Sunday, January 27, 2013

Conference Adventures Part Sept: Pricing

I woke up this morning not having to go to Personal Training today (did I mention I have been going every morning for the past 8 weeks to lose weight for my 40th Birthday?) and I was actually looking forward at the chance to sleep in. I went back to sleep (after the cat settled down around 5:30 am) and woke up at 9:30 am ready to take on the world. A friend called me bored and wanting to get out of the house, and my daughter needed to do something other than Skype with her friends all day, so we all went shopping for the day. First stop Staples, then Target, then Macy's (and the Hillsdale Mall). It was nice...

2 Days Until the Event


Status Update: 
Speaker's Presentations (PPT or other): 1 (Simon still Rocks!)
Agenda: In print form and solid as it could get
Logistics: BO's approved, Tracy Ng all set to help out, ready to get this party started
Marketing/Promotion:  Facebook Poll setup for the Awards, No way I;m going to get to update Lanyrd or finish last years videos, print materials for event designed and ready to print tomorrow (I ran out of ink tonight).
Master of Ceremonies: Me
Volunteers: 2 Confirmed (Lydia and Tracy)


Figuring out Pricing 

One of the many key important aspects of each conference I plan is how that event is priced. Price it too high, and people will not only refrain from registering, but they will complain (and often publicly). Price it too low and you de-value what the event has to offer... not to mention that with less money coming in, there is less available for quality food, a decent location, and extras like parties, swag, etc. So I try to find a decent location with a well lit space, high ceilings (got a complaint about low ceilings once), and serves high quality food. Once the estimated overhead is figured out, then I take the number of attendees the previous year and calculate what the set costs would be divided among the number then add the fluid costs (like food) to each registration. Essential Passes don't get food and extras (parties, Speaker's Dinner, activities, etc) - so they don't pay for food and such. Full Passes get food and extras, but they don't get the hotel stay included so they don't pay for their stay. VIP passes get it all - so they pay for it all. It's pretty straightforward...  The downside is that I do not make any money off of the events. For now, I am ok with that, but someday it would be nice to get a bit of a kick-back from them.

So, I checked out my competition this evening worried that my next event is maybe priced too high. SMX Advanced is a SEO conference held in Seattle every year, and it's a pretty popular one. This year they are the week after EmMeCon in Seattle, but the audience attending is so different (since we don't do SEO) that I'm not worried that we will lose attendees because of it. What I did notice is their pricing. Their passes work differently that EmMeCon's. 



Basic Pass


They have a "Networking" Pass that gets you into their Expo Hall (that we do not have) but not to sessions or workshops. That pass is $99 pre-reg and $139 regular reg. The closest we have is our Essential, but ours is sessions only priced at $198 pre-reg and $468 regular registration. I'm now wondering if I should lower the price - but 3 days of sessions should be at least $100/day, and with the few hundred we get the average of all passes by the time of the event pays their part in the set overhead. 

Mid-Level Pass


They 4 passes, but their mid-level is probably their "All Access Pass" for $1,595 which includes sessions and access to the expo hall, but doesn't include Workshops. Workshops are $895 - so the two added would be $2,490 (~$100 less than the "All Access"). From pre-reg to regular registration rates they go up roughly $200-$300. Our comparative pass would be our Full Pass that goes for $568 pre-reg and $1,178 regular registration. I priced my pre-reg on the Full pass so low because it covers their portion of the set overhead just perfectly and encourages people to register early (since it's just $100 more than the regular Essential Pass). It seems to work pretty well because we have people register for Seattle months before the turn of the new year (9-10 months before the event). At times we have had workshops the day before the conference, and include them for all attendees - then sell them separately for $198 for a full day. That price point has become our sweet spot for workshops.

Ultimate Pass


The Pass that includes it all for SMX Advanced is their "All Access + Workshop" for $2,395 pre-reg and $2,895 regular registration. I tried to see if attendees get all of the workshops, or just one, but it appears they just give one with the registration. Our comparable is our VIP Pass that we sell for $1,687.85 - which includes 3 nights at the hotel. I use the Marriot in Pioneer Square for this event (well, and for every event I hold in Seattle) so I know what the rates per night are. To be honest, the hotel gives us a bit of a discount, so I pass that into the price of the pass.

