Philipp von Roeder has seen his fair share of conferences, having worked as a journalist, PR executive and CEO. So what does he think are the key criteria to hosting a successful event?
I am in the digital industry – mobile to be precise – and during the course of a year as many others, I have to attend several conferences and meet-ups. They are great way to meet new people, learn new things and, to be frank, to get out of the office for a change. There are many different types of conferences, especially in Berlin these days, and it’s sometimes difficult to choose which ones are worth attending. Personally, I have been to so many and forgot half of them already This is why I have decided to select more carefully and have put together my own system to figure out what makes a conference great…
Have great speakers… but not all from the same gene pool
First of all it’s the people: Speakers, attendees, staff – they are surrounding you during the conference. So the speakers need to be interesting or inspiring or glamorous or all of the above. Often one chooses by name – be it the company they work for or the actual name and reputation of the speaker. The more famous the better. This could be a measurement, but I have seen very poor speakers from very famous companies and more importantly vice versa. A bit of diversity can’t hurt, so it is always nice to get an outside view of your field because ideally there is some cross-pollination happening.
It’s nice if the attendees also come from different backgrounds, but they should share the same interests and have somewhat the same level of knowledge so people have something to talk about to each other – after all a conference is all about meeting people. It does not hurt if your own crowd is also there – makes one feel at home. Even at the risk that one ends up speaking to people they already know. So balance is key.
Content is king – relevant news plus future-gazing
Also with conferences, the old rule “Content is King” applies. I am in digital and mobile, so most of the content I get to see is a glimpse in the future of how we all will live, because mobile especially touches many, if not all, fields of modern life. That is, by nature, interesting and compelling. But it is true for any field: if the speaker have relevant news for the audience, it makes the conference just that much better if not great.
Location, location, location
Another important factor is Location. Unfortunately, many conferences are in a dull hotel or at a boring conference room, as often there is no other way. But this can lead to all conferences looking and feeling the same. One could argue that they are only the canvas on which each conference is applied, but a dull location can brush off to the conference. Good examples are Sime Stockholm and the magic castle that MLOVE ConFestival choose for their gathering.
Organisation and communication
Organisation and communication is also pretty important – people don’t want to have to figure too much out just to get there. Often it is just the details that matter. A usable map and correct address where the conference will actually take place emailed just a day before the start will help to get there. A calendar entry (.ics) will put the conference on my personal agenda. An easy to use conference planner, especially when there is more than one track, is highly appreciated.
Even better – an app that allows you to connect to attendees and speakers, shows the agenda, location, timetable etc. Sime Stockholm had a very nice one that even played a live speaker stream (which comes in handy if the night went too long and you are stuck in your hotel bed). Also a well-organized check-in system with enough staff to get you to the first conference coffee in the morning is a detail that should not be underestimated.
Getting down to business
Last but not least: Business. It’s nice to get inspired, and all and that will definitely help you to flourish on a mid or long-term level. But we all need to eat and pay our rent, so a conference should always provide business opportunities. Make sure that your conference provides ample networking opportunities, from comfortable break-out rooms, to easy ways to schedule appointements between attendees.