Learnings from developing / delivering an effective and profitable conference.
Last week, over 150 people attended Speaking With Purpose, a one day conference for those looking to increase their public speaking confidence and hungry to develop their storytelling techniques.
This was my first independently-produced, medium-sized, personally-funded event, with folks attending from Tuaranga, Christchurch, Queenstown, Auckland, Palmerston North, Dunedin and all over the Wellington region.
Here’s what I learned:
Pay Your Speakers
In NZ, paying conference speakers for their time / talent is not commonplace (unless you’re bringing someone in from overseas it seems).
Committing beyond the usual “we could maybe find a couple hundred bucks for your time” ensured there’s not only an expectation of quality but also a contractual effort from your deliverers. What better way to contribute towards building a trend for valuing this talent and skill.
I opted to run the whole show myself. Apart from paying a few friends on the day for their time to manage operations, I oversaw and did everything, including:
- design and copy for the website
- all email newsletters and attendees communication
- the programme design (see above) plus badge design (see below in ‘lessons’)
- venue discussions, deliberations, decisions etc
I didn’t use a ticketing service and invoiced everyone individually just to see if it could be done (both saving myself some money in ticketing fees and not passing those costs on to attendees plus allowing for a more personal touch). The seven day payment policy for attendees once they registered (which most stuck to) gave me the working capital which enabled quick payment of the 50% venue deposit (every ticketing service keeps the money till after the event you see).
A lot of the above could’ve been outsourced although it was just as simple for me to do than find someone, explain my expectations and follow up with it all.
Offers & Freebies
I experimented with the above offer although it yielded only four sales (the Early Bird rate sold out in a couple of weeks in January and 25s-and-under rate a few weeks before the event).
Finding and gifting on freebies to those in the community who do good things already, drove more traffic and sales than any other strategy as they positively shared the event details with their audience.
Was surprised with the small amount of creative pitches received for those who couldn’t afford the attendee rate (got three, reduced rated two). Although a few offered their services for the cost of attending which is an easy yes. Thanks to Francesca for doing the video above, Jane for looking after social, and Trent for taking some wicked pics.
This wasn’t just a money making exercise, although, to keep a roof over my head and food in my belly on top of the meaty risk of covering the $20k venue costs plus speaker fees, printing charges etc., a financial profit was one of the blatant goals.
The total profit reached into five figures with no sponsors to bring the costs down or partners involved to take any of the operational activities on.
A tiny portion of the profits was gifted to the ace One Percent Collective.
There’s are definite areas for improvement or just things I learned from this endeavour, including:
- Refocussing success targets—I was very precious about selling out and hungry to do so. Even though there were only 10 tickets left, it bugged me that I didn’t (and not because of the money I would’ve made). Should learn to celebrate what was achieved instead of getting stressed out on this one big goal (see final lesson).
- Invest in (ethical) PR—I could’ve afforded to pay for someone to get some coverage of the event in gatekeeper publications and in return would’ve probably sold out.
- Learning to steer—being an MC is not my most comfortable role, although I’m getting better and a good skill to have in the arsenal, it’s still something which needs more honing.
- Build a team—even though I hired my good pals from TEDxWellington to assist on the day, adding a couple more specifically to look after tech and little minor things would’ve been nice.
- Find partners / sponsors—see business model above.
- Celebrate—I just created a medium sized skill based event in a very small market and succeeded on all accounts. Yet I’m struggling to figure out why I can’t celebrate (with grace):
There have been calls to replicate the event in Auckland plus some individual enquiries to repeat for specific organisations. Will follow up the latter to see if it’s viable, and explore the former through some partner organisations like the Council and economic development agency there.
Later on in the year, am looking to develop and deliver another broad skill / topic based event in Wellington and to build on this experience and learnings.
And next year, do it again as looking at the feedback there’s a desire.
Watch this space.
And finally, the event was wonderfully wrapped up by Ali Jacs, summarising the whole day in one superb poem:
Any successful presentation is not judged by what is said,
but by what the listener received.
So tell me,
What have you received?
Today we’ve heard from some of the best
To help us put our storytelling to the test
Under the microscope of enquiry
To dig down deep
into our own stories
DK brought us the practical slide deck tips
To present like a ninja-boss
To make each word pop like a hot toast out of the toaster, perfectly done
Emotions wrapped up inside each and every word
And in every slide, a story
When it’s all said and done, at the end of the day,
What’s the word you want people to remember?
Speaking with Purpose
Sometimes the quietest people have the loudest minds
And Dr Michelle Dickinson is one of those of those indeed
She started out as Santa Claus
Pulling out gifts of introverted wisdom from her sack,
for us to all receive
before revealing her true identity
The character she became to overcome
The sweaty palms and heart beating like a drum
Those balled up words that caught in the back of her throat
the superhero conjurer
Who can turn sabertooth tigers
Into a room full of kittens,
And with that, the warm, furry, fuzzies of connection began
to weave their way through the room
Michelle reminded us that successful presentation is not judged by what is said
but by what the listener received
And I don’t know about you,
But I received the glorious image of a room full of kittens,
And that’s pretty freaking awesome in my book
Sarb Johal reminded us,
That we should tread with our verbal footprints
Ever so carefully
Social relationships are not rocket science – they’re far more complicated than that.
With so many parts of the brain to process the stories we hear,
Language can be a bridge or a barrier across the spaces in between
For my interpretation of your “we”,
May be more than simply you and me
It could be,
my friends and not you,
Or we as in I,
Or we as in you
Or we as in every liked minded person on Earth
And all in all these situations, “we” has been found wanting in authenticity
And always remember,
Whether you’re finger tapping, gesturing or playing with intonation
Never communicate that you are nervous, you’ll only be atrocious
if you don’t believe your message, your body will betray you
Be Mona Lisa calm, and you will always be tremendous
Just simply tremendous
Now just as that energy loan shark from the morning’s caffeine hit
was knocking on the doors of our attention, to collect….
Emma Hart took to the stage, to take us on a journey
Beyond the stats
Beyond the facts
Beyond communication just for relevance
Into communication for elegance
Whether we seek to shift the world with our words
Or just to stop being bullied in the boardroom
The metaphor is a tugboat
that can begin to turn the course
Of the freight liners of our predominant narrative
pulling us from the dull oceans of the mundane
Into the vast, limitless seas of visual language
Where we share our stories with intent
The less words, the more meaning,
Talk like you talk, not like you write
Any if all else fails, find your inner Eminem or Lauryn Hill
And channel the rapper within
To close us off for the evening,
We turned our attentive ears,
To Glenis Hiria Philip-Barbara, a living, breathing story of culture
The woman who last year inspired me to set out on a journey
Towards kotahi miriona kōrerorero i Te Reo Maori
One million conversations in Te Reo Māori
When you start the narrative of your life,
Where do you begin?
A good place to start is with the purpose
The foundations of your story
Literally to hold fast to your foundations
And Glenis’s middle name Hiria means to be held
So let’s hold these words like the gift of language
Balanced on the tips of our tongues
Or like snorkestral maneuvers in the wharenui
Punctuating the darkness until the early morning light of te rā whiti
Let’s store them in the treasure trove of our voicebox,
To call upon anytime we need to find our kaupapa
We each hold individual strands of story
That have unravelled behind us throughout our past
But when we weave them together,
With purpose, passion,
Presence and conversation
We get a beautiful rope of storytelling creation
One of the key lessons I’ve learned in telling stories is to be succinct,
So haere ra, ka kite ano koutou,
to both the introverts going home for a nap
And those heading downstairs for a drink