Event producers frequently underestimate the power of their attendee list. You spend weeks designing a cohesive agenda, drawing the biggest names you can find to speak, recruiting powerful sponsors, and yet the one thing that seems to be out of your hand also gets the most feedback: who you had there.
It’s not just the amount of people that make a show (in fact, I’d argue quantity has little to do with it); it’s who those participants are. Where would you rather be: a room of 500 otherwise-unrelated “entrepreneurs,” or a targeted group of 50 funded founders currently active in your target industry?
That’s exactly what producer Brian Zisk and I think about when putting together the hit conferences the Future of Money & Technology Summit (Feb 28, 2011) and the SF MusicTech Summit (May 9, 2011). Mind you, the shows have now grown to over 500 and 800 attendees, respectively. But what makes them a success is not the numbers, but the specific type of people who attend. It is a targeted, driven, and intelligent group, with incredible businesses and stories ready to share.
1) Find The Right Partners – It’s easy to just say yes to every little mailing list and meetup group that asks to promote in exchange for free passes. Be sure to track sales through those groups (and notice just how little their contribution is.) What you really need to do is target large, active meetup groups, engaged and relevant mailing list, and industry-specific publications and request that they join you as media partners. By having their support and branding on the website, you further illustrate the legitimacy of your event to potential attendees, and through their networks you reach a targeted and relevant group of buyers. (For example, we are partnering with Eventbrite to offer readers 10% off the Future of Money & Technology. Take advantage of that here.
2) Create a Targeted VIP list – Plan to allow about 10-20% of your attendees (not counting speakers and sponsors) in at no cost, as VIP guests. This list should be highly targeted – not every blogger or investor on the planet, but local thought-leaders who are especially active in your industry. Those are the people other attendees want to meet, and as an act of thanks for the complimentary pass, they may let their network know they will be attending. For the Future of Money, some of our featured attendees include writers from Dow Jones, eMoney, and Bloomberg News, leading authors, and founders focussing on financial innovation.
3) Publicize Your Attendee List (at the right time.) – Eventbrite lets you make your attendee list public, if and when you choose. Now be careful before you do this; there are certainly events that attendees may not want to publicly say they are attending (invite-only, political rallies, etc.). But even if you have a career-safe event, be sure to pick the right time. Having a list of attendees will influence whether someone wants to sign-up: is the list noticeably short, or lacking influential names? Be sure to get your speakers, sponsors, and VIPs registered before you make the list public. You can find the list of Future of Money & Technology attendees at http://futureofmoney.eventbrite.com
4) Attend Relevant Events – By attending industry-related events, you show potential attendees that you stay aware of what’s going on, know the right places and people, and thus imply that you can bring the right crowd to your event as well. For example, while planning the Future of Money, Brian attended the SF Beta: Financial Innovation meetup and will be speaking at the SWIFT Operations Forum, to name a few.
5) Create a Safe and Proactive Environment –
While this won’t mean much for your first show, it will affect your future shows. For the SF MusicTech Summit and Future of Money & Technology Summit, we not only provide a lounge-like networking area for round table talks and coffee discussions, but we also work a venue that has a number of small side rooms and quiet nooks where private conversations or work can take place. We also draw a crowd that comes ready to cut through the bull-s**t and make deals happen. This sort of environment can arise when a show happens at predictable times throughout the year and can start to create a community of “regulars.” When designing your show, try to host it at regular intervals and personally invite back those attendees whom you feel added the most value.
So as you can see, the type of attendees you attract IS in your hands, a lot more than it may sometimes seem. And it is an important aspect of event planning often overlooked in favor of “get butts in seats.” Even if your event is smaller than expected, if you get high-quality attendees and business actually gets done, it will be an event to remember.