Starting as the events intern a month before the largest event in Dwolla’s history couldn’t have been better timing as I had the incredible opportunity to help plan and execute Monetery, the company’s tech summit.
Now that the conference is over and was successful, we’ve started reviewing attendee feedback. I started doing some research and comparing my notes with past conferences I either attended or organized to get a better idea of what Monetery might have been lacking or what needs could be addressed for next year. There are a lot of good things happening in the B2B events industry and instead of focusing on the things you should do—the endless trends and ideas you see everywhere—I want to focus on the things you should definitely avoid when planning B2B conferences.
1. Don’t Assume Attendees will Naturally Connect
Remember the old saying about what happens when we assume?
This happens with networking at B2B events. Some planners can think it’s the easiest part of the conference to plan: throw everyone into a room with some food and let them go!
If only networking was that easy.
Attendees are usually on the hunt for someone specific at these types of events, like a colleague, a previous connection or a sales opportunity, and after circling the room ten times unsuccessfully finding that person, the event is over and no connections are made.
Innovate networking opportunities by organizing them. A great trend in the events industry is the “Reverse Trade Show.”
We were intentional about networking during Monetery. We invited a number of Venture Capital firms and startup companies to participate in a day of meetings that we titled Investor 1:1s. We received information from the startups and shared it with the VCs. VCs were invited to pick any of the companies that they were interested in meeting with and we did the rest.
We scheduled over 100 meetings. Investors and startups had the opportunity to learn about other companies and valuable connections were made with minimal effort.
What if we made the food the focus instead of the networking? During Monetery, lunch was split between five different restaurants and attendees were randomly assigned, purposely splitting up co-workers and sending them to different locations. Taking it outside of the conference setting allowed a more relaxed atmosphere and more organic conversations between attendees. Real connections were made and had the opportunity to really develop over the lunch hour.
Worst case, at least they could talk about how awesome the food was.
Startups still need to chow down 🍔 We took a lunch break from growing the Midwestern tech ecosystem at @moneterysummit to lead a community and founder-focused food tour highlighting the local chef #entrepreneurs of #DesMoines. pic.twitter.com/pKC7PEHzv7
— Google for Startups (@GoogleStartups) May 29, 2019
2. Don’t Skimp on Volunteers
You can’t have a successful conference by doing it alone. Involving your company by creating a volunteer team will help take some of the stress off day-of. Give your volunteers adequate training before the conference and assign them jobs to keep them busy and the conference running smoothly.
Worried about getting the help? Remind them that they get to attend the conference for free, listen to the speakers and sit in on the sessions when they aren’t needed.
Monetery couldn’t have happened without the volunteers we had. Registration was quick and nearly perfect thanks to the number of volunteers who were complimented several times for being a great welcoming committee. Lunch required a lot of hands (and umbrellas, in our case) and would have been a disaster without our team.
We were thrilled to have such a great crew that wanted to be at Monetery and were willing to help anywhere—even in the torrential downpour.
3. Don’t Flop on the Closing Session
Whether your conference is three days or one, everyone is ready for a break by the end. After a day of content, networking and work, attendees will want to relax with good drinks and better food. Keep the conference excitement going by hosting an after party.
You don’t have to provide a full meal and sit-down reception. If you are looking for a mix and mingle atmosphere, pick out a great venue that does the work. Have heavy appetizers available in place of a meal and put your money into the bar. This gives it a more “come and go” feeling so no one feels awkward walking out early or coming late.
If you want to have a big plated meal and reception, keep it interesting. Attendees have been listening to speakers all day and are ready for something new. Have a social cocktail hour before dinner, keep the reception short and follow with entertainment.
Have the end of the conference be more of a celebration than a closing reception.
4. Don’t Forget the Food
To me, food is the most important part of any event. Unfortunately, this can be thrown on the back burner, meaning attendees are left with the traditional bland conference lunches. Limited or no options, dietary restrictions forgotten and flavorless meals shouldn’t be what your conference is known for. The food should follow your conference brand as much as your content does!
As I mentioned earlier, we were intentional about making Monetery’s lunch experience anything but traditional. Attendees were sent to some of Des Moines’ best restaurants. We provided transportation to and from the restaurants, menus with enough variety that those with dietary restrictions or allergies had a few options and conversation was easy.
Even if this type of lunch isn’t feasible at your conference, lunch can still be interesting. Attendees want options and the easiest way is to have a food bar: tacos, sushi, potatoes, the list is endless. This provides an interactive lunch where almost everyone is happy. Always keep dietary restrictions in mind and be innovative—salads are not your only meatless, gluten-free, dairy-free option.
Everyone eats, so keep it exciting. Our conference is all about making connections and coming together, we wanted the lunch portion to reflect that mission as well. Your conference may not be about connections but it’s about something—can your lunch reinforce your agenda?
— A-a-ron Horn 🎗 (@HornIT) May 21, 2019
5. Don’t Ignore the Community
One of the reasons I wanted to join the Dwolla team was the strong focus on community. The host community is so important and valuable to your event in so many ways. Be intentional about showing your appreciation and highlighting what makes each community unique. It could be the first time someone is visiting the community, make a good first impression!
Monetery was very community focused in a lot of aspects. We used a local event production and t-shirt company, then enjoyed our lunch and evening events at restaurants around Des Moines. We had local sponsors and invited community members to attend the conference. We also gave back. Leftover food from the conference was donated to a local shelter and we donated to two incredible organizations, Pi515 and Iowa Safe Schools.
There are so many little things you can do to support the community and, ultimately, your company.
Provide attendees with a list of things to do in your city, locally-made food and swag from the community. Donate leftover food, invest in the future of your company and the community by inviting students to learn and network.
Give back so they will come back!