From revenue generation to brand and community building, there are plenty of reasons why organizations are jumping into the events space.
The media industry in particular has been putting together some of the most sought-after events in the past few years.
The New Yorker Festival launched 15 years ago and has become one of New York’s finest cultural events (over 20,000 ticket buyers in 2014). Since then, a bevy of major media brands have joined the fray: Wired, Fast Company, Huffington Post, Atlantic Media, TechCrunch… and the list goes on.
For media brands, the incentive is largely financial: With profits from advertising consistently falling, events provide a steady revenue stream to fill the gap.
As Cindy Gallop, entrepreneur and advertising consultant, told Digiday, “The economics of a conference are astounding – create something extraordinary, and people will pay anything to be there.”
And she means anything. Tickets to Wired magazine’s Wired by Design conference went for $4,500 per seat last year. According to the New York Times, larger events can generate several million dollars in revenue.
But money isn’t the only motivating factor. Take the tech industry. It may have its monoliths (think CES and SXSW Interactive), but smaller scale gatherings designed for networking and education populate the tech landscape from Montreal to Manila.
For example, Dynamic MTL was created as a side project at Dynamo, the web design agency where I work. My partner Max Kaplun and I started it with the purpose of helping foster Montreal’s growing digital industry. CreativeMornings, a popular breakfast lecture series founded by designer Tina Roth Eisenberg, has chapters around the world that are open and free to the public.
So what does it take to host a successful event? Here are a few best practices we’ve picked up from our peers and through our own experience.
The audience expects to benefit from the host organization’s expertise and network by having access to guests whose message will enhance their professional practice. By no means should events be used primarily as a marketing activity for organizers or for participants.
Likewise, it would be a mistake to select guests based only on popular demand. A number of participants at SXSW Interactive have complained about the panel selection voting process turning into a popularity contest.
Participants should know the host organization’s philosophy and trust the speakers to be relevant (think of the conferences you’d likely be ready to attend without even checking the line up: Wired by Design, New Yorker Festival…).
Whether an event is meant for a specific industry or aiming at the broader public, the goal is to foster a sense of community among participants – to make them feel part of a larger group through a shared experience.
While the talks themselves are probably an event’s most important asset, what happens before and after the microphone is switched on also counts. For instance, lounge spaces set up next to the main venue are a welcome addition that encourages participants to connect.
After the event, the community becomes immaterial and migrates online, so keeping in touch with the audience is a must. Behance’s 99U, for instance, launched an online magazine with a savvy mix of original content and insights taken from the conference panels.
Of course, the best way to create a sense of community is by producing a rich experience that will help make the event memorable. This might mean designing your venue a certain way or else playing with the format by using styles like Pecha Kucha or lightning talks.
Finally, one of the reasons TED conferences became so popular (aside from the organization’s killer online video strategy), is that the talks tend to elicit strong emotional responses – hilarity, sadness and outrage.
“Stories that trigger emotion are the ones that best inform, illuminate, inspire, and move people to action,” writes Carmine Gallo about TED talks in Harvard Business Review.
Events live and die by the quality of their content.
In his infamous talk at TEDx San Diego, Benjamin Bratton, associate professor of visual arts at the University of California, San Diego, criticized TED talks for becoming little more than “middlebrow megachurch infotainment.” Other events have neglected the quality of their talks and their selection of guests, putting the emphasis on networking instead.
The biggest mistake any event organizer could make is to undermine the audience by underserving them with lacklustre content.
People expect substantial, serious content – and this is especially true for industry-specific events. CreativeMornings does a great job fulfilling its mission to educate and inspire while helping foster local web communities in cities around the world.
And content doesn’t always have to be “feel-good,” by the way – some of the best talks I’ve heard were about failure.
So focus on providing informative and inspirational content, put integrity ahead of popularity when choosing speakers, do the unexpected and help attendees build connections. And most importantly, have fun!