Event Planners – What Not To Forget On Event Day

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The list of last-minute items that always seem to be needed but are always left until last is nearly endless. From writing supplies to cords and tape to bottle water, the amount of little things is myriad. Over at Viktorix, Maggie Crowley typed a piece about her top six last-minute needs.

Her list of six is fantastic, but we thought of a few more that will help even the busiest of event planners.

Test The WiFi
There’s no greater frustration than wireless internet that works intermittently. While it’s expensive to supply high bandwidth connections to venues not already wired for it, taking the time to set up your wireless connection(s) to handle a crushing load of users will save tons of hassle.

Before you open the doors, test the coverage from multiple locations, then be sure to remind attendees to be courteous of others. There’s always that ONE torrenter…

Mark The Restrooms
No one likes to be asked over and over again where the restroom is, even if it’s part of their job as event staff. No attendee wants to have to ask where the bathrooms are either, so why not make big, overhead signs marking such or include them in important documentation when setting up an event?

It need not be prominent, but a simple layout with important rooms marked would be a great addition to any itinerary.

Start On Time
How many times have you heard: “we’re going to give the people that are just arriving a few minutes to get settled before we begin”? Every time we hear that phrase, we start to wonder two things: A) what does the event organizer have against the people that were hear early, and B) what’s the point of showing up on time if events always start late?

Keep track of the time and start on time. Your guests will thank you.

Assign Speaker Liaison
It’s annoying to show up as a conference speaker and not know where to go, it’s almost worse to be an organizer with no idea where your speakers are. To combat this, assign a person and place for speaker check-in. It need not be marked with a flag, but having an area that staff members can point people toward saves a lot of hassle.

Any other ideas?

How To Handle Price Changes

TinyStartupCamp, based in Portland, OR, has big ambitions. It wants to help anyone that wants to create a company, complete with a way to sell their product or service, in one short weekend. It’s aimed at beginners and the non-tech-savvy crowd. To help cover costs and make it a great event, they initially charged attendees over $100.

There’s nothing wrong with charging any amount of admission fee. If you believe your event is worth it, please charge that much. Unless your event is mostly altruistic, lowering your price may devalue your offering — or even force you to make a better one.

But in this case, founder Jason Glaspey discovered his admission fee wasn’t going to help him create a great conference if not enough people were willing or able to pay the money. So instead of simply canceling and moving on, Glaspey too the more direct route and lowered the price to $50.

It’s not that he doesn’t think his offering is worth far more, and it’s not that he was able to get a special price break on the venue or supplies, rather Glaspey’s TinyStartupCamp is altruistic in nature, so the more people they’re able to help, the bigger success the weekend will be.

Does this mean Glaspey may have to pay out of pocket for some stuff? Possibly.

Does it mean the instructors at TinyStartupCamp are VERY likely to be donating their time? You betcha.

Does it show that Glaspey values learning so highly that he’s willing to admit a failure instead of ignoring it until it’s too late? Heck yeah.

We have plenty of conferences about design, computers, business, social media and every other topic you can think of, but rare is the conference were everyone — attendee, coordinator and possibly presenters — are able to take away something too.

We definitely need more events like TinyStartupCamp.

How Could Marathon Pacers Help Event Planners?

In some non-super-competitive marathons, runners are met by a pacer at the 20-mile mark. They travel together the final six miles, and the pacer peels off to let their runner finish the final .2 on their own.

Most marathoners hit a wall just after twenty miles. Their bodies slow down, they feel far more tired than normal and their motivation to finish may temporarily leave them. But with a little help from a pacer, they regain their energy and complete the course.

Don’t most all-day or more events fill a bit like a marathon? Aren’t hours of learning and networking both mentally and physically exhausting? We bet they are, but we haven’t yet seen pacers to help weary attendees through the last hour of a weekend conference.

If we did, what would they look like?

Jeffrey Cufaude of Idea Architects had this idea first, so we’d like to offer a few suggestions that could help all of us.

(mental) Fitness Instructor
Yes, it seems terribly cheesy to bring in some high-energy athlete to bark at a bunch of people in dressy casual outfits, but there’s no reason that someone couldn’t help attendees regain some energy after a long day. Try a comedian.

