This week Charles, Lisa, and Paige sit down and talk about things they see at events that could be avoided. Check out these tips below:
- Audio in your non – general session areas. A lot of times people are so focused on the main room. If you have a large group you need to get them into room fairly quickly and its difficult to do if you don’t have anything guiding them. Having audio in the hallways or spaces really helps to get them prepared. It’s not just audio though, we have a client put an LED sign in the spaces with the schedule so people know what is going on. You can loop sponsors and scheduling. There are so many opportunities when your audience isn’t sitting in their seats.
- Spending too much time and money on the wrong things. People spend thousands on the little trinkets at the table. Does anyone really care what brand it says on it. A hotel brand is probably good enough, using that money elsewhere can create a greater impact. Get sponsors to cover the cost of things.
- Buffet style food. It could work for some events but at an event, some of the largest donors go there later and they could not start the main program because they were still in line at the buffet. It pushed the whole program back. You need to think of timing and making sure everyone is fed.
- Content being ready too late. Many events that have been done year after year with a flow but I’ve realized a lot of times we are getting to the show and are just receiving the content two hours before going live. That gives everyone anxiety, you don’t have the time to check everything over and make sure it is going to run smoothly. You have to have that time.
- Not having a singular decision maker. A lot of times we work with a board of directors or a group of people, and it is great. However, when all of those people become the ultimate say, it gets really confusing for vendor relationships and everything. From a vendors perspective it’s important to know who we should listen to or talk to for changes and additions especially on site.
- Don’t hire vendors too late in the game. You might not get the a – team or vendors might not be able to work well together.
Tell us about you.
Like most people I ended up in meetings and events by accident. I was in my last semester of college and there was a test class called special events. A professor asked me to take it. I jumped in and never looked back. I had no idea this industry existed. I have been in events ever since. I’m so thankful I accidentally fell into this industry. I moved out west for a little while and got into doing events for an education company. Came back to Indiana and started working for the FFA 11 years ago.
Your events are big, tell us about the event.
We have several different events. FFA is a student led/based leadership organization. We have several different conferences we put on through out the year, our big one is the national FFA convention and expo held every hear in the late fall. Last year I was just shy of 70,000 people. The majority of those events are students. We host about 350+ events in a 3 1/2 day period.
Tell me about these events.
We host 9 general sessions the opening session we have to repeat 3 times to get all the attendees through! You get the kinks out by the third one 😉
We have leadership workshops, a large expo with about 450 exhibitors, we build a shopping mall. We have about 40 mall vendors. Career tours, service projects, and we different leadership networking events. And we have competitive events. We have a concert and three rodeos.
Do you ever gather everyone in one space at one time?
No not at one time. We come close during the opening session. 25,000-30,000 people.
How does National FFA get students to come to the event?
Each state has an FFA and there are several chapters within each state. A lot of students get to come because they are competing. For those not competing it depends on the local level. There are teachers that will bring a different set of students each year, some school comes every other year. It depends on their local program. Overall, our complete membership numbers: over 650,000 FFA members. Usually we end up with 10 % of our membership as our attendance. The more that our membership continues to grow, I see our convention attendees growing too.
Have you ever considered breaking it up? What has been your process to stay one event?
We have had that conversation quite a bit over the last several years. How big is too big? For us we have a couple of factors.
- Capacity and what a city can hold. We use multiple venues and we try to stay within a 50 mile radius so when the bus drivers are driving, they are not behind the wheel for more hours than what they can be.
- Experience: we want you to be able to walk through the expo and be able to go to a booth, or have a seat at a conference.
We take that into consideration each year.
We see a 1-2% increase in attendance each year. By the time we get about 5-7 years down the road, it will become a reality.
When you are doing this, how do you ensure safety of minors?
It is the first and foremost thing I think about every year. Large events are just not as safe as they used to be. We have an amazing partnership with all the government service entities. I couldn’t do this without their help. They are apart of my planning. They make sure the street is safe as well as where the events are.
What things do people need to think about for a large conference in a new city?
You have to ask what the working relationship is between police, fire, FBI etc and how they work together. The other thing, we created our own internal emergency safety plan. We have our own structure for our staff but also so we can keep ourselves safe as well as attendees.
How do you choose the right city?
