I was considering business events which I’ve attended in the past few months, and ones I’m due to go to in the near future.
I thought to myself, “What makes a good business event?”
As an attendee, what did I enjoy, and what could be done better?
There are a few types of event I’ve been to – each has its own character.
- Local networking events
- Business shows / trade fairs
Local networking events
Welcome to newbies
There’s nothing worse than going into a room of strangers and feeling you’re invisible or unwelcome. I like to see hosts that greet their guests. Bonus points if they introduce you to people they know.
Free tea, coffee and water – and biscuits – are most welcome, even if the event is centred around lunch or dinner.
Business card swap
If the event isn’t too big, the opportunity to hand round business cards to other attendees at the start is helpful. You find out a little bit about someone’s biz, and can contact them later on if you don’t get the chance to talk.
Having a speaker at a networking event gives you a little bit more impetus for going. As talks tend to be short, there’s usually a number of actionable tips, so take notes.
A chance to wander
Some structure is welcome, but I prefer when networking events aren’t too regimented. I like to have a bit of time to chat with people before or after any formalities, and to choose who I speak to.
Sometimes I’ve seen networking organisers suggest 1-on-1s with people you don’t know – this can work well to break the ice.
Business shows / trade fairs
Good choice of venue (applies to conferences too)
The venue can make or break an event.
- Easily findable?
- Accessible by public transport?
- Easy/cheap to park nearby?
- Large enough for the purpose?
- Well laid out?
- Not going to be interrupted by non-attendees?
I’m quite excited about The Content Marketing Academy 2016 being in the Hub in Edinburgh.
I like seeing friendly people when going to events who can answer my questions. Even if it’s just “Where are the toilets?” (That is a very important question!)
The right balance of activities
What’s the focus of the event? It may be an event with exhibitors, speakers or both.
A good plan of the exhibition hall helps if there’s a lot of exhibitors. Seeing a list of exhibitors in advance also helps.
Different types of activity are welcome. I enjoyed the Business 50 interactive events with activities such as speed networking and a cash prize quiz. You had to go round the exhibitors, talk to them and get the name of a playing card from each one. This was a clever way to encourage interaction. I especially liked it as I won the quiz twice!
The Entrepreneurial Spark Opportunity Knocks event I went to in 2015 had mini business surgeries with experts in their field. There was also a pitching competition for startups. Again, innovative ideas.
Reasonably priced refreshments
Don’t ruin the goodwill of visitors by making them pay through the nose for food and drink.
If I must pay more, I’d prefer that some of the proceeds go to charity.
Superb speaker arrangements (applies to conferences too)
There’s a debate to be had about structuring talks. Is it sensible to have talks one after the other, or if the event is big enough, put them on different tracks simultaneously?
One problem with the latter option is that the exhibitor space can rapidly empty when the talks are on. Something that doesn’t please the exhibitors.
Another issue with multiple tracks is scheduling. It’s annoying to find two good speakers on at exactly the same time, knowing you’re going to miss one!
It makes sense to group similar talks by theme. The VIP Mastermind Conference did this well.
Naming and signposting talk rooms is key. I remember going to the Scotch on the Rocks conference in 2011 – now sadly defunct – and the rooms were named after Transformers. Nice touch.
Putting a speaker on in the same room as exhibitors isn’t great. There’s often too much background noise.
I like a bit of interactivity in talks too – perhaps a practical demo or audience interaction. It saves you from Death by PowerPoint.
Keeping to time is important, and having a few minutes’ break between talks is a good idea, to allow free movement of attendees.
Even the number and layout of chairs make a difference. If there aren’t enough seats, can you get in the room and do you really want to stand?
I’ve been to a couple of events where the seating has been around tables rather than in rows, which is a lovely way of encouraging conversations.
Promotion and publicity (applies to conferences too)
The best events are promoted before, during and afterwards. This creates a buzz around the event.
I prefer to get a reminder email before the event, letting me know what to expect.
I love Twitter hashtags for events – they promote a sense of community. Having a Tweet wall is one step better.
Feedback (applies to conferences too)
I like being surveyed after an event, so I can share my thoughts and suggestions for improvement. It shows that the event organiser cares and makes me more motivated to return in future.
Thoughtful ticket prices
By “thoughtful” I mean well considered.
Obviously, I like value for money, but I know that conferences are not cheap to run and do well.
Having a range of ticket prices is a good idea. Early bird offers are a nice incentive to sign up. If you want to pay more you can show support by sponsoring the event.
I like seeing an attendee list, as it lets me see if other people I know are going, so I can arrange to catch up.
It also alerts me to anyone else I might want to meet and network with.
Often Twitter handles are published, so it’s a chance to follow folks and get to know them a little on social media.
Well designed lanyards
Good lanyards have your name, business and the conference schedule printed on them. And they don’t fall apart during the day.
Plenty of breaks
There’s a limit to how well I can concentrate in one go. Breaking for refreshments or a meal loosens up the day and provides networking opportunities.
It’s great if the food is provided – if not, it helps to be signposted to local eateries.
WordCamp Edinburgh put on a great lunch last year with haggis, neeps and tatties.
Swag is one of the great benefits of conferences, particularly WordCamps.
I was really impressed at what was on offer at 2015’s WordCamp London conference. The scarf with the London Wapuu was really quite wonderful.
Most conferences have at least one social event. A great opportunity to relax and let your hair down. Free drinks are a bonus. This is usually your best chance to get to know your fellow attendees.
Volunteers are often the unsung heroes of conferences – they keep the day going smoothly.
I like the WordCamp system of having all volunteers in recognisable t-shirts – they’re easy to spot.
It’s great having the sessions recorded so that you can refresh your memory later and catch up on any speakers you missed.
I remember WordCamp Edinburgh 2012 being videoed, but I never found out what happened to the footage…
What makes a good business event in your opinion? Let me know in the comments.