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Recently, we hosted the very first seanwes conference. It was an incredible time and we learned a lot!
We’re pouring everything we learned into seanwes conference 2017, but we thought we’d also share some of those behind-the-scenes insights with you!
Whether you’re interested in hosting your own event or just morbidly curious about what it took to put on seanwes conference, we’ve got some great insights to share with you today.
This is the perfect episode for anyone putting on their own conference or in-person event. Learn from our mistakes and avoid common event mistakes!
Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
- Let people know your event exists! (Surprise! You do have to promote it.)
- Regularly, consistently tell people about your conference.
- Invest heavily in videography and photography at your first event so you have media to promote the next one.
- Pick a venue in an area where you’re comfortable walking around and that won’t be disruptive during your conference.
- Make sure that both the city and the venue are the right vibe for your brand and your event.
- Instead of filling time, intentionally create margin in the schedule (this is the biggest takeaways and probably the most overlooked).
- Take time to think through the experience for your attendees at every step.
- Everything will be more expensive than you expect (account for it).
- Help your speakers by giving them a suggestion on what to speak about (.
- The best favor you can do your attendees is make your conference financially viable because they’re going to want to come back next year.
- 02:11 Sean: Laci, you’ve done a lot of things at seanwes, a bunch of different kinds of things. You’ve said it before, it has been kind of a day job situation, but you said that with putting together and organizing seanwes conference, everything changed for you.
- 02:29 Laci: Yeah. It was pretty much the hardest and most awesome and incredible thing I’ve ever done. I’ve done a lot of event stuff in the past. My background was in catering and event planning. I was a food and beverage manager at a hotel before, so I did a lot of conference-type things. I didn’t have to plan it, I just had to set up for people. I’ve done a lot of stuff like that. I’ve done a lot of events, but this was the biggest, most intense one I’ve ever done by myself.
- 03:03 It ended up being really fulfilling for me. I thought at the end that I would think, “I’m so glad it’s over,” but I walked away being so excited for next year and being sad that it was over. I didn’t realize how fulfilling planning seanwes conference would be for me until it was over, until I was there and I walked away from it and felt like this was my life’s work. It was really incredible.
- 03:29 Sean: The feedback was really, really good.
- 03:32 Laci: It was overwhelming.
- 03:33 Sean: People said that it was awesome. They said it was incredible. They said it was the best conference they had ever been to. This was the first conference we had ever done, and it went really well—in no small part due to Laci’s efforts. I think you did a phenomenal job.
- 03:51 Laci: Thanks. I know all the things that went wrong and all that stuff, so if I think about it objectively and set that stuff aside, it was really good.
- 04:02 Sean: We’re going to make it better next year. If you are interested in coming next year, it is going to be in Austin, Texas, again. We’ve moved it up, though. It’s going to be at the end of September, so you can go to seanwes.com/conference to register now. If you go to the website, there’s a new video there. I’m very excited about this. It’s a recap of this last year’s event, but it’s also kind of what to expect at next year’s event.
- 04:43 I’m super excited to finally put that out there. We didn’t have that to help us promote the first year, because we hadn’t done it before. That’s something we’re going to talk about in this episode, which is on five important things to consider when putting on your own conference. We’re going to talk about marketing. I’m going to touch on video and things like that.
- 05:11 Certainly, we found things that didn’t go as planned or didn’t work out, but we are learning as we go. As we like to do, we iterate in public and share what we learned with other people. Whether you’re morbidly curious, you want to know what happened at seanwes conference and see behind the scenes, or you’re thinking of putting on your own event, you’ll enjoy this episode. We’re going to talk about five important things. We thought about saying “Five most important things,” but that’s too hard to do. These things are important, so you probably want to think about these things if you’re putting on your event.
We invested in video pretty heavily because we neede to promote next year.
- 06:09 Sean: If you’re putting on your own event, a very important thing to consider is marketing. If you put together an event, that doesn’t automatically mean that people are going to come to it. You have to tell them about it. People have to know your event exists, or they’re not going to sign up. That means that you need to promote it. You need to go out there and spread the word. You have to be promoting it. There are a bunch of different ways you could do this.
- 06:33 For us, we didn’t do this enough, for sure. We didn’t promote it enough. That’s partially because of complications with how we were doing things. We’re going to talk about this a little bit more with finances, but initially, we were thinking that we would have this conference be just for members. We didn’t promote it very much. We only told the members about it, and a lot of them signed up, but only later on did we decide to make it where other people could come.
