January 1, 2015
Have you ever considered hosting your own tech event? Do you already host a tech event but want to improve? We reached out to 22 tech event organizers to get their opinions and advice on what makes a great tech event.
Hopefully the advice below will give you some great ideas and insights.
If you host or planning to host a tech event, do check out our friends over at Mitingu who allow event organizers to easily create registration sites in minutes, with some great registration and engagement tools.
– Be clear what you are doing and why
– Find a target group, don’t try to please everybody
– Have a clear agenda
– If people are hungry they become grumpy, don’t cut on food
– It’s all about the quality of the people, the smartest person in the room is the room itself.
Define your audience, its level, and the event’s focus – “Tech” is an overused and ill-defined word that interests a lot of people in various fields. Make sure to clearly work with practitioners in the field to make sure the people in the room will bring value to each other.
Developers, entrepreneurs, investors, marketers, brands, enterprise, advertisers, finance, retail… all want to meet different people. The event is about tech, but tech and what?
Working ahead of the event with influencers in the crowd you target helps validating the assumptions and confirming what they really want to get concretely from an event. Don’t assume everyone will want to hear about what you want to tell them, be certain about it before settling for concrete topics.
If you’re starting in a city where other established tech events already have a presence, be really focused about the audience, and why the content will be useful to them, and not redundant with other events.
Don’t try to be all things to all people, except if you know there is in your city a lack of events and a clear demand from the local community to just meet up around broad tech topics.
Is the event to teach practitioners how to better do their job? Or to encourage networking and deal-making? Validate business plans and pitches? help entrepreneurs meet, gather teams? Find funding? Help decision-makers understand who the best partners and technologies are out there?
Discuss the high level trends and strategies? Inspire? Have fun? Will the crowd be really savvy? Beginners? Is is about new tech for technologists? Technology for non-tech professionals? Priorities need to be set, clearly, and early.
Partner with the right people in the ecosystem – Everyone (potential attendees, sponsors, speakers) is too busy to pay a lot of attention to the events scene until the last minute, so it’s important to get help form the community to establish awareness and credibility, and to make sure the content is right, focused and current.
This can include: 1/ having a board of advisors made up of senior executives with a successful track record and ideally great cred, 2/ confirming speakers and attendees that can help promote the event, and will constitute a draw for others to join, 3/ partnering with the right media outlets, accelerators/incubators/collectives/networks to spread the word and help with recruiting speakers and attendees.
Lots of tech events start local chapters, maybe partnering with one such entity can help setting up the local community before launching fully on your own. Events are hard and take a lot of resources, they’re virtually impossible to pull off “on your own”, they’re about inviting people who themselves bring value to each other, and your brand should be what they associate with where that mutual benefit happens.
Prepare as early as possible, communicate a lot, be upfront about the event’s rules and updates with all stakeholders, embrace changes. – This is less about tech events, and more about events in general. Organizers are the only ones at the nexus of hundreds of moving parts that won’t come together and make sense until very late, so patience, communication, preparation and graceful response to the unexpected are paramount to make a great event.
Always have a few back up sessions, speakers, moderators, volunteers. Never underestimate AV failures and be really strict with quality of the logistics, AV and communications and speaker/attendee handling. They’re setting the bar. Know the event’s world basic rules (Example: Never expect more than 40-50% turn out at a free event).
Great tech events are born out of great ecosystems. Our best events come together when we’re able to engage with a cross-section of entrepreneurs, investors, developers, students, brands and agencies across the city that we’re in.
If the event has a speaker/conference component, bring someone new to the stage – someone that the audience is not likely to have heard from before. That, plus some fun after-hours networking with an aspirational touch, is a good recipe for a successful tech event.
One thing that we’ve found makes a great tech event is to err on the side of having too much space in the schedule. This negative space creates more opportunity for people to engage with each other – which is the number #1 reason folks come to most events – plus is gives time and space to digest some of the event presentations and interactions.
The other suggestion I’d make, if you aren’t already, is to offer a morning body and mind-based practice period. Yoga and meditation are two popular options, but they could really be anything to help people come more fully into contact with their experience. This helps attendees be more present during the event plus it helps with potential information overload.
Participant commitment though ticket prices.
One of the challenges of running an event is getting people to attend so it’s tempting to give away tickets, but the challenge with giving free tickets is most people don’t turn up which can cause a lot of issues with planning.
Charging for a ticket, like what we did in 2011 for the StartupBus competition (2010 was free), will transform your attendance (in 2010, we had 50 people apply and 25 drop out; in 2011 we had 158 tickets bought and two people dropped out).
