I love conferences.
I really do.
I love them as a speaker.
I love them as an attendee.
And this year, I’ll be speaking at a bunch of them—Social Media Marketing World, Content Marketing World, Inbound, and others.
Having attended so many of these events in the past, I’ve see a whole lot of good, some not so good, and of course some ugly as well.
As someone who has an unusual affinity towards creating powerful events, I decided to write the following post of suggestions for these event organizers (not that they necessarily need my help) so as to possibly take what they’re already doing well, and then improve on it.
10 Ways Digital Marketing Conference Can Dramatically Improve their Events in 2016
- Social Media Set-Up Stations
I’ve never seen this one done before but I think it would be golden. When it comes to any digital conference, there are always a surprising number of attendees that have not set-up, much less experimented with, a multiplicity of social media platforms.
For example, Snapchat is all the rage, but I spoke with 30 businesses earlier this week that have never even considered (much less used) the medium. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a station at a conference like #SMMW where they could go, have someone help them set up an account, get a quick run-through on the tool, and then post their first “snap?” The same could be said for Instagram, Pinterest, Blab, and so many others.
Even better, many attendees would gladly volunteer to be the helpers in these types of Set-Up stations, leading to more networking, overall value, etc.
- Session Pre-Registration
Every year, most of the biggest conferences suffer from overflowing sessions that simply can’t accommodate all the attendees. For example, last year at Inbound this was such a big problem that attendees were leaving sessions early just to make it to their next one without being “locked out” of the room. Smartly, HubSpot has addressed this problem with session pre-registrations this year, and it’s a model I think every conference should embrace.
- Session Rating Systems
I have all types of thoughts on this one but it’s often times one of the biggest mistakes I see event organizers make. For example, what happens when a beginning content marketer accidently goes to a technical SEO class? Answer: nothing good.
Or someone that has been podcasting for 2 years goes to a session where the focus is about how to set up your podcast on iTunes.
One would argue that session titles and descriptions should cover this, but it’s simply not always the case. By adding a rating system of “beginner”, “intermediate” and “advanced”—organizers would eliminate 90% of the issues that come along with attending a session that is above or below your level.
- Get Keynotes that Actually Understand, Use, and can Teach about Digital Sales and Marketing
I have strong opinions on this one, and although not everyone will agree with my thoughts here, it remains a big issue for many events.
Fact is, conference organizers are often times attracted to big names with little value.
Granted, big names and celebrities can sell you tickets today, but what is their impact tomorrow?
When it goes bad, it becomes a situation of “The Conference that Cried Wolf” – eventually, people come to realize the big names are just that—names.
I’m not saying celebrities are a bad idea. Case in point, Joe Pulizzi brought in Kevin Spacey a few years ago to Content Marketing World and he discussed Content Marketing and Digital Media in a way I’d never previously imagined—and about 1500 of us left that room mesmerized with his performance.
But I’ve also seen celebrities bomb on stage, as they were obviously there to pick up a check and maybe get a few laughs, but not ultimately deliver value. (If you’ve attended any of these events, you know exactly who I’m talking about.)
When it comes down to it, attendees want to be fed. They want to feel like they were delivered value—value they can carry with them not just during the conference itself, but throughout their lives going forward. It’s a tall task, yes, but that’s why keynotes are called “keynotes.”
- Pack the Rooms
To me as a speaker, the most telling aspect as to whether or not I’m going to deliver a great versus average performance often times comes down to a factor most folks would never consider—the density of the room.
Look at it this way: If you attend a church that can hold 50 people in it, and 60 are there in attendance, it feels like a movement. But if you have a church that can hold 500 people, and 300 are there in attendance, the organization appears to be dying.
But the same principle holds true for any conference. Packed rooms lead to energy and electricity. Empty room lead to a feeling of separation and boredom.
This is why conference organizers should consider offering less tracks with more packed rooms (and pre-registration) versus more tracks with less packed rooms.
I call this phenomena “The Sardine Effect”—and it is very, very real.
- Integrate Music into Breakouts, Not just Keynotes
Music has a dramatic impact on the energy of a keynote. And for the most part, conferences (at least the bigger ones) have figured this out. But surprisingly, most haven’t figured it out when it comes to breakout sessions and smaller rooms.
But my question is why? Why don’t they attempt to create that same electricity in every session?
On a personal level, there have been many times when I’ve been teaching a breakout session, and because I’m the only one playing music in my room (in the 10 minutes before getting started) attendees in the hall will take notice and be drawn into my session, simply because they felt a stronger energy resonating from the room.
- Find a Way to Make it About Sales
I’ve talked about this one a lot but I know it’s going to be a major problem in 2016. Thousands of marketing peeps are going to go to marketing conference so as to get marketing ideas—only to get rejected by management and the Sales team when they get back to the office on Monday.
How do we solve this? There are two core things that need to happen:
- Sales tracks and sessions are critical
- Sales and Management teams should be attending these events. (In fact, if there are budgetary restrictions, these folks should go before the marketing team goes.)
The reason for this is simple—the only way digital marketing (Inbound, Social, Content, etc.) truly works is when EVERYONE is on board. And if they aren’t in attendance, the message will always get lost in translation, and action will inevitably be halted.
- If You’re Going to do Panels, Make them Awesome
For the most part, I think panels (multiple speakers on stage being interviewed) aren’t very good nor effective. The reason for this is pretty simple: Everyone is too nice.
The moderator is nice—asking nice questions and getting nice answers.
But people don’t want nice. What they want is serious discussion, debate, and dialogue.
Whenever I’ve been on a panel in the past, I’ve always told fellow panel members this statement before getting started:
“Folks, they’re not here to listen to us sing Kumbaya. So when I disagree with someone here, and it will happen, just know I still love you.” – this is always said with a smile, but you get the point.
This year, I’ll be interviewing Gary Vaynerchuk on the Social Media Marketing World keynote stage, and you can be rest assured there will be no kumbaya 😉
- Integrate Live Stream as much as possible
Live stream is just getting bigger and bigger and bigger. And I firmly believe its impact on business and culture is just getting started. That being said, digital marketing conferences should be on the cutting edge of this technology. They should be finding ways to integrate and facilitate the use of Persicope, Blab, Snapchat, etc. into their event, certainly as much as possible. Although I can’t say exactly how I’d do this myself, I can say if I had a big digital conference I would be pushing the envelope when it comes to experimenting with these platforms as an organizer.
- Fix the Stupid Wifi
I know, a guy can dream, right??
So there are my ten folks, but I’d love to hear yours. What do you agree and disagree with? What would you add to the list? I’d love to hear your thoughts.