Mini Happy Hour
For as long as we’ve been around large groups of professional people, Happy Hour has been a highlight. It’s a chance for everyone to let off some steam, have a good drink and not worry so much about their jobs. We bet even the anticipation of Happy Hour will bring positive feelings, so why not set up bars and offer drink tickets?

Buddy System
The end of events would be a great time to use the buddy system we wrote about earlier. Find a long-time attendee and pair them up with a newbie with instructions to discuss questions about the material or best practices. While many attendees will network like this without prompting, we bet more than a few people will appreciate the prompt.

What say you?

Does Twitter Use Increase Attendee Interaction?

Republica 2012 081

Back in pre social media and ubiquitous WiFi days, yours truly was one of the first students in his college classes to bring a laptop to lectures. After struggling for years with various note-taking “solutions” — all of which eventually required digitization — this was an attempt to make note taking a bit less troublesome.

Holy wow did it make a difference. I was able to look up terms using the built-in dictionary, compare notes from previous classes and didn’t have to worry about missing anything, as I could touch type. While I didn’t have ready access to the internet, I did occasionally have instant messaging capabilities with people in the same room, and used it to discuss ideas, poke fun, and generally carry on side conversations related to the course material.

Now it seems my experience over a decade ago has been proven to work for many people. According to Jeff Hurt, “It’s official! Research now shows that when people use Twitter during classes, they are more engaged and learn more.”

Studies like those referenced in Hurt’s blog make us wonder why so many people still ask that cell phones be turned off during presentations, event planners don’t deem IT important enough to spend money on and there are still such a small percentage of live Twitter users during conferences. Yes, it is surely important to pay attention to what’s happening on stage, but the real goal of a great speaker to is to get audience thinking, not just memorizing and analyzing later.

But getting people into the fold isn’t always easy. At our Gangplank office, we have a weekly brownbag featuring a different local industry leader every week. Talks run about 30 minutes, with another 15-20 for questions. To help those who can’t attend in person, Stephanie Liebold of Bold Avenue tweets summaries, retweets audience questions, and acts as an amplifier for great content.

Newbies can and do follow her example, giving the speakers on stage the exposure their content deserves and the interaction the information necessitates instead of next-day blog posts. Those uncomfortable with live tweeting can follow along until they are ready, and can jump into conversations at any time.

Good luck integrating Twitter into your next event. Let us know if you have any questions!

Will Passbook Change Event Ticketing?

Lamborghini Murcielago LP670-4 SV and Koenigsegg CCXR

For most of us, storing tickets online means the same thing: forwarding a PDF to our inbox. While it’s always a good idea to bring a paper copy, it feels especially wasteful to print out a ticket, have the PDF in your inbox on your phone, and then be checked off a list at the registration table.

The above process, while slow and hard to adjust on the fly, has been the way most events have done ticketing for decades. While we are looking to change that by incorporating your ticket, the check-in process and badge printing into an easily accessible QR code, this still a matter of where to store tickets for multiple events while not clogging your inbox with PDFs you only need once.

This problem, while not rampant, seems to be why Apple released released Passbook in iOS 6. Designed to hold frequently used award cards (Starbucks), coupons (Valpak) or event tickets (Eventbrite), Passbook does everything you’d think it should be able to do save one: it doesn’t store PDF tickets, requiring that apps integrate on a deeper level.

While Passbook doesn’t currently solve our original problem, there’s no question it will be useful to iOS 6 users, provided the work required for integration doesn’t overwhelm mobile app developers. Handy, right?

In theory, yes. We’ve used Passbook for a few events — though it took some Googling and then asking on Twitter to figure out how to send a ticket from the Eventbrite app to Passbook — and it sure does look pretty. Using it also makes sense if you’re a heavy iOS 6 user, but for the many non-iPhone owners, sticking with their current PDF ticket in their email inbox is a problem most of us don’t find bothersome enough to solve.

And as long as we can scan your QR code, we’re okay with that. For now.

Get Attendees To Care By Being Human

Jumping Over The 3rd Largest Pyramid In The World

When it comes to teaching businesses how to be more human, there’s no bigger name than Chris Brogan. While the idea that businesses — ya know, groups of humans — need help being themselves may seem a little absurd, one look at your typical corporation or even small business is proof that there’s often a disconnect between customers and employees.