- 07:04 We bundled membership with tickets, and that ended up not being sustainable, but it also stunted the promotional efforts. We didn’t promote it as much, because we thought at first that it was going to be a more exclusive thing. That resulted in a lower turnout than we were actually shooting for, which ended up being fine. I thought the event itself was actually great.
- 07:34 That’s even with an existing brand. We have an existing brand. It’s like, “Isn’t it going to promote itself? Wouldn’t people just want to come?” Yeah, some people, but only the very loyal people. You have to promote it. There are a bunch of ways you could promote it, and we certainly did not use all of these. Ideas for marketing your event include using podcasts and mentioning it in emails. Those emails could be dedicated emails about the event, or it could just be a little line in a semi-related email.
- 08:07 You could say, “By the way, did you know the conference is coming up?” Or write it as a P. S. Mention it at the bottom of your email. Social media, you can be sharing on there. You can be doing video, blog posts, you can have banners or things on your site. The important thing to understand here is that people don’t notice announcements, they notice consistency. You can’t just say, “We have a conference,” and then expect a bunch of people to show up a year later.
- 08:49 Before we started recording, Laci brought this up. We invested heavily in video for next year.
- 08:59 Laci: And photography.
- 09:00 Sean: That’s right. We almost didn’t hire a photographer. We were like, “It’s okay, we have video. I’m sure we’ll find photos from the event.” We decided that wasn’t enough. We invested pretty heavily in this. We went well over budget, and I do think it was worth it, but it gets complicated. Consider investing in video and in photos at the event you’re doing to promote the next one.
- 09:33 Laci: Absolutely.
- 09:33 Sean: That’s very important. We only have the video we have at seanwes.com/conference because we invested in video. Don’t just think about video as a recap. That’s what we were thinking at first. “Oh, recap. This is what happened at the conference. This is how great it was,” but really, a recap video is more of a promotional video for the next year’s event. That’s how you want to think of it. It’s not just, “Here’s what happened. Here are videos of the speakers.”
- 10:04 Even videos of the speakers, for us, we’re giving seanwes members access to all of the speaker videos from 2016 for free. We’re not selling them, but we’re giving them to members. Some people sell those videos. That’s a way to recoup their costs. Maybe the conference cost $1,000, and the videos are $600 or something like that. We’re deciding to just give it to members, so that’s extra value.
- 10:31 What some people do is that they may take clips, or they’ll share an entire video, as a promotional thing. People become aware of the conference and that it exists because they saw a talk that was shared. That’s just one idea. There are a lot of ways that you can market your event.
We didn’t get as many people as we wanted at seanwes conference because we didn’t promote it.
You have to be regularly, consistently telling people about this conference.
People aren’t going to know about your event unless you promote it.
- 11:05 Laci: Location, as in, the city that it’s in, and the venue, and the area around the venue. We decided to go with Austin because San Antonio isn’t exactly built for conferences. It’s built for tourism. It wasn’t the vibe we wanted. Austin has a lot of festivals, conferences, and events that go on throughout the year, and the whole city is built around that. All of their convention centers, their conference and music venues, are downtown where the hotels are.
- 11:42 Everything is within walking distance. There are restaurants, bars, hotels, shopping, and anything else you could need while you’re there without a car. Parking ends up being expensive, hotels can be expensive, and all that kind of stuff. Maybe people from other countries wouldn’t be comfortable driving here on the wrong side of the road.
- 12:14 We really wanted it to be walkable and accessible. We live in San Antonio, but it’s not quite built for that. We decided on downtown Austin with a venue that is within a few blocks of a lot of different hotels for that reason. As far as venue goes, we chose a venue that’s kind of built for the music industry. It’s equipped with sound and stuff like that. The location of the venue was on 6th Street in Austin.
- 12:43 Sean: That was a little crazy.
- 12:45 Laci: My thought process with that was that there would be no shortage of entertainment outside of the conference. There are restaurants, bars, festivals, and whatever going on. It was Halloween weekend for Austin.
- 13:01 Sean: Double crazy.
- 13:04 Laci: Yeah. My thought was during the day, 6th Street would be pretty chill, and then at night, there would probably be stuff going on. Austin shuts down several blocks of 6th Street every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night year round, especially on Halloween. It’s party central. It’s where everyone goes and walks around, and they don’t want cars driving through those streets.
