Last week I saw a lot of speakers. On Tuesday I attended TEDxSheffield, Wednesday I saw Dave Gorman’s PowerPoint Show and on Friday I was at the Yorkshire International Business Conference in Leeds, where the speakers included the Dalai Lama, Steve Cram and Mary Portas and Michael Portillo.

Dalai Lama

Conferences in the 21st century are a far cry from the business card wielding affairs at the end of the 90s. Conferences are now akin to entertainment with a wide range of speakers, who may be business experts, artists, spiritual leaders or just people with a passion they want to share.

Conferences and events around every corner

Setting up a conference is so easy now. There are myriad of websites which will handle ticketing and payments for you. And using social media not only can you find speakers, but you can promote your event with little or no budget.

What makes a great conference?

That’s very much down to the audience to be honest. But there are a few magic ingredients which, in my view, make an event:

  1. Have great inspiring speakers
    Of course the Dalai Lama is very inspiring, but not everyone can get him to speak at their event. You’d be surprised how many people have a burning passion inside them, all they need is a nudge in the right direction. A passionate speaker with capture your audience no matter what the subject.
  2. Plan what’s going to happen. And stick to it
    Sounds too simple but it’s easy to get carried away and lose site of the reason you decided to run a conference. Have a speaker schedule give them an allotted time to speak and don’t forget about what you’re going to do while you switch speakers.
  3. Do something different
    Being inspired and copying an event you’ve attended is fine. But if you just replicate it, you’ll be found out. Put a twist on it. Maybe you could have a live photographer who shows their pictures in the break?
  4. Use social media
    At conferences and events today the line “Please turn off your phone” should be banned. Having your audience tweet, facebook, live blog, stream video and photograph the going on are vital to amplify the event.
  5. Cater for your speakers and audience
    If you have speakers and audience members from around the world make sure you have interpreters and translators on hand to ensure they get full value from your conference. There’s nothing worse than wasting that international coverage. Just as vital is ensuring deaf or hard of hearing audience members can enjoy it too so a sign language interpreter is also vital.

What about after the event?

You are filming all the speakers aren’t you? Filming and publishing you speakers video has never been easier, YouTube and Vimeo are just so easy to use. I’m assuming your event has a website or blog too? Adding your videos to that is again a given in the digital age. Video is a great traffic driver to help you sell tickets for your next event, but video alone won’t help your search engine efforts.

If you have your video transcribed and added to the same page, then all the keywords contained in the talk will be suddenly available too. Driving even more traffic.

Why so many conferences?

My personal view is that social media has a lot to do with the proliferation of conferences and events. Through sites like twitter people are getting together online and exchanging ideas. That’s fine for a while but then people want to meet and have a more in depth conversation. Groups of people can now energise themselves, there’s no need for permission or big budgets anymore.