SMX has been around for many years, and people have told me they get great value out of the event. But the value they get is out of the networking, not the sessions. I stopped going to SMX 5 years ago because I wasn't learning anything anymore, but I did like getting to know the other SEO's there. That reason is why I hold my events (focusing on the networking, but providing really valuable topics as well). So how do they get people to pay those prices, plus get enough booths int he expo hall and sponsors as well? They must make a killing. Perhaps someday EmMeCon will be a big conference with a expo hall and sponsors too...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Conference Adventures Part Six: Complaints Happen

Time is ticking and the event is fast approaching. My day job has had me busier than we have been since the first few months I began working there. I had gotten used to the quiet in the office, but the execs had an off-site to solve a lot of bug issues within the corporation and as a result stuff is now getting done. It's a great thing to be a part of, but couldn't have come at a worse time as I am in the home stretch of the conference now.

Today I saw a Tweet about BlueGlass LA coming up in May, and (being I know the CEO Richard Zwicky very well) I dug around to check it out a bit. I found that this event that is talked about a lot and seems to have a very loyal following only has 175 attendees. That's just slightly less than the number EmMeCon gets and we often get called a "Boutique Conference", and I have even gotten feedback from 2 people that said they were surprised at how small the event was. I felt so crappy that I couldn't get more people, but kinda don't want more because then the event loses it's specialness it has. Perhaps BlueGlass has found their events to be the same.

4 Days Until the Event


Status Update: 
Speaker's Presentations (PPT or other): 1 (Simon Rocks!)
Agenda: Had to move a couple speakers around - but good now
Logistics: Meals planned, Speaker's Dinner confirmations and meals sent to hotel, AV guy all set to show up Monday.
Marketing/Promotion:  Tweets scheduled, Facebook updates Scheduled, still need to update Lanyrd,  finish last years videos (probably not going to happen now), print materials for event (signs, schedules, promotion of next events) and...
Master of Ceremonies: Yup it's Me
Volunteers: 2 Confirmed


People Complain


One of the aspects of organizing an event that really gets under my skin are the complaints. My first year I didn't get a single complaint, at least to my face. Everyone was very happy with every aspect of the event, and I event got people coming up to me commending on doing such a great job with the speakers, topics, food, location, etc. But then we grew - and I didn't get to say "hi" or get to know all of the people attending on a more personal level like I did the first year. Now I get people attending that don't even so much as smile at me let alone come up and "hi" or "thanks for organizing such an awesome event". 

Today I got my first complaint leading up to the event. An attendee that was giving me difficulty from the beginning said they were frustrated at the "lack of organization". Ugh - the event hasn't even started...

I try to remind myself that this just comes with planning an event. No matter what you do, there will always be someone complaining about something. Either there are too many emails, or not enough. Or the emails didn't have the information they felt they should have gotten, or the information wasn't displayed prominently in the email. Oh, and the food - the complaints about the food. I try to get away with not serving food if I can, but I feel bad that people pay money to be there and to not feed them is just rude. I finally found a balance that the Essential Passes (that go for $150 - $468 depending on when they register) don't get Lunch or Dinner. That tends to solve the majority of the people, and the overhead of serving them food far outweighs what they pay. The Full and VIP Passes get Lunch, and the Speaker's Dinner. I then get to spend more on the food so we get a great quality meal, and it allows me a chance to honor our speakers for putting in the time and effort they do to speak. 

I have to say my favorite complaints are the ones where people are just whacky. One person at our Hawaii event complained that her picture was taking while she was wearing her bikini... well, don't wear a bikini at a conference then? Or the woman that asked if she could sell her Luau ticket to someone else since she didn't want to go - the Luau was sponsored, she didn't pay for it in her pass (ok that's more of an odd question than a complaint). But my ultimate favorite complaints of all are the people that emailed me complaining that I didn't hold the Hawaii conference last year. Seriously, all the work I put into it to get no money and they are upset with me for not wanting to do it again?

