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10 Tips from a Techie: Conference Edition

10 Tips from a Techie: Conference Edition

I’ve found most marketers agree that active involvement with industry events like conferences, meetups, hangouts, networking events, and Q&As can give your company a competitive advantage and set you apart as a contributor to the community.

Additionally, events present an opportunity to meet people who could make a lasting impact on your business and even change your life. In 2011, Chris Winfield wrote about our conferences being, “a great way for us to get to know new people and to build stronger relationships with clients, partners, and form new ones.”

Most importantly, leveraging event opportunities can position your company and its employees as industry thought leaders. This is why we host our BlueGlassX events, and why we send Blueglassers to speak at conferences around the world.

I don’t write this post as one of those thought leaders, and I’ve never had a role in actually organizing one of these events. So you might be asking, ““So what do you have to share?”

A Techie’s Point of View

Last year, I went to my first conference. I was doing video freelance work for a corporate event held at Disney, helping to set up the room and all of the equipment, run graphics and video, and break everything down at the end. I’m not saying I know all there is to know about event management or speaking, and I obviously haven’t attended many conferences. However, I’ve been a fly on the wall, and I’ve seen equipment break, schedules get thrown off, and miscommunication create problems that could have been completely avoided.

By following these recommendations, event organizers, speakers, and attendees can create events that run more smoothly and provide an optimal visitor experience.

Organizers

Running a large-scale corporate event is a challenging task, and I have the utmost respect for those who are organized enough to plan out multiple days of an event to the minute. A few simple steps can make all the difference in helping your event go as planned.

1. Have a timer on stage, in the presenter’s line of vision.
Whether the audience can see the timer or not is a matter of preference, but the speakers should have one or more timers they can see no matter where they are onstage. I’ve seen presenters accidentally go over the time they were allotted because they forgot to check the timer on their laptop.

2. Have a way to communicate with presenters while they are onstage.
Having some sort of live communication system with presenters is essential to having an event run smoothly. The conference I worked at Disney had two TVs at the front of the stage; they displayed the timer for the speaker, gave the speaker a five-minute wrap-up warning, and allowed us to send them messages (e.g., ““The next presenter is late. You can take five more minutes.”).

3. Provide free snacks and beverages throughout the day, even if meals are provided.
A little free caffeine and cookies can be the perfect fuel to re-boot your audience between meals. Fifteen minutes gives attendees a chance to stretch their legs and network, which could set your company apart as caring for its friends and clients. If your corporate event has multiple tracks, just putting out a quick snack between sessions could be just as effective.

4. Have someone live-blog and live-tweet your event.
It can be hard for people to wade through all the resources partially covering an event. If you have your own, attendees and other speakers will appreciate the recaps and be more likely to share them, giving your company even more visibility.

Speakers

I’ve never given a presentation for a corporate event before, but I’ve been one of the people left scrambling to reorganize when a speaker has thrown a monkey wrench into the work. Although a speaker doesn’t set out to mess up organizers’ plans, even innocent mistakes can lead to some pretty awkward moments — and potentially create tension for organizers, techies, other speakers, and attendees. A little careful preparation can help you avoid newbie mistakes.

5. Don’t go over your time.
If you don’t think you’ll get through your whole presentation in the time given, either modify it, or run through important points and provide a copy of the slides online for later reference. However, it’s best to give yourself extra time to avoid going over. I’ve also seen presenters talk about how much time they have left when they’re talking. It can be distracting. More polished presenters tend to not talk about their time. They just work within the time they have, regulating it as they go. I’m sure this is harder than experienced speakers make it look; I just know a polished presentation when I see it.

Event organizers work rigorously to prepare an event schedule. Even five extra minutes can throw off the rest of the day, especially if multiple speakers go over. Going over time results in another speaker having less time to speak, attendees having a shorter break, or the event running later than expected (and promised). Keep these things in mind when preparing your presentation.

