Event Lessons Learned #1

Recently, people have begun asking why I don’t write more about my own specific experiences – anecdotes are what we all really learn from.  There isn’t a good excuse, frankly.  So without further ado, I start now. 🙂

I recently worked on an event that brought together C-level executives and founders to learn about and discuss company culture and how to preserve a productive and innovative environment as the company grows.  It featured 6 speakers and 2 panels, and most of the participants were not the same faces you see at every show.  Attendees came up to me saying they had some of the most intelligent discussions with attendees they’d ever had a conference.  Overall, a wonderful success!

But this does not mean there were not still mistakes made and lessons learned.  Here are 5 I walked away with:

1)  The Sun Moves…
Yes, the sun moves across the sky, for those who didn’t know.  We rented a beautiful room with floor to ceiling windows, and set it for the warm lighting we had in the morning.  Everything flowed along peachy-keen.  Some of the presentations were a little dim, due to lighting, but nothing too bad.  Then along came 12:30p.  The sun, by this point, had shifted from being behind our presentations to shining directly on the screen.  Ouch.  We had NO fall back plan when this happened, and the presentation was completely washed out.  By 2:00p, the sun had dropped low enough to be fine again, thankfully.  But in the future, if you rent a room with a lot of windows, think about where the sun will be throughout the day, and how you will block it for each presentation.

2)  Bulldog Clips Need a Place to Clip.
I have still not decided what my favorite type of badge holder is.  I know I will NEVER use pins.  A lot of people wear nice clothing – myself included – and do NOT want to pin something through it.  This ruins a lot of materials and is just unprofessional.  However, I am not a huge fan of lanyards because they are big and clunky and inevitably the name tag flips over to be blank.  “Print it double sided” people tell me – easier said than done, and twice as costly.  But I would like to go to Kinkos and test this, to see how close and nice I can get it.  That said, for this show I tried bulldog clips – my current favorite alternative.  The problem with these is that many people just don’t have a place to clip them – they end up on the hems of shirts or sleeves and are just not readable.  So, back to the drawing board on badges.

3)  Madonna Mics are Divas.
Madonna Mics – or those over the ear, in front of the mouth mics – are beautiful on stage.  The speakers can use both hands and get a lot more freedom with their presentation.  We started using one midway through the show and every speaker loved it.  But like any diva – their beauty on stage if matched by their difficulty backstage.  They take a minute or three to set up for each speaker, so leave buffer time when you use them, or rent two so one person can be set while another is onstage.  And they can get finicky – turning off if caught on clothing, losing reception if covered by too much clothing, etc.  I recommend having 1-2 on hand for speakers that prefer them, but be sure the speaker knows about these issues ahead of time, and that having a Madonna Mic, while giving them more mobility, does not mean they can jump around the stage.

4)  Size Doesn’t Matter.
Okay, it does, a little, but don’t think about it like that.  This was meant to be a smaller show, between 50 and 100 people.  As the show approached, I felt myself getting lackadaisical due to the smaller size; dropping the ball on marketing outreach and pre-planning.  This would be easy, I figured, I’m an old pro.  What really happened was that I almost made a number of amateur mistakes (thankfully, I got my butt in gear about 48 hours beforehand and recovered):  I almost forgot to set up at-the-door registration and sign-in signs, I almost forgot extra name badges, I almost didn’t get signs done in time, and my bag of supplies needed a last minute filling.  This mean that the day before the show was MUCH more stressful than it should have been for a show of this size.  140c tip: Don’t ever consider one show easier than another, even if everything suggests it will be.

5)  Roundtables Rock
They take up more space and limit your numbers, but if you can do it – set up round tables at your shows.  These facilitate discussion, give people a place to sit when they get coffee or snacks, and immediately form bonds between groups of attendees.  If possible, set up specific times in the day with guided round table discussions.  Depending on the final count for FailCon, I may try to do this myself.  It immediately makes a conference feel more intimate.

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