People no longer are “Doesn’t matter, it won’t cost me to not attend’ to “Ouch, it’s going to hurt cancelling for my laziness and fickleness – better to just commit”.
I think there are many moving parts to any event and there is not going to be one clear answer to “what makes a great tech event”. However, I will share three general practices that I have seen to be true in the best tech events that I have either attended or organized.
1. Have a clearly defined purpose. It is actually surprising how many tech events are organized by support organizations or groups that feel like they should have an event versus actually having a defined purpose.
Some examples of good clearly defined purposes for events are “to connect potential co-founders”, “to showcase some of the best new startups in a city” (pitch comp), “to teach a specific skill”. Once your know the purpose of your event, you know who to invite, how to organize it, and more.
2. Narrow the focus of your event. Although the number of attendees is often the measure of success for an event, I would argue that the most valuable tech events are often focused on a specific niche.
For example, a “startup marketing” event may get a large number of attendees, but provide a small amount of value to all of them. On the other hand, a “leveraging twitter to get your first 1,000 users” may attract fewer people, but those who do attend will likely find the event more valuable since it is so laser focused.
3. Have a clear call to action. I’ve been to so many events that have great speakers, inspiring panels, etc. and then it ends and everyone goes back to their normal work and forgets about it. No matter what the subject matter of the event, there should be some sort of call to action for all attendees.
For 3beards, the reason we started doing events was because we wanted to create events that WE would want to go to. Too many people running events lose focus on what is really important – the attendee.
People don’t want to pay to get into a room where they have to sit on the floor and buy their own crap lager. They’d much prefer a beanbag and free craft lager & pale ale.
Make the content interesting, and consider whether it is actually interesting and beneficial to the attendee, rather than doing something for the sake of it, or to push your own message.
If your attendees don’t have a good time, they will leave with a sour taste, and won’t be back. Always remember that attendees are the number one priority and you won’t go wrong!
Successful events must deliver one or more of the following three results:
1. A key learning that materially impacts business
2. A spark that leads to a new experiment, and/or
3. An immediate action or the foundation for a relationship you can call upon.
At bottom, people need to quit networking and focus on creating value for everyone involved.
Make your theme clear and be certain about what attendees will gain from coming from your event. ‘Networking’ isn’t much of a description! There are many events that go on in London and often there may be more than one on at the same time….
There are four simple rules to producing a successful tech event:
1) Lead with strong, relevant content: The content your put forth in your event needs to be cutting edge. Anything fluffy or something that sounds like it came out of a sales deck, you’ve lost your audience. Techies have an especially low tolerance.
2) Leave plenty of time for networking: At VentureBeat’s events, we allow 1.5 hours for lunch — our audience loves to schmooze with other attendees.
3) Know your audience: Each tech event is different because each sub-group within technology is different. For instance, I have found that Health Tech audiences are highly engaged with content; they really value lively Q&A sessions. I have also learned that food preferences vary quite a bit across audiences — our data audience vs gaming vs health tech have very different eating habits.
4) Get your event on the calendar as soon as possible: Tech events are extremely popular these days. To avoid having your event crowded out by competing events, make sure you get it on the calendar as soon as possible, and be aware of what’s going on in your city, as well as others in the same time frame.
All these tips come directly from experience. VentureBeat produces, on average, six events per year. In fact, we just announced our 2015 slate of events: events.venturebeat.com.
A great tech event is an event that also talks about real business and revenue with companies doing it, not dreaming of monetization which is often the case in many events in Asia and elsewhere…
Boulder Digital Arts events strive to find the right balance of “content” and “connection”. We want awesome presentations and insightful conversations along with opportunities to network, meet peers and be inspired.
There are two main things that make a great tech event:
1. A dense concentration of exceptional people with shared objectives
2. An environment that allows these exceptional people to connect deeply
That’s really it. This takes all kinds of forms. Some tech event organizers use online platforms like Pathable to help people find each other at events.
Others try structures that create intimacy and serendipity amongst participants. But as long as you can get the above two things to work, you’re golden.
Before anyone is thinking of hosting an event they should see what already exists in that community (collaborate don’t compete), speak with their potential audience to see if there is actually an appetite to attend.
Any event should look to follow the Boulder Thesis – an event that gives back and is simply created to add value (no sell). That event should be prepared to make a long term commitment to that community not to create something that is self-indulgent.