We send an RFP, with a 5-10 year lead time. Last time we sent it out to 14 cities and it quickly got narrowed down to 3 cities. I have a committee that helps with the process. It takes several months to go through that.
You guys have had some big names.
Yes we have been so lucky! We try to get people right when they are on the cusp of becoming really big. We are a non profit and don’t have the pockets large corporations have. A lot of them love what the organization is and love being around the students so the artists have just as much fun as the students.
What tips do you give to planners?
I have two that I use:
- You have to build a good team around you. We feel like we have to do everything. We have to be the super hero, we make magic happen.
- Get involved in a local meeting planning association.
We are joined by the VP of the Inc 5000 Event Breana Murphy. Tell us about you!
I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years. I started in Marketing, I’ve worked in Media my entire career. I’ve worked in the corporate marketing department, and I grew up there, we put on varying types of events. We did roadshows, tours, pop up stores. I was there for 10 years. I worked for rolling stone and did stuff on the festival circuit. Then I ended up here as a freelancer. Was recruited by a friend of mine who worked in the industry and she needed someone to help produce the Inc 5000. This will be my 16th 5000 next year.
Tell us about the Inc 5000 event.
The Inc magazine is the premier magazine that services small business magazine. Every year we publish the Inc 5000 list, the fastest growing small businesses in America. It’s a three day event that celebrates their achievement. It’s not easy to make the list. The folks there are people really excited to come and celebrate their achievement and be recognized for their hard work. Its rooted in content. Everything about our event starts with the content and how we can better empower our audience and readers.
1 day pre conference
2 day conference
1 day gala event.
Tell us about the conference.
The attendees are people who have made the list. Business owners. The speakers are generally other founders. We try to put on the stage notable founders, Mark Cuban to Ben Chestnut, people who have had remarkable success. Or we also do teachers, people who are inspirational. Our audience is across the industry so we don’t cater to any specific industry.
How many attendees?
Just shy of 2000
Where is it?
We move and try to keep it in resort areas. We are in San Antonio this year, coming up it will be in Scottsdale, then Palm Springs.
When it comes to the event, tell us about your process.
There’s two parts, multiple actually. We have the logistics side and the content side. Last week I sat down with my editorial team and my programming team and we brainstormed who will be the big names, who will be interesting, who will make impact, who is relevant, we made a laundry list of people we’d like to go after. That’s on the content side. On the logistic side, the floral plan, anticipating if we have enough rooms, our setup how we like it, keep our sponsors in line.
We have a lot of return sponsors because we deliver a lot. We give them a lot of ROI on their investment. If they keep coming back we are doing something right.
Tell me about the design.
We redesign. Every year we try to inject something new. What we did this year that was successful and unique was a session in the round. We do concurrent sessions and gave the options of really small pointed conversations with business leaders. 30 minute topics with a maximum of 10 people per table. Then they switched and moved tables. Or they could do a breakout session.
It wasn’t just providing them with keynote, it’s interactive.
And that is probably the note we get back most. How can we provide more networking opportunities and that is something we strive to do. We do a kick off networking before our opening session. We do purposeful networking. We do an in depth survey to drill down the content pieces. They are there to be inspired and they want to meet other people.
It’s lonely to be an entrepreneur. You get them in a room it’s amazing they start solving each others problems.
How much does a company need to grow to make your list?
There’s not a set number, you have to be in business for at least 4 years and you have to have over a million in revenue. The growth percentage ranges. Some grow 3000%.
Do you include the room and other things with the ticket?
The ticket is just itself. The marketing department handles that. We have a room block, almost 800 room nights reserved. We have a portal where they can book and get a discounted rate. We do not arrange for travel or pay for hotel.
Tell me about when you are doing the coordination and working with hotel, are you negotiating directly with them?
I work with an organization that I connected with a few years ago. Hotels for Hope. They help us negotiate the room block. I work with them because my contact there is amazing and because the process of managing that block is hard and I have a small team. That process is made turnkey with working with them.
What do they do?
Part of their commission goes to a charitable organization.
When it comes to pricing your ticket, have you had to move it around?
It has stayed, we have separate consumer marketing team that handles that. The price has been pretty consistent year after year. We have to keep in mind inflation. The industry average is 10% i do my best to negotiate that. But food goes up by 10%.
