Putting together a conference

Been chatting to people of late about them running their own events, from conferences to awards shows, to annual days out. Depending on what kind of event you’re running, putting a conference together can cost from 8k to 15k, depending on the location, food and numbers of people. Venue rental and food are normally the biggest costs.

Might as well share some of the things I’ve learned (some at a stiff cost) about running conferences.

Headline sponsor
In terms of headline sponsor, try and have your headliner’s fee cover most of your infrastructural expenses. So venue, speakers, MC, etc. covered by the headline sponsor. If you also have other sponsors, their fee would go into these expenses too. Then ticket sales can pay for food and non-essential but nice-to-have items. Realex Payments, Bord Gais Energy, DoneDeal.ie, National College of Ireland have all been headliners at events and I would mostly have had working relationships with them so when working on ideas for events, I would have sounded them out in advance. Getting commitment from a headliner before announcing and spending on an event is quite soothing.

Ticket sales:
I see ticket sales as where you see the profit. In theory anyway! It just makes it easier for me to calculate costs and revenue when I see x tickets means y profit. With headline and possibly category (if an awards) sponsor, you pay for all the bits that you need to run your event with no frills and then the Y bit is for fun stuff.

You then add in frills when your ticket sales come in. 500 quid in ticket sales = you can now buy cupcakes and sweets. A further 1000 and you can get funkier lights instead of just the venue supplied lights. (Did this with the Web Awards last year, waste of money) 500 in sales for Measurement.ie allowed us to Livestream the event for example.

Have a list of what you “can’t do without” at the event and a list of what “you would like to have”. If you see ticket sales come in and everything in the “can’t do without” list has been covered, look at the “would like to have” list. Don’t go mad though as stuff you forgot about will occur and you will have to pay for that. (The sweet jars being nicked at the Social Media Awards last year ended up with me being fined a few hundred euros.) Ice cream trucks, bouncy castles and all of that are also great for PR for the next event.

Rick and his brolly

If you work with people you trust you don’t need to worry or check up on them. Rick O’Shea, Michelle McCormick, Ryan Whalley, Brian Greene, John Williams, Fran Hollywood are involved with most of my events, they turn up, do their thing, exchange nods with me and we’re away and fine. Aoife in the Mansion House is the same. “Usual?” “Yeah, usual”. People are the most important thing in your planning and if you have the right people in place, you can sleep the nights before the event.

Look after those people then. If the budget stretches, bring them out to dinner, get them good rooms in good hotels and remember to thank the shit out of them in front of others. (I always end up forgetting to thank someone so I have finally started writing my thank yous in advance)

Warm-up events
The Blog Awards always left me owing money to people but the experience allowed me to do the Web Awards and Social Media Awards. Running social media mini-events called Measure It! showed me there was an appetite for the Measurement.ie event. Run some other smaller events to see how well you work with your team and see how the public reacts to the events.

Give complimentary tickets to business partners, media and those that you can’t pay for the help but want to thank in some small way. While you see comped tickets as being free, if there’s food on the night, you are paying €12-€15 a head for them so you do still need to budget for “free” tickets.

Work the room
The Web Awards suffered last year from ticket sales and sponsors because I was too busy with the day job. This meant less fun things on the night. You have to work hard on social media, email and phonecalls. Remind without bothering about your event. Share the milestones (50 tickets sold, 100 submissions so far, two new sponsors) Every time we tweeted about Measurement.ie ticket sales, we got more ticket sales.

Hope that helps. I hope to run another event or two this year and add to the regular events stable next year too. If you want to be a headliner, you know where I am.

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