The more diverse the audience the better the event in my opinion. An event should spark 360 degree conversations and gain the opinion of the diverse audience. Its hard to do that when everyone has similar opinions, and is either in the same role, at the same level or has the same beliefs.
Overall a great event is something that inspires others to go away and do something different or confirm what they are doing is correct, whilst enabling people to build relationships and share experiences.
Ensuring there is time and ample opportunity to network and meet with speakers. The content or knowledge is easy to come by, but the connections are what matter most.
Our conference is principally about the networking, and the location in Punta Mita has proven not to be an obstacle, but the key bonus, as all speakers, sponsors and attendees enjoy breakfast, lunch, dinner events and after parties together. This time has proven to be such a special part of the event.
We keep the number of attendees low, to encourage networking and relationship building, but livestream all of the content for broad reach.
Provide an agenda prior to the event so each attendee doesn’t miss out what is of interest for them. Also make sure interesting and dynamic start-ups are attending the event.
It made all the difference for Gainesville BarCamp to feature some strategically chosen speakers and sessions ahead of time in order to generate buzz, loop in the personal networks of those speakers, and fill out out a tentative schedule for attendees.
These speakers each represented a different topic area that we knew was in important to our audience; Technology (spanning servers to front-end web), Entrepreneurship, Creative, and ‘Kitchen Sink’.
Developers want to be inspired and love creative talks just as much as designers. Those crazy ‘Kitchen Sink’ talks/activities always provide an integral level of fun and surprise that peaks everyone’s excitement level the day of the event.
BarCamps may be a distinct type of event but just like any party, a good event should be well rounded and keep the excitement level flowing.
Two really important things to make a great tech event:
Speakers: Get the best speakers you can for their chosen topic.
Tech track: Keep it tech and don’t mix business / marketing.
Focusing on the content will bring results beyond expectations.
Venue & location: Pick a cool venue and one that is easily accessible from far and wide. In my opinion this can make a massive difference to the number of attendees.
Paid vs free: It has to be paid if you’re going to do a proper event, perceived value is very important but the price point must be right. You can make it affordable by getting good sponsors but I still think it’s important that attendees pay.
Sponsorship: Look locally and consider who wants a presence with your audience. Again make it affordable and get sponsors who want to contribute to the event and are prepared to help with the marketing. Many will offer free swag but you also need them to contribute financially so that it’s affordable for attendees.
Event partnership: Don’t try to hog the limelight, involve partners and members of your community they will help spread the word and share some of the burden of organising the event. If possible involve others that have event organisation experience, we worked with Manchester Digital a local association, we couldn’t of done it without them.
Video/ photos: Make sure you video the event and take loads of pictures. People will want to look back and share with friends and colleagues. It’s a must and will be a massive help for future event promotion.
Food and refreshment: You’ve got to keep the troops going!
After party: Free bar, it’s a great opportunity to get to know people better in a more relaxed atmosphere. Getting sponsorship for this is usually easy.
Planning: Get it in the diary early, you need to give people as much notice as possible. Also, offering discounts on tickets for early sign up will really help get the momentum. The first few tickets are usually the tough ones.
Finally, reach out to other tech event organisers and see if there’s opportunity for collaboration or at least advice.
The greatest tech events are the ones that literally change the lives of attendees by making attendees rethink their jobs, industries, or products. These events enable conversations that push people outside their comfort zone.
If you can create a culture of change, then jobs – new customers – and new education will happen naturally.
-Ample opportunity for guests to chat casually.
-Make panels really short.
-Panels are used to introduce topics that audience can later discus with panelist.
-Get really specific with topic of event. Demos/how-to’s are good specific topics. Or just make the event a social gathering at local watering hole.
– Biggest turn off – “service providers” (lawyers, cpa’s, ect). If the event is about a specific topic that these folks will speak to, that’s fine, but otherwise, # of service providers is a litmus test on whether I’ll be coming back.
– Second biggest turn off; pitch events. A pitch event is like a conversation you are forced to listen to. This interferes with providing ample opportunity to let guest chat casually.
– Startup Weekends. These are nice the first/second time in a community. After that, they are stale. Please innovate on this model.
For Southwest Ohio GiveCamp, the volunteers/attendees are the greatest part of the event. They enthusiastically donate an entire weekend to develop software projects for non-profits.
The volunteers are rewarded for their efforts by seeing the emotional response of the non-profit representatives when they see the finished product and think about how much it will improve their organization.
Getting the right people together. Depending on the event, if people share, learn, create something, and make new connections (and future friends), it’s certainly all worth it.