- 13:29 Sean: I thought the venue was good. For a number of reasons, though, we’re switching to another venue. We’re upgrading, essentially, for 2017, both for an increase in attendees as well as a better location for the venue. The venue itself was great, but where it was was problematic at times with all of the noise and things going on on 6th Street.
- 14:00 Laci: Even during the day, I thought 6th Street would be pretty chill, but there was still a lot going on. There was a parade that happened during our conference.
- 14:17 Sean: It happened during the Q&A of my talk.
- 14:21 Laci: Actually, that’s something to consider with location:
- 14:38 Sean: Check the local calendar for events.
- 14:40 Laci: Check the city for events going on, absolutely, because the venue didn’t even know that there was a parade going on the last day. It was very distracting. They didn’t even know, and that was something I wished that I had checked with the city about.
- 14:56 Sean: To keep this actionable for people, you want it to be accessible. You want to check the local events. You want to check the local surroundings. What is it like between the venue and the hotels that most people will be staying at? Is that walkable? If it is walkable, what is it like to walk during the day? During the morning? During the evening? Those are important things to consider.
- 15:28 There are a lot of cities where it wouldn’t feel right for seanwes. Austin is perfect to fit the seanwes vibe. The Austin brand is compatible with the seanwes brand.
We wanted to make sure the conference was held in a walkable city where people from different states or countries wouldn’t have to get a car.
Pick a venue in an area where you’re comfortable walking around and that won’t be disruptive during your conference.
Make sure that both the city and the venue are the right vibe for your brand and your event.
- 15:57 Laci: The schedule was really important to us. We took everything about scheduling at other conferences that we had been to that we hated, and we threw that out the window. We did all the things that we like about scheduling at other conferences, and we added that to our schedule. The biggest thing for us was not having 10 minute breaks.
- 16:22 You usually end up spending that time in line for the bathroom or getting a drink of water, and you never get a chance to talk to anyone that you’re sitting close to or anyone that you want to connect with at all. That was the biggest thing for me. We had 30 minute breaks between speakers and sections, which was something we took from other conferences that we don’t like.
- 16:45 Sean: We’ve all been to a number of conferences as a team and individually. We take inventory of the things we hated and the things that we liked, but especially the things that we didn’t like about other events that we went to. We made sure to design those out of our conference experience. We started with the people. That’s what we designed out from.
- 17:21 They’re designed around packing in as many speakers, panels, and sponsors as possible. It’s jam-packed with tiny little five to ten minute breaks. They’re always running behind. I never have a chance to talk to people. I end up skipping a session. I’ll be out in the hall just to talk with someone. Why am I fighting the design of this event? I wanted to push back against that and design it around the people, the conversations. We start with speaker blocks of 90 minutes.
- 17:53 That’s incredibly generous. You look at most conferences, and it’s 45 or 50 minutes tops. In rare cases, an hour. We gave each speaker a 90 minute block of time. They didn’t have to use all of that up. Most people spoke for 30, 40, maybe 50 minutes. That allowed time for Q&A, so we brought some chairs up after the talks. The speaker got to sit up there with Cory Miller, who was the MC, and we had a little cube microphone.
- 18:25 It was like a foam microphone. Super cool. It has the branding on it and everything. Justin was bringing this around to people in the audience, and he ended up calling it “Cube&A” instead of Q&A. He loved it. Did other people love it, Cory?
- 18:41 Cory: Oh yeah, for sure. It was fun.
- 18:48 Sean: People got to talk with the speaker. They’re sitting on a chair. It feels intimate. It feels like a conversation. There was a generous amount of time. Some of the feedback we got said that it was too long. I would say 10% of the feedback we got said, “You guys went on Q&A too long.” 90% of the feedback we got was, “I’m so glad you did that. It felt like I could get more value out of the speaker.” The speakers told us that they felt more relaxed.
- 19:15 Whatever they couldn’t get to in their talk, it was able to come out in the Q&A. If anything, we will continue to do this. Maybe we shorten it by 15 or 20 minutes. If we do that for every speaker, maybe we can insert a panel of people on the seanwes team, or something fun.
- 19:42 Incredibly generous! Very generous! Most breaks are 5, 10, 15 minutes long. 30 minute breaks on top of a generous speaking slot. This allowed people time to not only go to the bathroom, get a drink, or whatever, but to talk to not just one, but maybe even a few people, to start to build those relationships. We also had a segment in the afternoon that was either an hour or an hour and a half.
