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.
Along 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 bigger problems. 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.
Event organizers 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.