The Three “Ss” of a Successful Live EventBy Rich Brooks

You may have noticed that it’s more challenging to get engagement on your company’s Facebook page of late.

The same is true of Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and just about every other social media channel you know.

The problem is, as soon as people see a new channel is working for another business, they jump in, attracted by the “free advertising” this platform offers. This makes it more difficult for you to get found and engage your community.

And looking at the adoption rate of blogs, podcasts, Facebook, Twitter, and now Periscope, the benefits of being an early adopter are quickly disappearing. 

Our prospects’ newsfeeds quickly fill up, and we’re left struggling to get their attention. 

What you need is a channel that truly differentiates you from your competition and gives you a unique opportunity to connect with your audience. One where your competition can’t easily follow. 

The Live Event: The “New” Social Media Platform

One of the reasons adoption rates are so quick in social media is the perceived low-barrier to entry. Social media appears “free” and so businesses are willing to jump in, regardless of the actual ROI.

Putting on a successful live event, however, takes more time and effort. There are costs involved, which may include renting a space, paying for speakers, marketing, advertising, travel costs, opportunity costs, food costs, and more, so it’s more risky. 

Why Put On Live Events

A live event is your own social media platform. Once you get people in the room, you’re not competing for their attention. 

A live event is the perfect platform for establishing your credibility, generating leads, and—when done well—making a profit.

If you’ve never put on an event before, it can be intimidating. However, I’ve laid out a framework for putting on your first successful live event.

The Three “Ss” of a Successful Live Event

In my experience, there are three critical elements to a profitable, successful live event. 

  1. Speakers: While you might be the only one presenting at your event, adding speakers, especially those with name recognition or their own built-in audience, can be a huge draw. Find people who can offer valuable content to your target audience.
  2. Sponsors: Although not required, sponsors help defray the costs of your event and can be the difference between profit and loss. And bringing in the right sponsors—ones with products or offerings that match with your audience’s needs, will help make your event a success for everyone involved.
  3. Seats: You can’t have a successful live event unless you fill your seats with paying customers. 

First Things First: Who is This For?

Just like your website, your conference (or seminar, or workshop, or lunch and learn), is not about you; it’s about your customers. The people you’re looking to serve.

Understanding who you’re planning this event for helps answer all the other questions you’ll ask later:

  • Who should speak?
  • How long should my event be?
  • Where should I host my event?
  • How much should I charge?
  • Where should I market or advertise?
  • Who would be a good sponsor for this event?

And so on.

Getting the Right Speakers

If you plan to bring in additional speakers, there are a few ways in which you can attract them to present:

  • Get them to present for free as a way of building their own visibility and credibility.
  • Pay them (or pay their travel expenses, or buy a copy of their latest book for your attendees).
  • Have them pay you.

While that last one may seem like a dream come true, it has it’s own cost. Some sponsors want to present either to promote their products and services or to position themselves as thought leaders. Proceed with caution: We’ve all sat through thinly veiled sales pitches that left us with a bad taste in our mouth about the conference.

Your speakers, along with their topics, will be the biggest selling point for your event, so make sure you’re putting together an agenda that will get them out of their homes and offices and opening up their wallets.

Getting the Right Sponsors

Good sponsors do more than just help you turn a profit, they provide value to your attendees. To get sponsors to invest in your event, you need to understand their motivations.

In my experience, there are several reasons sponsors may want to participate:

  1. Access to your attendees. This is especially true when you pull in a desirable audience. That could be bookkeepers, architects, or stay-at-home moms. The more information you can get on your attendees this year, the easier it will be to sell sponsors on the event next year. The more niche your audience, the more valuable it is to certain sponsors.
  2. Positioning themselves as thought leaders. By speaking at certain events, companies raise their profiles. 
  3. Being associated with your “brand. I love this. I’ve asked companies straight up why they want to sponsor Agents of Change (AOC), and they’ve told me because they want to be associated with us. 

Sponsorships can include cash, media trades, or other types of barters. Any money you save on your event is cash in your pocket.

We have a local pizzeria that is our pizza sponsor because they donate $500 worth of pizza to our networking event. That more than feeds everyone at our event, and the rest we drop off at a local shelter. 

Getting Butts in the Seats

There’s no event without an audience. When I’ve asked entrepreneurs why they haven’t pulled the trigger on putting on their own event, the number one response I get is “fear that no one is going to show up.”

I’ve been putting on events for more than 10 years, and full-day conferences for seven years. I’ve tried a number of different marketing and advertising throughout the years, but the number one way I’ve sold tickets is through our opt-in email newsletter.

If you have a list, you’ll want to regularly email them announcements and reminders about your event.

(Pro tip: If you can segment your list so you don’t keep bombarding people who have already bought tickets with emails reminding them that tickets are still available, you’ll save everyone some headaches.)

In addition, you’ll also want to have a Facebook page, Twitter account, and other social media activity dedicated to your event. I’ve also used webinars, written guest blog posts, and appeared on podcasts leading up to AOC.

Locally, I’ve advertised in print, radio, and TV ads. Some of this was paid, but most was bartered. 

Online we’ve used Facebook ads and retargeting successfully, and this year we’re experimenting with Google AdWords.

I’ve also reached out to local business organizations—chambers of commerce, Buy Local, professional member organizations—offering their members discounts if they’ll email their list on our behalf.

Here’s another pro tip: Start small.

There’s nothing wrong with putting on a lunch and learn for 10 people if they’re the right 10 people.

(And they’re covering the cost of your event, or they represent enough business that eventually you’ll make your money back.)

What Do I Charge?

There’s probably no more flummoxing question I get. The best answer I can give is, “it depends.” 

Ask for too little and people will think you’re not offering any value. Ask for too much and you’ll scare away people. 

One thing that I’ve found effective is having tiered pricing depending on when people buy tickets.

For AOC, we offer early bird discounts, and then bump the price every month leading up to our event. That gives us new things to talk about each month, as well as incentives for people to buy their tickets as early as possible.

What Tools Should I Use?

There are plenty of different tools you can use to help you build a successful live event, but here are a few of my favorites:

  • EventBrite: This is how we sell and manage ticket sales. We can create different ticket types, discount codes, affiliate links, and more. We can also use EventBrite to communicate with attendees before and after each event.
  • Constant Contact: Nothing sells like email. We can segment our lists to promote new events to previous attendees, promote speakers, and alert people when the early bird discounts are expiring. If I ever need a shot in the arm for ticket sales, I just send out one more email.
  • Google Docs: I use Google Docs for sharing systems with my teams, for creating spreadsheets of which member organizations I still need to connect with, and for creating survey forms for attendees to see which speakers I should invite back. 

How Do I Get Started?

Start small.

Consider starting with a lunch and learn.

Here in Portland, Maine, the library rents out a very nice conference room for an affordable fee. Charge enough to cover your expenses and pay for lunch. Send out an email to your list. Ask them to bring a friend for half-off.

After the event, ask for feedback. What could have made the event more valuable? Would they recommend this event to a friend? Where do they hang out online?

Now you have the starting point on how to create your next event, who to market to, and where you should be marketing.

Good luck!

image credit: Shutterstock

Rich Brooks

Rich Brooks is founder and president of flyte new media, a web design and marketing firm in Portland, Maine. He is a nationally recognized speaker on entrepreneurship, digital marketing and social media. He is a founder of The Agents of Change, an annual conference and weekly podcast all about search, social

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