Validate the Need
Experts project that, in 2015, approximately 6,000 user experience-related conferences will be held. And that’s on Planet Earth alone. Most will be at least really, really good; many will be great. That’s a lot of competition. Are you taking this on because you want to put on a conference, or because you know there’s an actual need to be met?
Know What Type of Event you‘re Creating
One suggestion is that there are five types of events. The type you’re creating will play a huge role in determining the program, choosing the venue, and setting the ticket price, among other things:
The details are critical in the long-term as well. If attendees are talking about how well-produced your event was, that bodes well for their coming back for the next edition. It also means that you’ve done a good deal of your event design work up-front — and when it comes to the next edition, you’ll be tuning and tweaking, rather than redesigning.
Given how much complexity is involved, you will need to lean on someone with experience. We’ve already found that investing in having UIE’s on-staff event planner has paid for itself and then some by getting us a much better deal with our hotel.
Be careful not to have the whole conference run on the shoulders of too few people. Structure a leadership team into subject groups where 1–2 people take responsibility and lead a team for each. Speaker curation, speaker hospitality, sponsorships, design, budget, volunteers, content, PR/social, production, ticketing, legal and more all need the full attention of someone. Subject teams meet as necessary and the entire group should share progress together regularly.
While your teams are critical, the importance of the tone you set with your people can’t be overstated:
People think it’s entirely reasonable to book a ticket, not pay, ignore payment reminders, and cancel at the last minute. This is particularly problematic for limited-capacity conferences that sell out, as you’ve lost the seat and the money. My life would have been so much easier if I realised how crap people can be, and was tougher on chasing payment & cancelling people who haven’t paid.
If you’re sweating breaking even, you’ll definitely be talking with sponsors. But remember that your attendees’ experience ultimately trumps your sponsors’ goals:
Speaker compensation is tricky. Be fair, of course, and be consistent, as speakers can and will discuss what they’re receiving with each other.
Also consider looking for other ways to compensate speakers, like offering them professionally-produced videos of their presentations, or professional speaker coaching (we’re trying this). On a per-speaker basis, the costs may be far less than you think.
Speakers, like regular humans, don’t read emails, never know what you want them to do, don’t know how to put a deadline in their calendar, and ask questions that you’ve already told them more than once.
Don’t blindly assume that a traditional hotel or conference center is your best bet. Think first about the event’s unique needs and constraints — then look for a venue that meets those needs, including the stuff that happens outside the presentations (i.e., conversations and other unplanned activity).