As a professional, you understand that attending conferences and conventions is definitely in your best interests. Conventions and conferences present unique opportunities for networking and education that you aren’t typically afforded in everyday life. This is old news.
What about hosting your own conference? More and more professionals of every stripe are choosing to “put on a show.” There are lots of reasons to do this. Perhaps you work in a niche industry and the bigger events don’t have enough programming to satisfy your needs. Maybe you’re simply tired of traveling and want the pros to come to you. The reasons behind starting up your “con” are important, sure, but even more important is that you make your “Con” good.
There are lots of big things that go into creating a fantastic convention or conference experience. Having great speakers (like Retail Doc Bob Phibbs recommends), making sure you’ve got the right sized space, ensuring lots of good food, good entertainment and comfortable accommodations—it’s all standard fare for a good convention. What about the rest of it? Here are some of the most important details that you need to see to if you want your convention or conference to be successful.
Most conventions or conferences have a schedule or “program of events” that they hand out along with the swag bags upon attendees arrivals. While they are appreciated (they provide attendees with an experience-specific souvenir, after all), they are also often bulky, heavy, and annoying to carry around. We’ve talked about the mobile trend before. Your conference program should be mobile too.
The easiest way to do this is to offer attendees an event app that they can download directly into their phones and tablets. Sure you could send them to your website, but that’s the “bulky” solution. An app, on the other hand, will allow attendees to track their schedules, set up alerts for “must see” panels or talks, etc. From a profit-based perspective, it is another avenue through which you can offer sponsored content and advertising.
Safety for Everyone
Geek-based conventions aren’t the only spaces in which women and minorities often feel like second-class citizens. Sexual harassment runs rampant at most conferences and conventions and it will likely happen at yours, in spite of your higher-minded intentions and goals. Even cons that have a “zero tolerance” policy still receive reports of creeper and scary behavior. Make sure that you have a safe space set up and a staff that has been properly trained to respond to reports of harassment, creeping and other untoward behaviors. Wired Magazine wrote a great piece on the importance of anti-harassment policies last summer. It’s definitely food for thought.
Bigger Isn’t Always Better
There are some convention boards that truly do believe that the bigger they are the better things will be. San Diego Comic Con and the Penny Arcade Expo are proof enough of that (PAX now has four events—they just added a show in Texas). There is, however, something to be said for smaller conventions and conferences. Smaller doesn’t mean less worthy. Smaller means more one-on-one time with movers and shakers and better chances to form real connections (as opposed to collecting as many business cards as possible). Plus, limiting attendance size makes your event more desirable—especially when it starts getting good press. This will help you increase ticket prices while still being able to deliver a fantastic event.
Time of Year
Summer is the typical “season” for conventions and conferences. This is usually because summer is an easier time for travel. There is definite merit to trying to set up your event in the summer, alongside other events of note. When you do this, though, you’re going to be competing against a lot of other events and that could work against your success. While you probably shouldn’t hold your event in the dead of winter (unless you can afford to have it somewhere warm—somewhere your audience can also afford to travel), having the event in the early spring or late fall is worth exploring. Off-season events have less competition and higher rates of attendance because they are novelties and breaks from the every day.
If you are thinking of holding a convention or conference, these are just a few of the things you need to consider to make sure that starting up this event is worth your while. Have you started up a successful industry event? What hurdles did you have to clear and how did you clear them?