Last week, we headed along to PPA Scotland’s Inspiring Events seminar at Napier University to hear from a trio of speakers with unique insights into hosting events that offer that little something different.
The three speakers range from ties to global brands to local communities, but each have taken new approaches to their events that everyone can take some inspiration from!
The day begins with William Thomson, head honcho at Gallus Events. He left events years ago to work in music and saw festival organisers being hugged at the end of a weekend and thanked for the great time. He remembered thinking, “no one ever hugged me at the end of a conference!” It made him look at conferences in a different light when he came back. How do you turn an attendee into someone who leaves like ‘oh my god!’? You have to be more creative and innovative.
To be creative you need information, access and support. They make creativity blossom, but make sure you have these first before you try to change your current models. It can be a simple thing: floppy disk member badges at a techy event.
But why do you need to innovate? Companies who develop a reputation for innovation can avoid competing on price alone. Things like the secret cinemas, where you can spend a lot for a movie experience you have no idea of. It makes no sense on paper, but it works. You need to think of what people don’t know that they want, or to quote Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
It’s about creating something that engages attendees: power them, create great content, unleash the power of social media, engage the senses and create a narrative. Participants, “formerly known as the audience”, can be allowed to choose the content of the conference, be involved in the social media. Then there’s the likes of CycleHack and TED, where you have a format that you pass on to others.
Content should be unique, dynamic and innovative. If you can find something that has the potential to go viral, even better. But more importantly, keep it relevant and have that narrative: all the good examples he picked had a story, so ask yourself, “What’s the story?”
Next, Andrea Thompson, editor at Dumfries & Galloway Life takes us through setting up the Dumfries & Galloway Life Awards, which celebrates the success of local people. “What makes the magazine is the people,” she explains, so they used that connection and put the people at the heart. In that first year, they also tried to get as much free as possible to be able to host this celebration of their locals, and did very well at it!
In 2010, there hadn’t been anything celebrating local people, but within a month of launching they had all twelve sponsors for the awards at £1,000 each. Then, it was a lunchtime affair, but has grown to an evening one over the years.
They were able to make money for the business on each event, while maintaining their quality and diversity. Social media led to a doubling of entries in 2015. But it remains a balance of keeping people at the core vs making as much money as they can.
With the growth over the years, they’ve had to cover more costs that people can’t offer for free any more, meaning that the last year saw the lowest return for the business, but the awards are stronger than ever. They have 17 categories, are able to offer a free ticket and +1 to every finalist, with over 300 people on a waiting list last time. They must keep asking, “How do we sustain and grow the level of interest?”
Finally, Gurjit Singh Lalli, curator of TEDxGlasgow talks through taking an established brand to a local level and hosting high quality events. “I’m not an event organiser, or a publisher,” he says, “so what am I doing here?”
Bringing TED to Glasgow was a 4am decision, with TED offering great support into hosting events under their name. “Narrative is really key for me,” he notes. “Why are we gathering people? What are we talking about?” You have to learn, but question, “What can I do to make something an experience?” How to turn an attendee into actioning.
They don’t just pick speakers, and don’t allow partners to speak. They do a callout for speakers, talking to the general public and organisations. It has to fit criteria: is it novel? Are they passionate about it? Does it have a global and local appeal? They then work closely with speakers to get them prepared.
They both embrace and don’t embrace tech. They live stream, trying to replicate the model in a room that’s viewing the stream. But TED also banned electronic devices at one event and everyone enjoyed fully immersing themselves in the day.
It’s a platform for change – adopt a cause, have a reason for putting on events. They have 8m views of talks to date and, “remember, we don’t know how to do events.”
He likes the idea of not offering the tickets up for general sale quite as readily, instead asking attendees why they want to go and what they’ll get from it in order to make sure the audience is the most engaged and inspired it can be. When it’s diverse, it can be hard to sell, but for them, he likes to think it’s offering “conversations with people you wouldn’t normally have.”
Opening to the floor, how do you make an event a success? Build a tribe and build it on trust. Don’t think like an event organiser, think differently, be passionate. Take a step back and ask “What is my objective?” Think creatively about your people and how to engage them.
For tracking and engaging, try to document attendees’ experiences on social media – what’s getting mentioned the most? Try offer personal mementos that will cause talk around your brand beyond the event – a key example is a coffee mug with their order written on it.
So, what’s the most important part of it all? Well, really, it’s simple in theory. “It’s all about making a memorable experience.”