Reasons for this are myriad, as it’s easy to get caught up in the how of business operation while forgetting the why. Because how can be measured (efficiency) and analyzed quite easily — yay spreadsheets — the why, the part that connects customers to your product, service and company using such mystical ideas like emotion, is a bit tougher to assign numbers to.

But explaining the why behind your event is not a complicated process. According to Brogan, all you need is this quick recipe for telling bigger stories:

Ingredients (Pick 2 or 3 of the following):
Connect with an emotion.
Share something useful.
Create a valuable resource.
Give without asking as often as possible.
Be brief and/or entertaining.

No problem, right?

Connect with an emotion
Is gratitude an emotion? How about hope? How about happiness? Whatever you’re looking to share/sell with/to your attendees, there’s an emotion attached to the problem it solves.

Share something useful
This means useful to them, not to you. 30 day demo versions of sponsor software doesn’t help your attendees all that much, while discounted, full versions might.

Create a valuable resource
Whether it’s a catalog of services available, a yearbook of sorts for attendees or a white paper explaining exactly how to do what your attendees really need, give them something they can take away and use.

Give without asking as often as possible
We know businesses need to make money, but they don’t need to receive payment every time they interact with customers. Sharing resources without asking for something in return creates trust and often leads to future sales and referrals.

Be brief and/or entertaining
Do not underestimate this. Don’t waste people’s time.

Time to create our own offer for EventDay’s official launch. Thanks, Chris!

What Are Your Conference Principles?

Open Space Technology

If you’re not reading Jeff Hurt’s posts over at Velvet Chainsaw’s Midcourse Corrections, you are missing out. Nearly every day I get a new post via RSS that makes us think about something new, see a way to improve, or even simply adjust our thinking past on others’ experiences.

One of last month’s posts caught our eye. In it, Hurt lays out four basic conference principles everyone should adopt. We’re not going to rehash them here, but will add to his starting points.

Schedules Don’t Require Back-To-Back-To-Back Sessions
Because events are time consuming and expensive, there’s an expectation to pack as much information as possible into every single minute of every single hour. Planners tend to forget that people like to converse with other attendees, discuss ideas brought up in sessions or even take a breather without having to skip yet another must-see block of time.

Remember to balance presentation with both passing and down time for attendees.

Be Mindful Of Technology
Every time a speaker asks the audience to turn off their cell phones, I cringe. While this makes sense in darkened auditoriums where light and sound are distracting to everyone, people checking their smartphones or posting quotes online during a presentation are GOOD things. If speakers are worried their audience isn’t listening, that’s on them to give a better presentation.

Be sure to educate your speakers on the techiness of your audience so they can best prepare their remarks.

Why Use Technology For Technology’s Sake?
Just last week I saw a Kinect-powered kiosk to be used at retail stores and select events. This kiosk requires patrons to wave at the screen when they see a deal they like, and then write down the code to later give to the cashier. While this certainly sounds fun the first time, do planners honestly expect their attendees to repeatedly check in with and wave at a screen? Oh, did I mention that a mobile app download is also “required” (for what, I’m not sure as nothing from the phone interacts with the kiosk)?

Technology as a gimmick only annoys people. Make sure the tech you’re using gives the attendee something useful.

Have a good week!

Will the new Surface make event tech simpler?

surface_05

Remember the days when only the toughest of business road warriors had smartphones? Coupled with their nine-ish pound, company-issued laptops, those guys and gals were easy to spot. One glance told us that they a) traveled a lot, b) relied heavily on technology to do their job, and c) rang up a lot of money in chiropractic and massage bills.

Even as Apple’s iPhones and iPads crept into popularity — giving everyone a chance to at least look like a well-seasoned business traveler — they never seemed to fit the corporate event attendee type. Far too many people still needed a laptop, tablet and smartphone to be able to get all of their work done in the way they were accustomed to doing it.

Hello, Microsoft Surface. While we’re not foolish enough to assume that the new Surface will do everything faster and better than the tablets already on the market, we do know that Microsoft creating a great tablet is good for anyone that loves to buy and use new tech.