So - complaints happen. It's still difficult to take since I am a person that wants to make sure everyone is having a good time. So, here we go - and here I embrace myself to be ready to take the punches thrown in my direction.

Friday, January 18, 2013

SEO Issues - is it Penguin? Is it Panda? or is it me?

The following story is one that has been several months in the making. It's one that I have lived through one too many times as an SEO, and it is one that I am sure other SEO's have faced. I fought with the thought of writing this for fear that someone from the company might read it and get angry that the story is told. But, it's something I think that not only people out there could learn from, but speaks to so many others in this industry to show them that they are not alone.

It's long, it's a bit technical (I tried to keep it simple), and it has some personal frustrations laid out in words. My only hope is that you get value out of reading this as much as living it has made me a better person (or well, a better SEO).

It Begins


I started working on this website's SEO in May 2012 at which time I was told the site's traffic was declining due to Panda updates. In February of 2012 the traffic from SEO was the best they had ever seen, but soon after that there was a steady decline.
Traffic from February 2012 - May 2012
Before digging into any possible SEO issues, I first checked the Google Trends to ensure that the decline isn't searcher related. Often times a drop in traffic could just mean that users aren't searching for the terms the website is ranking for as they were in the past.

Top Key Terms in Google Trends
Looking at the same time frame as the traffic data, I noticed an increase in searches for the top 3 terms the website ranked for, and there appeared to be a decline around the same time from March to April that the traffic was reflecting. But there was a drop in the website's traffic in April from the 23rd to the 24th and then significantly on the 25th. The website I was working on had two SEO's already working on it: an agency and a consultant. Both had already done a numerous amount of research and some work to get the website on track. Both were stressing that the drop in traffic was due to the Panda updates by Google. I looked at SEOmoz's Google Algorithm Change History and found an update to Google's Panda on April 19th and an update to Penguin on April 24th. Given that the traffic significantly dropped on the 24th my best guess is that it was possibly Penguin related, but still needed further exploration.

Figuring Out What Was Hit by Penguin.


The site is/was broken up into sections by keyword focus. At one point, I could tell that someone really had a good head on their shoulders for SEO, but the strategy that was used was outdated. Perhaps the site was originally optimized several years before, and it just needs some cleanup now to bring it up to 2012's optimization standards. So, understanding Penguin and identifying which part of the site was driving the bulk of the organic traffic was going to be my next step in solving this mystery. Once I understood why, and where, then I could start to establish a what to do to solve the problem.

I broke the site traffic report by sections as best I could in Google Analytics. There was a bit of a struggle as all of the pages of the site resided on the main domain. Without a hierarchy in place, breaking out the sections had to be accomplished with a custom report and a head matching for landing pages. I hadn't had to do this before, so the agency that was working with the site already helped build the first report, and I began building out the other reports from there.
Click to View Larger
Section 1 over 72% of traffic

Just focusing on April and May I created a Dashboard in Google Analytics focusing on organic Traffic and identifying the sections of the site. Looking at the different sections - Section 1 was the bulk of the traffic with over 72% and Section 2 coming in second with just over 15%. Subs of Section 3 and other one-off pages make up the difference.

Both Section 1 and Section 2 dropped off after the April 24th date, so clearly they were the bulk of what was pulling the overall traffic numbers down. Since Section 1 was the majority of the traffic, I presented to the executive responsible for the site that we address any issues with that page first.

Actual screenshot of Section 1 presented
I took all of the research from the agency and consultant and we quickly reworked the pages to represent a hierarchy in the URL structure, and cleaned up any issues from the outdated optimization that was done.

Soon after Section 1 was addressed, we did the same with Section 2, and then worked on Section 3 (and sub pages, rolling them up into a solid section) and then added a few pages to grab any new opportunity.

