What I learnt about Audience Development for Tech Conferences

I am deeply encouraged by the good feedback that I received to last week’s post titled, ‘Tech events model has changed in India’. In this post I am going to write about audience development strategies. But before I get into that, here’s a quick summary of the comments in response to last week’s post. All these comments and likes appear on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/20141014070518-24924439-tech-events-model-has-changed-in-india?trk=hb_ntf_MEGAPHONE_ARTICLE_LIKE

Brent Goff, Journalist, TV news anchor, talk show host and moderator from Berlin writes, “In our world of constant connectivity the challenge is even greater to convince people that a show or trade fair can reveal anything new. This presents a great opportunity for conferences to emerge as integral parts of a successful show/trade fair. Why? Because the conference is now THE place where people meet, talk and THINK! Big ideas are as attractive as ever. And a conference venue is where big thinkers should convene–with an audience. One man’s old show is a clever man’s new stage!”

Arun Gupta, Ex-CIO at Cipla, Business & IT leader with multi-industry experience, transforming business with IT, writes about the four E’s that make conferences successful: Excite, Engage, Explain, Entertain. He says most Expos and Conferences are unable to create this magic formula.

Rachana Chowdhary, Founder Director – MediaValueWorks, Country Manager – African Press Organization writes, “…guess, the scale of events in India, concept, conceive, conduct, content needs an equal in-depth revisit as the 4 e’s above…we may refer – MWC- Mobile World Congress, Barcelona….. Another noted development, pls refer the SAP – Innovation Express, a multi-city roadshow, capturing and interacting with SME’s and Industry Associations…finding newer ways to showcase solutions.”

And Subroto Panda, CIO-CTO at Anand and Anand – Premier IP and Media Law Firm writes, “I completely agree with you Brian and at the same time the views expressed by Arun Sir also. But the awards also some how expose that it is not done with a real view to reward small time IT Experts who really struggle hard in pushing tough IT strategies in small scale industry.”

And then there were some ‘likes’ to the article including one from Jaideep Mehta, Managing director, India and South Asia at IDC.

Thank you all for your thoughtful comments and for spending time reading my posts.

Over the weekend I was reading the iPad edition of Content Marketing magazine (you can search for it from Apple Newsstand or on Magzter). The article was mainly about developing audiences through Social Media. But the term “Minimum Viable Audience” or MVA kept leaping out of the digital page and catching my eye! Essentially, MVA is about how building an audience first can be a more efficient way to producing a successful conference.

In the six years that I devoted to developing various Conference Agendas I have always worked like this: Getting the Speakers and topics and agendas set first — and then pursuing delegates and visitors to register. I have seen people struggle (and falter) with delegate registrations (audience development). And I often thought to myself, “What if we could develop the audiences first, right at the beginning of the cycle, and then work on the content and speakers?”

But these activities must overlap and be done in parallel — audiences want to know who are the speakers. And partners and exhibitors want to know how many visitors are expected and what is the profile of these visitors.

Think about it. In business, you develop the product first, before the audience comes in. The cycle is: Market Research, Product Research & Development, Marketing, Selling, feedback, product redesign, development….

But if you look at the cycle carefully, you’ll see that customer feedback and market research are the most important elements. A company may pour billions into R&D and millions into marketing — but what good is all that if customers don’t want that product?

So, coming back to conferences, if you have done the show at least once, then in your second or third year (and in future editions), you could do extensive audience feedback exercises using tools like online surveys. calls, or just face-to-face meetings with randomly selected visitors. Social Media is another good tool for audience feedback and engagement. Build a community online — all your visitors should be discussing speakers, topics and other aspects of the conference there.

Also monitor trends in the industry, what are the issues being discussed in industry and in government (related to the domain).

These issues (and all the audience feedback) should serve as the basis for forming next year’s conference agenda.

Market the content to audiences first, then go get your speakers!

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The views expressed by the writer in this article are his own, and should not be attributed to his current organization. The comments are generic and do not refer to any specific conference or organization.

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Tech events model has changed in India

After attending numerous conferences and exhibitions in the Indian IT Industry, I observe a clear trend in the way these events have evolved/matured. And my observation is seconded by the opinions of the conference attendees I’ve spoken to.

This year I attended some tech events (albeit not as many as last year) and the immediate observations were:

a. The number of booths on the expo floor has reduced, drastically (in some cases halved).

b. There are a lot more awards ceremonies (and it is a good strategy to get all the important people to your show). People love to receive awards and recognition, but what are you going to do after everyone receives an award?

c. The conference content hasn’t changed much — the same people discussing the same issues all over again. (Yawn!).

So I try to think of ways to innovate (and change the world). I have brainstormed with industry people to come up with a list of suggestions.

What expos should be

Think about it — why would consumers come to an exhibition to see and buy products when they can do so online? B2B is a different case.

Suggestion:

1. Launch new products at expos. Give sneak previews of prototypes. Bloggers love this. And people love demos. Make product announcements. And create some hype and PR in the run up to the event.

2. Expos should have action on the floor. I have seen mini boxing matches at an expo in Las Vegas — right at the booth! Darts and shooting games are old school.

3. Get your visitor engaged and involved. Try gaming, it usually works.

4. Decorate your stalls well — I am seeing the same boring stalls with a table, two chairs and flat 2D posters — manned by an equally bored attendant. This is a good business opportunity for someone who is creative.

5. Contests, lucky draws and lots of yelling are passe. Try something new. At one expo I saw two face-readers — they took one look at my face and wrote down my personality description on a piece of paper! And much of it was true! It’s indeed written on your forehead! Instant photos with props are fun!

What conferences should be

1. Conferences should raise and discuss industry issues and challenges. Get the people who matter (policy makers, politicians, lobbyists, press) to come to your conference. The CEOs that you want will then make time to attend.

2 Partner with industry associations — and work together to support their causes. They can use your platform to discuss and publicize their issues, or to make announcements.

3. Pre-conference events- Workshops

I am seeing workshops and Master Class sessions being conducted by industry experts a day before the conference. These are well-attended and highly appreciated. People actually PAY to attend these workshops.

4. Pre-conference events- Roadshows

Again, partner with industry associations to raise, promote and publicize issues. I am seeing a lot of interest in Tier-II and Tier-III towns and cities. The roadshows there are well attended and are taken very seriously. Help attract IT investment to the state — the state government will support you 100%.

5. Topics — Let’s hear something new. Make it practical and tell real-life stories. Share examples and case studies.

6. Video killed the PPT

Personally, I am against videos and long PPTs. It shows that the speaker is not well prepared and is just summarizing someone else’s thoughts and research. Similar for Government speakers who read out pre-prepared speeches written by professional speech writers.

7. Un-conference and Extempore is In

Solution to point 6.

Good speakers can speak without tele-prompters and audio-visual aids. They know their topic thoroughly.

Write in an give me some more tips! Do you disagree to anything I’ve written here?

The views expressed by the writer in this article are his own and should not be attributed to his current employer. These are broad-based observations that apply to Indian tech events in general.