- 20:11 Laci: It was only an hour, but people wanted more time.
- 20:14 Sean: They wanted more. We gave people an hour of literally nothing, except allowing people to talk. It was essentially a segment where people could hang out and talk. We called it something. We put it on the schedule as a thing and we didn’t call it a break, because if you call something a break, people will go back to their hotel, they’ll go get food, or whatever.
- 20:34 Laci: Their lunch will be four hours long.
- 20:36 Sean: Exactly. They won’t come back. We put something on the schedule so people would come back for it. Really, it was just a time for people to talk. Next year, we might introduce a little bit of structure and extend it to 90 minutes. It was great. It was the highlight of the event, just letting people talk. Maybe we’ll introduce a little bit of structure, like some topical round tables to kick things off during that. Maybe that will be the first 30 minutes.
- 21:02 Then you still have another 60 minutes to talk. That was definitely a highlight. This is a thing that is not done. What do we do with margin? What do you do when you look at your calendar and someone asks, “Are you available?” You say yes! We automatically fill time. When you’re designing a conference, you look at gaps of time and say, “That is a place where we can put more things in.”
- 21:34 People said it was a highlight. I think that was really, really good. It means that you have fewer speakers. We don’t have 50 speakers at the event. It’s much more generous, but now you have people going to lunch, they come back, and they have an hour with people. They get to talk more with people that they didn’t go to lunch with. The next speaker starts at 3:30pm.
- 21:58 Speakers are always joking, “I have the after lunch spot. Nobody’s here. You guys have to wake up! Don’t take a nap on me.” We eliminate all of that. The first speaker after lunch was at 3:30pm. By then, everyone is excited and ready to listen to someone speak again, and it just went really, really well.
- 22:15 Laci: Absolutely.
We wanted to have much longer breaks than 10 minutes.
The most valuable part of any conference are the conversations you have with other attendees, and most events aren’t designed around that.
The 90 minute block for speakers was really good, but we also had 30 minute breaks.
Instead of filling time, we intentionally created margin at our conference, and the result was incredible.
- 22:21 Laci: This is the attendee experience. I was really grateful to have some time to set aside during my work day to think through the attendee experience. I had to do this a lot, because I was thinking through, as if I were an attendee, where the signage is placed, where breakfast is, where coffee is, where the registration tables are, where they’re sitting, the stage design, what they see when they sit down at their table. I had to really set aside time to think through those things.
- 22:59 Every time I thought through them, something would come up, and I would think, “Oh, I need to have this,” and I would make a list. There was something to add, something to take away from that experience.
- 23:17 Sean: We did this on team calls. We did this on our own. It helps if you’ve been to a conference before, but it’s thinking through every bit of the experience.
- 23:28 Laci: Every detail.
- 23:30 Sean: When you arrive, who’s there, what times you can be there early, is the registration table available, what’s on the registration table, how many people are helping you, does one person help you with all the things, get you registered, and give you your bag, and a t-shirt, or is someone else helping with that? What do they do after? Is there any kind of reception area? Every detail. Where do they sit? What might be blocking their view from the stage?
- 23:59 Are there screens on the stage? Is the screen a projector, or is it an actual TV? How will a projector show up during this time of the day, near this light from the window? Will it be bright enough? Is it big enough for someone in the back who’s 200 feet away? Thinking through all of these little details is incredibly important.
- 24:17 Laci: Something else is where the doors are in your venue. How much distraction is there from doors opening, shutting, people going in and out? For example, in our venue, the doors from the street opened straight into the main room, so we had to be really careful about creating a distraction-free environment with those doors.
- 24:38 Sean: We had to have someone man the doors and tell people they couldn’t come in. We had to put a sign up saying, “The session is going on right now, use this other door.” Next year’s venue will not have this problem, but we’re just giving you things to think about for your event. These are problems you might run into.
Take time to think through the experience for your attendees.
Think about the layout of the venue and anything that could cause distractions.
- 25:12 Laci: First, everything will be more expensive than you think it will be. I had a budget, an initial budget, that I left a lot of things out of, to be honest. It was about half of what we ended up spending, our original budget. There were things I didn’t know that we needed, things that were totally left out and ended up being tens of thousands of dollars added to our budget. Everything will cost more.
