This is not about how to throw a great party. That would definitely be a worthwhile topic as well, but the point of this post is to share some lessons on creating a great event focused on learning. Whether it is a conference, seminar, session or just about any other type of business event focused on learning - there are some great lessons I took from the Online Marketing Summit http://www.onlinemarketingsummit last week. These were not from a great session, however, but from the event itself and how it was put together. Aaron Kahlow and his team from Business Online did several things that made OMS an example worth paying attention to if you need to put together an event for your team or are trying to put on a successful industry event. Here are 6 key lessons that may help you:
- Have a host instead of an "introducer" - Anyone who attended the event was sure to get lots of Aaron-time, as he led many of the sessions himself and made it his mission to host the event. Though this was not always a good thing (like spending the first 10 minutes of our panel on powerpoint - something I doubt he would have wanted any of us to do had one of us been moderator), at the end of the day you had the feeling that there was a real person who really cared and was doing his best to make sure the event was useful for everyone.
- Create a great content archive - Learning is not just about what happens at an event but how easily accessible all the information is after the event. The plan from OMS was to have all presentations online, every session video recorded and available online, and generally producing a content archive from the event that would ensure that even if some attendees were stuck on conference calls during the event (um, like me) or had to choose one session over another, the archive of learning would still be available.
- Encourage 1 to 1 information sharing - During the day, there were long breaks planned into the schedule, and a unique roundtable style lunch where each table was focused on a particular "pain point" that attendees identified as important to them before the event. These topics were even included on the name badges, allowing attendees to most easily find someone else with a similar challenge to them and start useful informal conversations.
- Target communities where people are - OMS has its own online community and set of forums, which I have to admit I did log into but did not engage in much discussion on. I did, however, join the Facebook group early and managed to revisit it multiple times leading up the event only because I was already using Facebook. The conversation at the event with several people proved that this Facebook group was a key element in some people deciding to attend and for others, was a great way to connect with others.
- Focus on the questions - Many of the sessions throughout OMS were heavily made up of questions from the audience. Aside from engaging the audience in this format, it also showed some of the key issues and points that attendees were struggling with and helped panelists and other speakers to focus their responses on these issues. I believe it also gave attendees more of a voice at the event than the they usually have.
- Pay for real feedback - Every conference hands out survey forms at the end, and OMS did that too. But in addition to that, Aaron and the Business Online team hosted a second happy hour on the second day with the request that attendees come to share their real feedback in conversation about how they felt the event was and what could be better. Though it was a tough crowd (standing between people, free booze and socializing is a hard place to be), the feedback that came out of that session was far richer than I am sure most events get, and OMS will likely be much better for it.
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