Cass Phillipps is involved in dozens of Bay Area startup events, including the successful FailCon, which she produces, and the upcoming Future of Money & Technology Summit, which she manages. (Eventbrite readers can receive 10% off the Future of Money event here!) In October, she wrote for the blog about how to plan a successful conference. Today, she offers her 5 insider tips for getting the best crowd at your event.
As an event producer, you spend weeks designing a cohesive agenda, drawing the biggest name speaker you can, recruiting powerful sponsors, and yet the one thing that seems to be out of your hands also gets the most feedback: who you had there.
It’s not just the number of people that makes a show. In fact, I’d argue quantity has little to do with it. It’s who those participants are. Where would you rather be: a room of 500 otherwise-unrelated “entrepreneurs,” or a targeted group of 50 funded founders currently active in your target industry?
That’s exactly what producer Brian Zisk and I think about when putting together the hit conferences the Future of Money & Technology Summit (Feb 28th, featuring Eventbrite CEO Kevin Hartz) and the SF MusicTech Summit (May 9th). Mind you, the summits have now grown to over 500 and 800 attendees, respectively. But it’s not the numbers that make them a success—it’s the people we attract. It’s a targeted, driven, and intelligent group that comes ready to do business and share stories. Here are five quick tips to help you get the best crowd you can:
1) Find The Right Partners - It’s easy to say yes to every little mailing list and meetup group that asks to promote in exchange for free passes. Be sure to track sales through those groups (and notice just how little their contribution is). What you really need to do is target relevant, active meetup groups, engaged mailing lists, and industry-specific publications and request that they join you as media partners. By having their support and branding on the website, you illustrate the legitimacy of your event, and through their networks you reach a targeted group of buyers. (For example, we are partnering with Eventbrite to offer readers 10% off the Future of Money & Technology. Take advantage of that here.)
2) Create a Targeted VIP list – Plan to let 10-20% of your attendees (not counting speakers and sponsors) in as VIP guests. This list should be highly targeted: not every blogger or investor on the planet, but local thought-leaders who are especially active in your industry. Those are the people other attendees want to meet, and as an act of thanks for the complimentary pass, they may let their network know they will be attending. For the Future of Money, some of our featured attendees include writers from Dow Jones, eMoney, and Bloomberg News, leading financial authors, and founders focused on financial innovation.
3) Publicize Your Attendee List (At the Right Time) – Eventbrite lets you make your attendee list public, if and when you choose. Be careful to pick the right time to do this. Having a list of attendees will influence whether someone wants to sign-up: is the list noticeably short, or lacking influential names? Be sure to get your speakers, sponsors, and VIPs registered before you make the list public. You can find the list of Future of Money & Technology attendees here.
4) Attend Relevant Events – By attending industry-related events, you show potential attendees that you stay up to date on what’s going on, know the right places and people, and thus imply that you can bring the right crowd to your event as well. For example, while planning the Future of Money, Brian attended SF Beta: Financial Innovation, and he will be speaking at the SWIFT Operations Forum.
5) Create a Safe and Proactive Environment – This will affect your future shows. For the SF MusicTech Summit and Future of Money, we not only provide a lounge-like networking area for round table talks and coffee discussions, but we also work with a venue that has a number of small side rooms and quiet nooks where private conversations can take place. We also repeat the summits at regular times throughout the year (SF MusicTech is in December and May), to create a community of “regulars.” Finally, we set a good example ourselves, being friendly, open, and interested in every attendee’s story at the conference, and coming with business propositions and anecdotes ourselves.
So as you can see, the type of attendees you attract IS in your hands, a lot more than it may sometimes seem. And it is an important aspect of event planning often overlooked in favor of “get butts in seats.” Even if your event is smaller than expected, if you get high-quality attendees and business actually gets done, it will be an event to remember.