- 25:44 Here’s one example. If you have catering of any kind, whether it’s coffee, breakfast, or an after-party dinner, those people want tips. You should tip them if they do a good job. If you’re spending thousands of dollars, a 15% to 20% tip is hundreds of dollars. That’s something to keep in mind there.
- 26:17 Sean: We did go over budget pretty significantly. I would say that we went about 50% over budget, and that’s due to a number of things. First of all we did something with the members where we bundled membership and tickets. That ended up not being financially viable. It was very nice. It was very generous. It was a great experience for the members, but it didn’t pan out for us, financially.
- 26:48 That’s one thing. We probably would have been pretty close and it would have been alright, but we didn’t do a ton of marketing because we were initially thinking that it was going to be a conference for Community members only. That meant that we didn’t start promoting it publicly until much later, which gave us less time, which resulted in fewer people, which gave us less money to work with when it comes to the budget.
- 27:13 The second factor was, like Laci said, that everything costs more. We ended up investing more on top. Things we did not budget for, we decided to spend more on. It was a six figure conference. We did not make six figures, but that’s what we spent on it. There are a few things to break down here. I’ve heard from a lot of people that, most of the time, your first conference will not be profitable. You won’t break even. You should expect to lose money on your first conference.
- 27:47 I went in with this mentality, so I was okay with that. If you’re really good at business, you could come out with a profitable first conference. It’s not impossible. It was the perfect storm of a number of things. It ended up being rather expensive.
- 28:15 We are doing that. Also, you need to make sure, as much as possible, although you won’t get it perfect the first time, that your conference should be financially viable. It should be. You have to figure out the numbers. Do the math, and decide what it’s going to cost per person. Figure out what you need to charge, and you’re going to need to add a buffer. If you’re really good, you can add a 10% to 20% buffer on your budget, but if you’ve never done this before, you may want to add up to 50% of a buffer on your budget.
- 28:49 What do you need to charge per person if you are to hit your attendee goal to be able to make the budget you need to put on the conference? It’s just basic math. Now, you need to also realize that if you don’t reach your attendee goal—if you haven’t done this before, you can’t guarantee that you will hit that every time—you may need to figure out, “We might only hit 50% to 80% of our attendee goal.” What if we only had 65% of the people that we want to come?
- 29:24 You want 100 people to come, so what if only 65 people come? How much does the conference need to cost per person to be able to make up the budget? It’s basic math stuff. You’re like, “Oh, that would be really expensive per person! We can’t do that.” You also can’t put on a conference, unless you want to run a charity and you’re throwing money at this thing. That’s fine. Different businesses operate differently.
- 29:49 Some people, their entire business is the conference. They make millions on the conference, and everything else about their business, the whole year, doesn’t matter, it’s all about the conference. They do things like up-sells. They try and sell you on higher programs at the event. They do VIP tickets that are many, many thousands of dollars that get you access, front row seats, and behind-the-scenes greenroom stuff. They do a lot of things.
- 30:17 They go all out to try and make money from that. Other people operate their conference at a loss. It’s purely to get new leads in. They charge very little. It’s just to get people into their ecosystem, and they somehow make up the money later. I would shoot for somewhere in the middle.
- 30:45 The conference itself should be financially viable, and that’s essentially basic math. Rule of thumb: you’ll probably lose money on your first conference, just because it’s a learning experience. I would also say, try and make it financially viable. I know that 2017 will be because of the things we’ve learned and the mistakes we won’t make next year. 2017 will be viable, and whatever money we make beyond what we need, we are going to reinvest back into the experience. There are a lot of things we wanted to do, some cool things, that we couldn’t do.
- 31:20 Laci: I had a list of, “If we had money,” all these things we had to cut out, that we wanted desperately to do.
- 31:29 Sean: Next year, we’ve got this awesome venue that has a second level roof area. It’s a rooftop, where you can see the city around you, all the buildings. We can have our afterparty up there, but it’s also a hangout, overflow space. What would be really cool would be if we could furnish that with a ton of couches or something. That costs money.
- 32:03 We’re not trying to make money off the conference, but we’re also trying to not lose money. It was a good year for us, but that’s really tough, to be spending many tens of thousands of dollars on something where you don’t get a tangible return. We’ve got people coming next year, and that’s cool, but you also have to be in a place where you can burn that much money and not completely go out of business.