6. Talk to the organizers before you present to ensure you have technical details down.
Make sure you know exactly how you are controlling the slides, how to work your microphone if you have one, when you should get wired up if you’ll be using a lapel mic, and how much time you have to present. I’ve seen remote controls for advancing presentation slides give speakers fits at events I’ve worked. None of the presenters were told where to point the clicker, so it worked about a third of the time they clicked it. The only speakers who didn’t have problems were the ones who came to us before they presented and asked what they could do to make sure the remote worked for them.

7. Contact corporate event organizers EARLY about giving a presentation.
If you are planning on pitching to speak at a conference in the upcoming year, you better get on it! A lot of conferences have a three-to-four-month lead time if you want to speak. Here’s a list of search and social conferences coming up in 2013.

Attendees

BlueGlassX in Tampa was the first corporate event I attended without working behind the scenes. You may think your job as an attendee is just to show up and learn things, but  it’s a prime opportunity to enhance your networking experience and keep you looking professional.

8. Live-tweet or live-blog the event you are attending.
These are some of the best ways to network and absorb a ton of information at a conference or event. I was live-tweeting at BlueGlassX, so it was my job to sit in all of the sessions, process the information, and tweet the greatest insights and quotes from speakers throughout the day. I gained more than a hundred followers in just two days, and the visibility I got from tweeting so much allowed me to network like crazy. It also forced me to pay attention, even if I was feeling a little sleepy after lunch or antsy at the end of the day.

9. Arrive to the sessions or events on time.
It can be really distracting for presenters and other attendees if you’re walking in late and setting up your station five minutes into a presentation. No matter how big the event, I know from past theater experience that the presenter’s eye will be drawn right to you.

10. Network and ask lots of questions.
If you’re attending a conference or corporate event, this is your time to learn. It can be easy to assume that your questions are stupid and that everyone else at the event already knows what you’re confused about. It’s been my observation that speakers actually like being asked questions about their presentations. It’s a great way to cut through awkwardness, and it’s rewarding for them that you want to know more about their area of expertise. If they’re speaking, they most likely enjoy teaching others. So cast aside your reservations and go after what you want to learn. After all, these events aren’t free.

Getting the most out of a corporate event takes dedication and a lot of hard work, but with the proper preparation, any event can be a great one.

What tips to do have for other event attendees, speakers, or organizers?

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Comments

  1. Great advice! Thank you for sharing. Voices.com is hosted our very first conference in Toronto, Ontario called VoiceWorld Toronto. We are primarily focusing on people that are looking to get started in the voice-over industry and to help renew the passion for seasoned professionals.

    I have found that blogging from the VoiceWorld Toronto website has helped to raise awareness for the conference and help people in the loop for what is excepted.

    • It’s my pleasure! That’s great. Blogging about conferences definitely raises awareness to people and clients following your company that you do conferences and corporate events. We have BlueGlassX Los Angeles coming up May 21 & 22 this year. Posts like this will remind people about it, just like your posts. :)

  2. Dan Leibson says:

    This advice is very timely for me, as I am going g to my first corporate conference (SMX West) on Tuesday. Now I plan on live tweeting and live bogging. Thanks!

    • That’s awesome, Dan! I hope you’re having a great time at SMX West and catching a lot of valuable information. :)

  3. Getting presenters to stick to the time allotted to them is tricky because the organizer has to do this in a way that doesn’t distract or rattle them. A lot of presenters lose track of the time and attempt to present too much information all at once.

    • Yes, that why I think it’s good to discuss it beforehand. If there’s a visible timer and a way for the organizers to communicate with the speaker during the presentation, with a monitor for example, they should inform the speaker of this before he or she gets on stage. That way it shouldn’t really throw the speaker too much if they see a message on the monitor.

      Speakers should also keep this in mind when they’re pulling together their presentations. Trimming down a presentation can avoid some awkward and stressful time issues during the conference.

  4. Great tips on what to do and what to look out for. I do think the right venue is really important and that you should not be worried about things going wrong. I have mine at conference facility cheltenham because its so easy to set up and have no problems.

    • Thanks! Having a good venue can definitely make a difference. However, it’s always good to go in not expecting, but being prepared for the worst. Then if things do go wrong at all, it’s no big deal and can be easily taken care of. :)