This blog about setting up conferences was originally one of a series of monthly guest blogs written by our director, Ellen Gunning, for Microsoft’s Irish SME platform. It has been updated and refreshed by Connor Coleman (Feb. 2020).
There are three ways that you can use conferences to promote your business: you can create the event; you can sponsor and brand a conference, or you can speak at it. It all depends on budget and what opportunities present themselves.
Creating The Event
If your industry is relatively new – or a bit stagnant! – or your clients and customers are hard to gather in one place, then you might consider organising a conference. You need to be sure that there is no other conference competing with you, either in terms of topic or timing. You will need to do a lot of research to make sure that there is a real level of interest in what you are offering. You will also need to make decisions about how long the conference will run, where it will be held, who will speak at it, how much will you charge as an entry fee etc.
Choosing your speakers will be vitally important. They will reflect on you by their expertise, their status (in the eyes of your attendees) and their ability to present in a lively and interesting fashion. Choose carefully – their opinions and the positions they adopt might also be attributed to your business.
You will be responsible for organising the venue, the meeting rooms, the accommodation, the transport and transfers to and from the hotel. You will be looking after the agendas, creating the conference ‘packs’ that delegates receive, monitoring the exhibition spaces, ensuring that meals are served on time. You will be meeting your keynote speakers in advance, organising pre-conference dinners so that they can all meet each other in a relaxed atmosphere and updating each on contributions which have been made the previous day or are anticipated by other panelists.
Organising a conference is very time consuming. If you had sufficient budget, you would be well advised to use the services of a professional event management company who will take all of the hassle out of the organising.
It takes time to establish any event, especially a conference, and you will probably need to state, from the first minute, that this will be an annual event or a bi-annual event or whatever.
Branding a Conference
This is much less time consuming but usually much more expensive. If an event is well established and attracts a good attendance, then it might well be in your interest to sponsor the event. However, the organisers will sell the naming rights at a premium because of the goodwill that you will attract from the sponsorship.
Speaking as an Industry Expert.
The most cost-effective way to participate in a conference is to become a speaker. If you (or someone in your business) is offering you as a speaker, there are several key requirements that you must have. It goes without saying that you must be an expert in your area. Do not speak on broad issues (most people in your industry can do that). Instead, offer a specific insight into one particular function of your product, or one insight that you gained from your recent trip to South America, or an advance opportunity to hear you discuss the paper which is due for publication in the Harvard Review the following month.
Having established the first point, that you are an expert, you must now assess if you are a good speaker. You might be a genius, but if you bore everyone silly, no-one will remember how much you knew. You should present your paper to a critical audience (that usually means, initially, people at home) who will let you know where your shortcomings lie. If you hate presenting and have the option not to do it, you may choose someone else to ‘deputise’ and fulfill this function within your business. You may, however, just need training in conference presentation and public speaking. If so, be sure that you choose a course where you are videotaped so that you can review your presentation later and think back on the comments and advice that you were offered.
Remember to set a sufficient amount of time aside to prepare the contents of your paper – and pay particular attention to the audience you will be speaking to. Too much information to a non-technical audience could cause you to lose them. Too little information of a technical nature to a specialist audience and you will seem to be too lightweight.
Allow time to rehearse your presentation until it is polished and capable of being delivered without a script. The script – which you will carry, of course – really acts as a ‘aide memoir’ in case of memory lapse.
Finally, you should also prepare responses to anticipated questions from the audience.
You will invest a lot of time into your presentation, but it will be less expensive than either of the other two options above and might actually result in more invitations for you to present at other conferences. Now that would put you well on the road to becoming an industry-recognised expert — which is exactly where you want to be!
First published in its original format in 2017
Be sure to check out the previous blogs in this series!