- 32:30 Laci: Yeah, absolutely. I wanted to add this, which ties into the location, too, when it comes to finances, is to think about a peak season for the city that you’re in, which would make things more expensive for you as the conference organizer, and for the attendees. They’re staying in that city. For example, Austin has these festivals and things going on. If we had done our event during that time, venue prices would have tripled. Vendor prices would have tripled. Hotels were way more expensive.
- 33:04 We didn’t do it during that time, but we did it during Halloween weekend, and that was still equally as expensive. People were staying outside of the city in Airbnbs because the hotels were really expensive during that time.
- 33:22 Sean: Lastly, if you don’t make your conference financially viable, you’re not doing anyone any favors. It is a lot easier to do a conference if you take sponsors. If you’ve been following anything at seanwes for any length of time, you know that we don’t put ads on the content. We don’t have sponsors. We don’t have five minutes of sponsors and advertisements at the beginning of each episode.
- 33:55 We’re just giving you value. This is the Rule of Reciprocity. Here’s the value. You know that you can go to seanwes.com to sign up for membership to support us. We don’t do sponsors on the shows, and we don’t do sponsors for the conference. That is a huge challenge financially. A lot of people are used to super cheap conferences. You pay a few hundred dollars, and you also have to sit through a bunch of sponsors every day.
- 34:21 It’s like, “Okay, alright, next, we’re going to bring up our sponsor. They’re going to say a bunch of corporate speak, and you have to sit through this.” Most organizers do that because you get thousands or tens of thousands of dollars from sponsors, which makes it a lot easier to put on an event. You can decide what you want to do for your own event. We didn’t use sponsors, which makes finances a lot more challenging.
- 34:52 You’re not going to be able to do it again. That means that your attendees don’t get to go to the conference again, and that’s the saddest thing ever. The best favor you can do your attendees is to make your conference financially viable. Whatever the math looks like, whatever the price ends up being for it to be viable, it’s in your best interest and in your attendees best interest to go by that number. Whatever it mathematically viable and sustainable, you want to do that because you want to do this conference again next year.
You’ll probably lose money on your first conference—consider that an investment in your next year and the years after that.
The goal isn’t for the conference to be a cash cow, but make sure that it’s not losing money.
If we make any amount beyond what we need, that money goes back into investing in the experience.
Think about the time of year for your conference, which will affect your finances.
However you approach it, if your conference isn’t financially viable, it’s not doing anyone any favors.
Delegation & Speakers
- 35:54 Laci: Here’s a question from Jordan O’Connor, “As the conference gets bigger, what tasks would you delegate to make it go smoother?” This is actually a really big one for me. I desperately needed someone else to know the schedule and to know when the vendors are coming, when they’re setting up stuff, and when things are supposed to happen. I did a bad job of delegating information. I had people delegating tasks, but I was the only person who knew what was going on behind the scenes.
- 36:47 I really needed extra space in my head, and it’s not something I could have passed on to other team members or even volunteers. I needed to pay somebody where that was their job, that they point people in the right direction and they know when things are happening.
- 37:04 Sean: I’ll do this one from Jordan. She said, “When you chose speakers, did you ask them to speak on a certain topic, or did you let them choose their own topics to speak on, or a combination of both?” When it comes to speakers, I go out and I invite people to speak at my conference. I have a lot of people who come to me and say, “I would like to speak at your conference. I would be a good person to come speak at your conference.”
- 37:31 I get a lot of those emails. I’m like, “I know you do.” I invite people who I know and have known, and who I’ve seen over the past several years to have had a consistent track record, who can also bring a specific message to the event around a theme that I want to present. They are one puzzle piece, to where if they weren’t there, it would feel like there’s a gap in this overall message.
- 38:04 The people I have my eye on, I’ve known for at least a year or two, and I’ve been seeing their track record. This is just a rule of thumb.
- 38:19 Start going to their events. I went to a conference five years before I spoke there. I was building that relationship. I was showing up, showing that I was invested, doing good work, building a relationship with the organizer, and then I’m top of mind so that they invite me. There are a lot of conferences where they’re like, “Let’s take on speaker submissions. Go to this form and submit it.” It’s a different kind of conference.
- 38:47 It’s just a different kind of conference. Basically, I knew these people very well. When I went to them, I said, “I’d love to have you speak. I would love for you to bring your insights on X,” which is something they’ve spoken about before. Then I also say, “Or, any other topic that you’d like. This is basically just a suggestion.” I don’t want to shoehorn them. I don’t want to limit them, but I also want to provide a suggestion so they’re not feeling overwhelmed.
