A conference on conferences about conferences

Re: the title. If it’s not done, it probably will be soon.

I wrote a post over five years ago suggesting people put on their own conferences. As conferences and events get bigger, they end up putting off an awful lot of people who would have been the ones that went to the first ones. Once annual conferences hit four figures both in numbers and ticket prices, a new market for a conference in the same area opens up. Put on the right conference and it can be a new source of additional revenue or just something an audience was looking for.

Seriously, the cost of a single ticket to some conferences in Ireland is the seed money for putting on your own one. €1000 can go a long way in setting up a day long conference. €3000 would pretty much cover everything bar lunch for those going (tell em bring their own).

I then wrote this back in 2012 giving some advice on putting conferences together. The same holds true today.

Some other tips I’d like to add, please:

Be critical
Look at your potential lineup. Look at your ticket prices. If you only had €150 to spend at one conference this year, which one would it be? Would you go to your own? Would you really? That speaker has been at those other five conferences in the past two years, re-cycling that presentation again and again. They’re well known but would you pay some of your ticket to see that same talk for the sixth time? The venue is ok, it’s cheap but if you sat in that location for the whole day, would you dislike it? How are the acoustics? Is it a pain to actually get to or get parking at or get a taxi to? Is the food ok? Many people ignore the food in planning but a happy belly makes a happy conference goer. Is it to warm or too cold? Nothing worse for me than cold feet at a conference.

Tweets sell tickets.
Tweets about ticket sales drove more sales for the Measurement Conference as well as the Web Awards and Social Media Awards than any other source. However, I don’t use my mailing lists properly, so keep that in mind. Mailing lists can work extremely well for some demographics. Plan your tweets, plan them weeks ahead.


And now a huge chunk on speakers. You need good speakers to get a crowd but also wow the crowd so they’ll come back next year and tell their friends. Ways of sourcing speakers that work for me.

Speakers: Ask for recommendations.
The best way of finding speakers for a conference is to ask people you already know who they think is good. Ask in private as people sometimes find they publicly have to big up a buddy of theirs so in private people are more honest. If you’ve run previous conferences, ask your speakers who they know that would be good.

Speakers: Other conferences
I know Jack Murray in Media Contact goes to conferences to find new blood for his events. This is a good way of sourcing people. See them talk, know they can handle a crowd and then you can go up to them afterwards and ask them to come to yours. However, you don’t have to be at a conference to find good speakers. Look at various conferences (I look at UK mostly) and see their speaker list and their topics. Google their names and see if there is feedback online about their previous talks. There may even be video.

Speakers: LinkedIn
I use LinkedIn advanced search. Put in a job title of the type of speaker you want, choose current position, filter by second network connections, choose the country and there you go.


Speakers: Slide Share, Blogs
Good writing and presentation deck fu does mean good communications, now it might not mean verbal but the message and delivery is in their head, gets turned into slides or words. You want to see if untested speakers in particular are good at being on stage and keeping a crowd from getting distracted.

Run smaller events
The Measurement Monthly events I do (which aren’t really very monthly) are smaller events where someone can try out their presentation skills without feeling too intimidated or overwhelmed. Three speakers, 15 minutes max. (Holler if you want to talk at one, T&Cs apply)

Speakers: Go direct to companies
Companies are generally happy to send someone to represent them at a conference. It can be good for marketing and PR. A good business is well connected to speaking at conferences can make it even more connected. It should go without saying but don’t let it go without saying: No over-the-top pitches, giving good information is the best pitch of all. You could go and ask via the Comms team but I’ve found it better to ask someone you know in there and let them do the hunting. Comms people are paid to worry about impressions so might be slow or conservative in getting you a speaker.

Look the fuck after your speakers
They’re your temporary employees, they’re there to help you get bums on seats. They make presentations, travel and stress about their talk. Don’t ask them for their slides a week in advance, they’re finishing them about 20 minutes before their talk. That’s what I do. Your tech person or them can use a memory key and plug it in or for some speakers, use their own laptop. If they’re doing this gig for free then look after them with a good hotel and a good speakers meal the night before. Don’t sell tickets to people to attend the meal and turn it into feed the animals thing. Let them unwind and banter with each other. Bring some sponsors alright if you want.

Look the fuck after your sponsors
Keep them updated with progress and ticket sales. Send them analytics afterwards about the social media reach of the event. Get them to be there and meet and greet people. Having them at the check-in desk is good for them to meet lots of people and introduce themselves.

One Response to “A conference on conferences about conferences”

  1. Shameless plug….

    Just to echo the point about smaller events, starting your own meetup is a good low-risk way to rehearse arranging speakers, setting up tech, communicating to audiences etc. And Refresh Dublin is always looking for speakers, no experience necessary (we’d love to give people the opportunity to try out speaking to encourage sharing of knowledge) – just find @irishstu or @coryannj on Twitter.