Business conferences have the potential to be dull. For those who have attended one in the past, that potential can turn into a mind-numbingly, knuckle-crackingly, watch-the-second-hand-trudge-around-the-clock reality.
However, some conferences get it right, generating buzz, interest, discussion and value to participants. Earlier in the year, mUmBRELLA, a leading media and marketing industry publication, held their first conference andf did just that (though for a publication that studies how media and PR succeed or fail to gain public interest, would you expect anything less?).
So, if your business is looking to host their own conference, here are 10 take-away lessons from Mumbrella360.
1. Create buzz
Promote your conference in the weeks leading up to it. mUmBRELLA was lucky, already having a subscribed audience through their daily eDM to spruik the event to. For your business, utilise all channels available to you.
2. Location, location, location
If you want to draw a crowd, location is pretty high on the list of priorities. Corporate retreats and cheaper venues in the ‘burbs might seem a good idea but people want convenience and comfort over novelty and a trek.
Hilton on George Street hosted Mumbrella360 but it’s not always important to be city central. So long as your venue is easy to find, has easy access to transport and is nearby to necessities such as convenience stores or newsagents, it’s in a good location.
3. Get the drawcards in
People’s attention spans are limited so get them in and keep them hooked with headliners. mUmBRELLA’s two-day event began with a keynote presentation by Richard Freudenstein, CEO of News Digital Media and The Australian, and concluded with ninemsn’s Joe Pollard, which sandwiched a bevy of other top media and marketing experts. The entire conference was moderated by Tim ‘Rosso’ Ross, comedian, former radio host and recent author, which kept the day fun and engaging.
4. Give options
Not every topic will be relevant to every participant at your conference. To keep the conference relevant to all, provide options for different interests. Attention and engagement will be higher and the takeaway value that much stronger.
Mumbrella360 featured a total of four ‘tracks’ or sessions running alongside one another so attendees could pick and choose a program to suit them.
5. Give the hosting business a face
It was impressive to see mUmBRELLA founder and editor Tim Burrowes as a constant presence at the event, facilitating and participating in sessions, as well as socialising with attendees in the foyer.
Giving the business a face allows your message to be more accessible and an approachable figurehead allows compliments, and (hopefully only few) complaints, to go direct to the source – invaluable information for the next event.
6. Let advertisers contribute
While it’s important to keep your brand front and centre, and to remain impartial and independent, more often than not advertisers and sponsors can actually contribute value to an event.
For example, at Mumbreall360, Yahoo7 pitched a coffee cart with free coffee for attendees and Eye Media enabled free Wi-Fi (with their brand as the login so users had to type it every time they reconnected to the internet throughout the day).
7. Provide the forum for conversation
One of the most phenomenal parts of Mumbrella360 was the animated discussion going on in Twitter Land, so much so that it became one of the top 10 trending topics in Australia on the day. By the afternoon, spammers had flooded the feed – and as those in social media know, once spambots pick up on a trending hashtag, that’s when you know you’re news.
What made this animated conversation possible was mUmBRELLA’s clear direction as to what the hashtags would be (in this case, #m360), which they expressly listed in the program. Rather than having Twitter users post individually, making for a disjointed topic conversation, users could easily tune in to the feed and contribute to the dialogue.
8. Encourage active participation and debate
Before every session began, facilitators would often pre-empt the discussion by actively encouraging participants to jump in with questions and not be afraid to disagree with speakers – a mantra which some journalists in the crowd certainly adopted. An open format made lively and engaging discussions possible.
9. Freebies never go astray
Goodie bags are standard at most conferences and the same applied to Mumbrella360 – upon registration, every guest was handed a tote filled with magazines, notepads and pens. These kinds of initiatives don’t go unnoticed and, with the right sponsors on board, won’t cost too much.
Or go the extra mile like Paul Borrud, CEO of Facebook Australia, who gave his audience at the CeBIT 2011 conference a pop quiz. For every right answer, he gave away a T-shirt. And the last question? The lucky right answer received an iPad with as much fanfare from Borrud as if he had just given another T-shirt away.
10. Don’t be too heavy
Light entertainment is great to break up heavier sessions and topics. Mumbrella360 facilitated Battle of the Media, with the competition spanning over the two days. The sessions involved a figurehead from different media channels – cinema, online, direct mail, television, magazine, outdoor, radio and newspaper – fighting for their medium to be crowned top dog by an audience SMS vote.
And while all the mediums gave impassioned and insightful arguments – such as Merrick Watts speaking for radio, “No other media can flog sh!t like radio” – News Ltd’s Campbell Reid for newspapers won out in the Battle of the Media finals.