massage the truth, e.g. buying followers or telling everyone that the webinar was ‘sold out.’ If you tell people there are only a few tickets left and they arrive at a half-empty venue, you’re exposed. When it comes to putting on a live event, you have nowhere to hide, so you’d better be open about it.
Be relentless, without coming across as desperate.
So you need to sell tickets, that’s a given, but try to be creative about it. It’s all too easy to slip into car salesman mode, where every call to action is centred on getting people to buy. One idea is to get others to do the selling for you, e.g. encourage people who’ve already bought a ticket to share that fact with their networks. Find your allies among the media and encourage your speakers to share the fact that they’re speaking with their own networks, hashtagging your event whilst amplifying their own material. The answer rarely lies with just throwing more money at Facebook Ads.
Make sure you’re insured.
I know this is a more technical point, but contingency planning is vital. You never know when the ultimate spanner in the works may happen. From needing to claim, to being claimed against – the experience of the recent Boardmasters festival highlights the fact anyone can be vulnerable. Make sure you have the cover you need for the event you’re putting on.
It doesn’t stop with the build-up. Here’s a taster of issues that it’s vital to address on (or just before) the big day:
Test the AV before, not just on the day of the event.
One of the biggest mistakes I made at this year’s You Are The Media Conference was that I didn’t have a walk through with the AV team. Circulating a Word document running order only gets you so far, especially when there’s music, video and walking on in a rabbit suit to be co-ordinated. Having that all-important run-through is the biggest lesson I’ll be taking with me for the 2020 event.
Attendees are just as important as speakers.
Be a gracious, welcoming host. Your attendees are people who are giving up their time and money to be at your event. The worst thing you can do, in my opinion, is create a separation between you and your audience. “Thank you for coming along today,” goes a long way. Always look at your event from your audience’s point of view, e.g drinks in the bar at the end may be a release for you, a chance to let your hair down, but attendees may have to leave quite soon after the last speaker finishes and so may only have time for a quick catch up in the bar. So, rather than focusing on free drinks at the end, maybe you should be giving more consideration to how you can add value to the experience at lunchtime?
Look after people.
Being attentive, anticipating and responding to others’ needs is of prime importance. Whether that’s giving people who’ve travelled a long way to attend somewhere to store their bags or ensuring you meet all dietary requirements with equally tasty food, your event should be all about them, not feeding your ego.
Getting people to come to your event is the biggest challenge you face. Surrounding that there’s a myriad of reasons why putting on a gig is a tough gig that’ll test you to the limit.
You have to make a return otherwise your event is, at best, a self-indulgent and expensive pastime.
That said, it’s not just about clearing the inevitable hurdles and overcoming challenges. If you pull it off you probably won’t feel you got everything right but it could still very well be the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done.
In time, your event can become a fixture in someone else’s calendar. It’s a pretty powerful place to be – having people join you in the space you’ve created for them.