Try to keep these people engaged (140 Characters Conference by David Berkowitz via Flickr)
Today's Social Media Insider, originally published in MediaPost
In May and June, I participated in 13 events
as a moderator (six), panelist (four), and featured or keynote
presenter (three). They weren't evenly dispersed; May brought a stretch
of four events in two and a half days, while June had a span of three
events in three cities within 48 hours. It was both thrilling and
tiring, and I'm glad I get to return to the day job for a while.
the way, I came up with a few thoughts on what can make events even
better for all participants going forward. Some organizers have a real
knack for this; Jeff Pulver in particular deserves a lot of credit for
his thoughtful considerations that he incorporated into his 140 Characters Conference.
Ultimately, participating in so many events spanning a range of topics
mostly around social media topics gives me a way to cross-pollinate
some of the best of what I've seen. Here's what can be done:
- Mix it up.
A number of events suffer from panel syndrome. When you have a large
number of panels one after the other, they all start to sound alike.
Get some solo speakers, even for short presentations as interludes.
When you have a panel, also request speakers sit in the order they're
listed in on the screen. If someone's a minute late to a session or
distracted with an email during introductions, it's impossible to tell
who's who without that arrangement. It's even harder for panels with
four or five white males. As one of them, I can tell you from the back
of the room, we all do look alike, especially with the social media
uniform of the blazer, button-down, dark jeans, and loafers (sometimes
we wear khakis).
- Include speakers' Twitter handles on screen during their sessions and in the programs if the events have anything to
do with social media. I've been lobbying a few event producers to do
this, and I'm hoping it will become standard practice soon. The people
tweeting about events are providing pro bono exposure, often to
hundreds or thousands of others. It's even more effective if those
tweeters can refer directly to the speakers' handles. Speakers are
especially likely to have handles, and it makes it easy for speakers to
continue the dialogue with tweeters after the session.
- Know how to pace a panel. The 140 Characters panel with Rick Sanchez and Ann Curry was remarkable for a number of reasons (Ann Curry
may be the best panelist I've ever seen). One first I witnessed there
was that Pulver let the conference go twice as long because the
audience was so engaged (watch Part 1 and Part 2).
Most people I spoke to felt that panel alone made the conference worth
their while. Another event I attended was so off schedule that by the
afternoon, they couldn't find speakers since no one had a clue when
they were speaking. Delays need to either be accounted for (like with a
shorter lunch) or clearly communicated. Organizers should be conscious
of extending some sessions when people are hooked, even if it means
cutting others short when they fall flat.
- Rework name badges.
I'm not the first to say this, and I do see thoughtfully designed
badges more often, but the majority of events I go to force unnecessary
squinting. Priorities should be given to first names and companies. If
it's a really geeky event, Twitter handles merit the same prominence.
The smallest amount of space should go to the event name — everyone
knows what event they're at, and if they don't, the organizers have
- Treat bloggers like the press, or don't include them. If
you want people blogging about the event, give them the same courtesy
you would to credentialed journalists, ideally with reserved seating
and easy access to panelists. I declined to attend one event
as a blogger when they tried setting restrictions on how much I could
blog, as they feared live blogging was conveying too much information.
I emailed the organizer, "If people who aren't there think they can get
their money's worth from an event by reading a transcript, perhaps you
should cancel the events and sell the transcripts."
- Follow up with shareable content.
For social media events, participants are especially likely to be
active across social channels. Let them promote your event for you.
Post multimedia to services where photos and videos can be embedded,
tagged, and downloaded. Aggregate links to others' multimedia and blog
posts in a single area. Provide a convenient list of everyone who was
tweeting about the event.
Several of these suggestions include ways
to extend the experience beyond the event itself. Here's one thing
organizers don't need to do: create a new social network just for
attendees of that one event. With rare exceptions, they're a waste of
time, and participants would be better served with groups on existing
networks like Facebook and LinkedIn.
aren't the only ones who can keep providing more value to attendees.
Speakers and moderators can also step it up, and they may be addressed
in a future post. Share your other suggestions in the comments.