Just a few weeks ago, we worked with Microsoft to launch Visual Studio in Seattle, and had a bevy of tablets at our disposal. Some were used as display screens, others were used as check-in stations, and even more were used as information kiosks. Problem was, we had to mix and match OSes and product models to be able to do everything we wanted the way it worked best for us, and the Surface’s seeming flexibility would make much of this a lot easier.

For instance, keyboards are always an issue at check in. While laptops definitely work, space and battery life are often a concern, so tablets with their small footprint make an ideal station. Provided that you have a full-size Bluetooth keyboard, which often takes up more usable space than any laptop would.

We’ve also seen wireless keyboards run out of batteries, lose connection unexpectedly, and disappear without a trace.

The new Surface seems to alleviate many of those problems, and we can’t wait to try them out. How would you use them?

Can Gamification Spice Up Your Events?

#Gamification is a convivial technology (slide #38 in my deck-in-progress)

There’s no question game mechanics can make the most mundane of tasks fun. Whether you’re tracking daily steps using FitBit, holding a scavenger hunt during an event or incentivizing attendees to visit as many booths as possible, there’s a place for gamification nearly everywhere.

We’re not saying you need to be gimmicky, but we are saying that awarding accomplishments along the way is likely to influence behavior more so than simply giving out a raffle prize at the end of the day. In a similar vein,, Ana Andjelic thinks loyalty programs without small rewards don’t work very well either. What’s the answer?

Create programs that you and your colleagues would appreciate. What do we mean by that?

End Guaranteed Raffle Prizes
You’re not going to get anyone to show up by randomly giving away an iPad. Instead of handing out tickets, allow attendees to increase their chances of winning by visiting booths, answers industry questions or providing useful feedback to other attendees. More interaction usually means happier attendees.

Include Big Vendor Giveaways In Popular Presentations
We have enough event shirts to clothe a small country, and none of them fit correctly, nor do they look all that great. Why companies think slapping logos on white tshirts will prompt customers to advertise them for free is beyond us. Instead, ask that vendors give out entries to one large prize and give away those prizes when all eyes on are on them — great value add (exposure) for participating vendors.

Incentivize Meeting People
Yes, it sounds cheesy, but treating networking opportunities like dating shows can help people spend a little bit more time meeting new people and a little less time talking to those they’re already familiar with. If they can’t see the benefit in doing this, devise a business card contest or digitally based way to track and reward the social butterflies. If even one person makes a fantastic connection they wouldn’t have previously, SUCCESS!

Now if only we could make code writing a bit more rewardable…

Old Favorites, New Thinking

Recipe

While growing up, my house had a specific order of operations when it came to learning how to cook. We’d start with the REALLY simple stuff like ramen, move on to the slightly more complicated — melting butter — macaroni and cheese, and then the ultimate boxed meal for many kids, those with kids and those who want to make something that kind of tastes like a meal but can be prepared in nowhere near the time, Hamburger Helper.

While we don’t eat Hamburger Helper nearly as much as we used to, there’s no doubt the idea behind such a product still looms large in our lives. Moira Edwards recently posted on SocialFish about how starter recipes are like tech in that they allow more of us to make almost-as-good recreations of meals too complicated or time consuming to create right now.

While many of us see tech like laptops, smartphone and tablets as tools not unlike screwdrivers or hammers, it’s important to remember that the ability to use software on these hardware devices is what we’re really after.

Who knows what you can create when you:

Combine existing web analytics with embedded video?
Say hello to LoopLogic.

Mix up WiFi, mobile devices and a cloud server?
EventDay says hi.

Use automated marketing tools to save your time for important, face-to-face encounters?
Infusionsoft is great for that.

Combine embedded video, with analytics, into mobile devices via a cloud server, all wrapped up with automated marketing tools that feed into a CRM?
By gosh, you could be running an entire small business, or an event, or your next community get together.

We’re certainly not saying that new tech should take a backseat to old favorites, but we believe that real business success happens when you stop thinking about the tools and start focusing on the end product.

Who knows, maybe you’ll create something even better than Lasagna Hamburger Helper (yum).