Not Quite As  Easy as it Looks


The projects were launched in increments - first URL hierarchy fix to Section 1 and then the page redesign. Next was a full launch of URL fixes and page redesign to Section 2, and then lastly Section 3 and the new Section 4.
Section 1 - Section 2- Section 3 Launch Dates and Organic Traffic
Soon after Section 1 was launched traffic started declining rapidly. I was asked several times why traffic was getting worse, and I started digging some more. Every time I looked at the Impressions of the new URLs from Section 1 they weren't getting any traction, but the previous URLs were still.  I began looking at the history of the website, trying to find out why it was doing so well at one point, but was not doing well at that time. One of the things I noticed was that there was a lack of priority linking to these pages, but at some point there were links to some of them individually from the homepage. Google matches a hierarchy of pages to a directory structure that links are presented on a site. This site had every page on the first level, and linking to those pages from the homepage, which was telling Google that every page was the most important page. It worked at one time, but as Google has been rolling out their 2012 updates these pages were getting hit, and those links on the homepage weren't there anymore. Before the launch of Section 2, I had them put links to the main directory for each section on the homepage. The links would tell the search engines that these are important pages of the website, but not be so obnoxious with a dozen or more links on the homepage to discourage users (avoiding the appearance of spamminess).

But - even after adding the links to the homepage, the traffic to those pages was still declining. Pressure was put on me to figure out what was wrong. In addition, accusations were flying that I single-handedly ruined the SEO for the site, I spent every waking hour looking at reports, and trying to figure out what was going on. I consulted friends in the industry, and read every article I could find to figure out what Panda or Penguin updates were affecting these pages.

Then it hit me - just as the links to these sections would help them get recognized as important pages, so were the other pages that were being linked to from the homepage. In fact a set of them linked to the website's search results with queries attached to them mimicking pages, but showing search results. On those search results pages, there were over 200 links with multiple (we're talking hundreds - possibly thousands) combinations of parameters. The bots were coming to the homepage, going to the links to the search results pages, and then getting stuck in this vortex of links and combinations of parameter generating URLs - not allowing any crawl time for the pages that once were getting rankings. This also explains why the new URLs weren't showing very many impressions in the Webmaster Tools Data - those pages just weren't getting crawled.

There was a project underway that would solve the many links on the search pages, and there was also talk of using ajax to show the results. When this project would launch, the bots would go to the URL from the homepage, but would then essential not go much further. With this project a few months out, I made the case to add the search page to robots.txt to allow the bots to then recognize the Sections as important pages. After several weeks of attempting to convince the powers that be, the URL was eventually added to the robots.txt file.

Immediately after the search page was added to the robots.txt Google Webmaster tools presented me with a warning:
Warning in Webmaster Tools
In most cases, a warning from Google should never be taken lightly, but in this case it was exactly what I wanted. In fact it proved to me that my theory was correct, and that the site was hopefully headed down the right path.


Panic, Questioning, and a Third Party


As with every up in the SEO world, there must be a down. Soon after the search result page was added to the robots.txt the organic traffic to the site dropped, and continued to drop. Throughout those grueling three months there were several Google Panda and Penguin updates. I documented each and every one of them in Google Analytics, and continued to answer questions, gathering data, and dealing with being under close scrutiny that the work I was doing was complete BS.
Organic Traffic from September 2012 - November 2012
I sat in numerous meetings, some of which I walked out crying (I'm not afraid to admit it), being questioned about the road I had taken and why we weren't seeing results. There were people within the company recommending that they roll the pages back to where they were before, and even changing the URLs. I fought hard that they don't touch a thing. I sent an article posted on Search Engine Land by Barry Schwartz citing Google's patent that "tricks" search spammers.

The patent states:

When a spammer tries to positively influence a document’s rank through rank-modifying spamming, the spammer may be perplexed by the rank assigned by a rank transition function consistent with the principles of the invention, such as the ones described above. For example, the initial response to the spammer’s changes may cause the document’s rank to be negatively influenced rather than positively influenced. Unexpected results are bound to elicit a response from a spammer, particularly if their client is upset with the results. In response to negative results, the spammer may remove the changes and, thereby render the long-term impact on the document’s rank zero. Alternatively or additionally, it may take an unknown (possibly variable) amount of time to see positive (or expected) results in response to the spammer’s changes. In response to delayed results, the spammer may perform additional changes in an attempt to positively (or more positively) influence the document’s rank. In either event, these further spammer-initiated changes may assist in identifying signs of rank-modifying spamming.
 But the article and my please fell on deaf ears...