- 39:22 “What in the world do I talk about?” Most people who are asked to speak have a lot to talk about, so it really does help them when you give a suggestion. They’re like, “Oh, okay, that’s what you’re looking for.” In a few cases, the title and the topic actually did change, and that’s totally okay. I’m flexible on that.
I wish I had hired a day of coordinator to be an extra harddrive for my brain, so I wasn’t the only person people were coming to with questions.
If you want to speak at a conference, start building a relationship with the organizer.
The Demand for a Conference
- 39:43 Eugene says, “Did you decide to have a conference because your audience wanted the conference and their frequent asking for it was something you couldn’t ignore, or is it a long term brand strategy? I’m thinking about your advice about not making products until your audience demands them.” Great question. This was in response to demand, but not the kind of demand that you think.
- 40:03 This applies, also, to product validation. What a lot of people do wrong is that they go to someone and say, “Would you buy this product I’m making?” People feel pressured. They’re people-pleasers. They want to make you happy, they don’t want to be rude, so they say, “Yes, I would,” but they’re not really interested. The problem you made is that you asked them if they wanted a product.
- 40:40 Rather than say, “Do you want to buy my course?” Ask them about the biggest struggle they have when it comes to building a community, working with clients, writing their copy, or selling their products. Ask them about their pain points, and then figure out if this is the right solution. The solution may be something that they don’t even know is the solution. That’s why you don’t want to ask them directly.
- 41:05 I could have asked people, “Would you want a conference?” They would have said yes. Everyone would have said yes, almost across the board, but how do I know that they would actually come? I don’t. Instead, and this wasn’t an elaborate long game plan where we ultimately wanted to do a conference, but we did meetups. It started with us taking a trip to New York City, and we were like, “Hey, we’re not usually in New York City. Let’s set up a meetup, allow people to come, and it will be great.”
- 41:39 That was fun! We also started doing it in other cities—Dallas, San Fransisco, Austin… It’s something we started doing, and people were coming out. 20 to 50 people would show up, and instead of two hours, they would stay for ten hours! The venue was closing down. They would kick us out, and we would go to a restaurant across the street. We needed something more than a meetup, because this was just too much magic. Nobody wants to leave! Everybody is staying.
- 42:11 People have driven from ten hours away to be here. That was the demand that we saw, and the conference was our response to that. As an afterthought, yeah, it’s a great long term brand strategy. It’s a great way to legitimize what we’re doing. It’s no small feat to put on a conference. Automatically, it does legitimize what you’re doing.
- 42:45 Laci: Absolutely. Our business is centered around like-minded people, and that’s exactly what the conference was. It wasn’t about the speakers, although the speakers were awesome. It wasn’t about that, though. It was about the people.
- 42:58 Sean: It was kind of like the Community. It has always been about the people. We have continued to invest. We have put so much into the Community. It’s just like the conference. We’re over-investing. It’s all about the experience. It’s not about the money. We’re three years into this, and the Community itself is still technically not profitable. Maybe in some years it will be, but it has never been about that. If I wanted to make it about profit, I could have made some very key decisions a long time ago that would have changed the trajectory of everything.
- 43:36 It would have made us more money from this, but that has never been what it’s about. It’s about the experience. As long as you’re investing in that, it’s a long term play, but eventually, that will come back. That is what’s going to create a premium brand, something that really lasts a long time, that people want to talk about. Laci, thank you for being on the show and for organizing the conference. We couldn’t have done it without you.
- 44:04 That’s for sure. I think it was amazing because you organized it, so I want to publicly say thank you and that you did a really great job. Cory, any final words?
- 44:26 Cory: This was really insightful. I don’t know if I’ll ever host any events, meetups, or anything like that, but I like how much thought we’ve put into everything. Every detail is thought of and thought through, and it’s very purposeful. Having gone to the conference, it was really good. You were probably not able to not think of all the behind-the-scenes things because you were the behind-the-scenes things.
- 44:57 Sean: I was seeing a lot of people in the chat saying that they didn’t think about any of these things. It was invisible. It was a great experience. For me, I felt like I got to be an attendee, and it was a really good experience.
- 45:11 Laci: You did a really good job delegating.
Ask open-ended questions to figure out what your customers’ struggles and pain points are—then decide whether or not what you’re creating is the solution.
Our conference wasn’t this big strategic thing—we saw that people wanted something more, and we gave it to them.