Yeah, I’m running a software testing conference. It’s only our second one. It’s still nerve racking. There’s still alot of work to do, it doesn’t ‘just happen’ and we are still learning with each thing we do.
We want to make it something we are proud of and this in my heart especially means giving people great value for their money plus having an experience to remember.
In my effort to create a great experience I’ve been to 3 conferences in the past 4 months. All Brighton/local ones. Not testing related. One was web, one was business and one was UX. I was interested in the topics, but was also interested to see how some very nice local conferences are run. I was being an observant little Rosie.
As a consequence I’ve been thinking a lot about conferences and I think the market is changing. The newer conferences know this. The more established ones are yet to catch up.
What Are Conferences About?
Conferences are not about learning stuff from the talks. How can it be if in most cases you can watch the videos for free shortly after the conference has ended?
Perhaps it’s about meeting people. Organisers will claim that, but all too often I’ve seen attendees being bored. Not knowing what’s going on outside of the conference. Not feeling comfortable to network with others. Or not knowing where to go.
For the vendors they get to market themselves to the attendees. Come look at us they will say. The only conversations had there are so sales driven that it doesn’t feel genuine.
So it kind of looks like below. There’s the speaker speaking. The people watching. Then at break times there are the vendor stands that the attendees all too often ignore and either end of speaking to other attendees or to no one at all.
The speaker gets value, it's hard not to be seen and get noticed if they are speaking. The attendees hopefully get some good learning value, but social experience could often be better. The sponsors often are completely separate. They don't go to the talks. They don't really know what's going on, are out the loop and often cannot connect with the attendees.
If I Could Design My Own Conference...
Oh no wait, I am...
Sales & Marketing Should Be Integrated
Seriously, why do the people at the stands not attend the conference talks or social activities? People buy from people. Generally from people they like or trust. Trust comes with time and building up relationships with real conversations and common interests.
Instead of trying to sell stands to sales & marketing departments, why not sell them tickets? Encourage them to get involved. Learn from the talks. Have real conversations and build up relationships with the attendees?
We are trying this out with TestBash.
Sponsor Stands Are Old School
They must go. I've heard from too many people that each year they provide less and less value. It also puts pressure on the event organisers to provide value - often spending huge amounts of time and money on it.
One of my pet peeves is that some sponsors can buy their way into talks, allowing attendees to get stuck listening to a 20-45 minute advert.
Perhaps replace them with activities, games or try out micro-sponsorship - it's easier to make lots of small sales than many large ones - it's also much more inclusive for everyone.
Create social things around the event and talks. Not only are these attractive to the attendees, but they really bring the community together. Often these are what attendees remember the most.
If you are not doing anything, then at least know if people are doing their own on the spur meetups and get involved!
Still A Lot To Learn
I’m not claiming to be an expert. Far from it. What works for my community may not work for others. And that’s cool. But in Rosie Land I’m looking to the future and trying to do my best to create a great experience, even if I find it difficult when I really see myself as a quiet introvert 🙂