Tell me more about your programming.
I have an executive producer, I’ve worked with her for six years. We sit down and do a draft agenda. We do a lot of planning with our editorial team. We look at who is making waves or has something new coming out, something that will be relevant and topical. We start with key names we want to put in and we try to round out the content and make sure we hit all the notes. Talk about money, company culture, human resources, economically, we empower them to grow their businesses.
Meeting Minds by Eidecom
What happens when your business merges and your conference grows 4x larger? Emma Bica, Event Marketing Manager for PeopleNet/Trimble talks us through her company’s event growth and how to work collaboratively with a new parent company.
Tell us about you and your background.
To set the stage I have worked PeopleNet/Trimble for 8 1/2 years. I was hired on as an intern when I was still in college and they had a marketing team of 2. They had a conference coming up for the customers that they were going to need help with, one was going to be out on maternity leave. I jumped in and saw part of the benefit of being an intern was getting to go to the Boca Raton Resort in Boca Raton. I started doing that and long story short, I’m still there, they haven’t gotten rid of me. Really grown threw my career, it’s been exciting to see things change. Our department is now 6 people.
I focus on trade shows and events. We attend in some form or fashion 80-90 trade shows a year. Were in the trucking industry, its heavily trade show oriented. I also manage our social media and do my organizational ninja data spreadsheet organization as well.
Can you give us a quick summary for what PeopleNet/Trimble does?
It is in the trucking space. We create the on board technology that goes inside the trucking plate. As you’re going down the road and you see the semi’s going by you, tip your hat to them. I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for this industry. It’s one that’s super easy to take for granted. We help to make their job easier and their businesses to run more efficiently.
Without this industry we wouldn’t have the clothes on our back it’s so easy to take for granted.
Yeah there are all these statistics that if all the truckers stopped for a day, the pharmacies wouldn’t get the medicine, hospitals wouldn’t have what they needed, there wouldn’t be milk at the grocery stores, or gas at the gas station. It’s one of those that is super easy to take for granted but we needed. They are working hard and there is a shortage because it’s’ a tough job to do.
Tell us about the event you had and the progression of it.
When I first started the user conference was about 400 people. It’s always been an annual user conference it’s really geared towards our customers. Heavy on education about our products and services as well as the industry as a whole. Having an expo hall for our partners and sponsors to be able too showcase what they can do for our customers, and our employees are there and available in one spot.
If we rewind to about 9 years ago to the first one I was involved with, in Boca Raton FL. We had about 420 people it was super exciting and super stressful. My boss and I did everything from bringing the projector into the room every morning and making sure they were set up, switching the signs in-between sessions everyday. Every little thing, we made sure it happened, we coordinated transportation for all our attendees.
It’s really grown and evolved over time, to skip over what I’m sure we will go over, we just finished an annual user conference it’s called The Insight User Conference, it’s with a sister company. There were 2200 people there. It’s a few more people involved. We have an event managing team that helps us do a lot of the work. I like to say we’ve grown up a bit, but it’s crazy to think about where we’ve come to where we are to where we’re going to go in the future.
Tell me more about the conference itself.
It’s about 3 days long, start on a Sunday evening and end on a Wednesday afternoon. We have over 350 educational sessions during that time. We have an expo hall with over 70 of our vendors to chat with our customers. We have what we call an insight lab a hands on place for our customers to dig into the software service and employees there to make sure its being used to the best of their ability. We also have a lot of fun.
Who’s attending your event?
It’s customers, its a really customer focused event. We want to bring them all together to have a lot of education on what is new, what the products and services we offer and we’ve been focusing on the industry. We have a lot of industry experts to talk about overall the transportation industry whats new, what’s coming up, what do they need to be aware of, tips and tricks, and best practices. We are getting more into business best practices. Things that don’t only apply to people in our industry. We are trying to expand our educational repertoire. We are going for a more holistic approach.
To people buy their own tickets, how does it work?
It’s a registration fee that covers food, beverage, and evening entertainment, as well as all the education, access to the expo hall. They just have to pay to get themselves their and their hotel and we cover the rest.
Tell us more about when you merged these events together.
Three years about in 2016. Leadership said it would be best. There’s some efficiencies you see, we were serving similar audiences. We were a month apart. When you look at it from a more logistical financial side it looked like it made sense for us to take these two conferences that were similar in nature and combine them into one to create a more powerful joint conference.
The planning began about a year and half before the conference started. In general these conferences are complex a lot of detail to put together. But now you have two planning teams who each had their own way of doing things. We’re located in two different offices, who’s best practices are you going to follow?
We couldn’t have done it without google drive. Our company had just migrated to google from outlook. I don’t know how we could have managed a budget and all these things without it.
How did you put the two together?
It’s been an evolution, and change is hard for anyone. We came up with messaging for our customers letting them know we were bringing these two conferences together and really focusing on the value that was going to bring them by not having to spend time out of the office two months in a row they could invest in sending more people there. They were going to have that value add of having one conference they could go to.
Did you have to change the cost of registration?
We did. We did some analysis and setting some bench marks. We were in similar places on somethings and some things we were a little off. The very first step to do if you are combining conferences is to do a state of the union. Where are you at? What are you charging for registration? Demographics? Content? Etc.
It’s got to be difficult.
It’s a learning process and communication is key. We had one way of doing it and they had a way of doing it and neither is right or wrong but their are different. How can you work together to find a new way to do it? Thats what we focused on, lets create something new. We’re not trying to make your conference better or our conference better but we’re trying to create something new and keeping the focus on the customer.
I always tried to think of the customer. Who is the end user of this conference? And whatever decision we make is to service them and what ever is in their best interest.
Did you have to go to your leadership because things weren’t turning out?
One of the things we learned, is there weren’t as many efficiencies that were long term generated. In the first year there were some created taking two conferences and combining them into one. What we’ve seen as we’ve gone, we have it as our user conference so we don’t have competition there. With 2 companies there are more companies as potential competitors which lessons our sponsorship revenue possibilities. That’s one of the big ways we are able to put on our conference is by sponsorship revenue that was something we saw as increasing or staying the same, but that’s been opposite of the case. From a budget standpoint we’ve been decreasing the amount of sponsorship revenue due to competitive concerns.
What is your strategy for the content during the breakouts?
Right now we’re really focusing on having the folks at the event to gain that content. I know being able to live stream during the conference or people to sign up for web versions is popular. To be candid it makes me a little nervous. We are dipping our toe in the water of picking some sessions that may serve a mass audience because we understand our customer is busy for them to take time out of their schedule, we do want to serve them. Right now we really focus on at the conference is where the content is. We do send it out as PDF forms of our presentations for our customers to have available for a month after. Also that content could get stale we don’t want it out there forever and ever.
Do you ever use celebrity power?
We have a handsome budget. The things that are super expensive have not been in our reach. But we figure out where we want to invest that money, maybe in a key note speaker. We try to have it with a purpose, we have a theme in our conference. You want someone who fits with that. Obviously big names are going to be a draw, people are going to be attracted to that. We don’t want to have someone random where our attendees are saying this person is cool but I don’t understand how it fits.
One of the things we focus on when looking for a keynote it doesn’t have to be someone who knows our industry. People don’t like when someone pretends they get what they do we’ve had speakers do that. It come’s across in an unsettling way. We want to know where you have come from. We want someone who is a master in their area. If they do that well enough our audience can pick the pieces that matter and how it can apply to them.
What other things for the event planners thinking of combining conferences?
We do not make any money off of our conferences. Never meant to be a revenue generating event. We charge a registration fee to only cover the cost. That is one important thing we were both on the same page about. The integrity of the event, this is for customers, we want to have a quality event but this is not a revenue stream for us. So what we are charging is just to cover the cost of food and entertainment and hopefully the rest can be covered by our sponsor revenue.
If you could give our audience a little bit of advice what would it be?
Embrace your inner organizational ninja and document and have data for things. As much as I love the emotional side of events things can’t continue or change if you don’t have any data to support. Decisions needing to be made need data, if you are going to present it to leadership or colleagues all they are going to see is you had a nice party the party went well. To help get some meat behind you do is to have the data behind you it will serve you well and help you to grow and see where you have grown.
The second piece of advice is being able to when you get to show time, let go and try to deal with things as they come. You prepare for months or years to get to show start and when you get there you don’t have time to make a decision in that moment you can’t put it off or send an email. You need to make a decision and move forward.
Meeting Minds By EideCom