It had gotten so heated and there was fear that nothing was being done while traffic was significantly declining that the company brought in yet another SEO consultant to look at the site objectively.

Just as the consultant was starting his audit, and the traffic hit the lowest I ever thought it could possibly go, the next day traffic went up. The last week in November (roughly 3 months after we blocked the search result page) I saw an increase in traffic in Google Analytics to Section 1:
Section 1 Organic Traffic
I quickly pulled up my report to check the Section's impressions from the Webmaster Tools data, and there was a significant increase as well:
Section 1 Impressions from Webmaster Tools Data
On December 3, 2012 I logged into Webmaster Tools and saw that the warning had gone away:
It was the "halleluiah" moment that every SEO dreams of, and very few get. All the work I had done, the fighting for what I believed in, it all finally paid off.

To this day traffic continues to increase - we can now focus on some of the cleanup still left to do, and then onto projects that will attract new opportunity.
Organic Traffic from November 2012 - January 17, 2013 (day before this post is written)
Quick Note: 
I forgot to mention a post I wrote months ago while going through all of this - SEO - Panda and the Penguins. It helps to give a bit of perspective of some of the linking stuff I didn't get into in this post. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Conference Adventures Part Quatre - Working with the Hotel

It's now the evening of the same day since my last post (19 hours later). I checked a lot of items off of my list with regards to the logistics of the event, so I'm feeling pretty confident in how smoothly this is going to go (famous last words right?). I gotta say, my favorite part so far of the whole event... I booked a photographer to bring a photo booth to the party and asked for 80's props to go with my little theme.

After every up, there must be a down... This afternoon I felt an illness coming on. In a panic I ran to the Pharmacy across the street from the office and grabbed Zicam, a spray to protect from illness, Vitamin C, and Vitamin B-12 tablets. If I get sick this close to the event, I am screwed...

13 Days Until the Event


Status Update: 
Speakers: All Speakers confirmed and in the agenda
Speaker's Presentations (PPT or other): 0
Agenda: Full!
Logistics: F&B Coordinated, layout of room and AV discussed - Video Recordings, Meetup event details, Party details, and Photographer all checked off (WooHoo!)
Marketing/Promotion: I managed to get all of the speakers on the website (with the exception of Aaron Kronis, but he doesn't' count anyways) and the Agenda is looking pretty complete. I do have some room if someone comes in last minute, but we can go on with it as is as well.  I still need to get speaker emails set up as well as the marketing emails; schedule tweets, Facebook updates, get a Google+ event update schedule figured out (can't schedule those - have to do them manually), update Lanyrd,  finish last years videos, print materials for event (signs, schedules, promotion of next events) and oh so much more.
Master of Ceremonies: Still Me
Volunteers: 1 (Lydia is going to check people in - Yay!  Thank you Lydia) - I still need a Volunteer to help with the speaker's transition and man the video camera.


Coordinating with the Hotel

While the most feared part of organizing an event for me in the past (simply because I had NO idea what I was doing), it has now become one of my favorites. The first time I walked through the plan for F&B and AV with the event coordinator for the resort in Hawaii I got screwed. $20k in the hole later, and after a bail out from my Father to keep Search and Social Hawaii from being canceled, I learned from my mistakes, and have not made the same mistake since. 

I met with our coordinator this afternoon after getting off work. Now that the agenda is set, we went through day by day and discussed numbers for each meal and service. After the disaster of last year at the Hotel Kabuki, I am confident that the Sofitel will have good food, an impressive room (with heat), the coffee will get served (and won't run out), the mic will work for every talk, and the staff will be there if I need anything (did I miss anything?).

After talking with Lisa, I met with the Audio Visual guy. There were a couple of emails going back and forth, and they drafted up an estimate based on that. I'm not going to divulge the total, but I gotta say, I was pretty upset with what they came up with. I now realize why Lisa, and the IT guy both started off (before showing me the numbers) that everything is negotiable, and if needed we can cut some things out.

Well... They have about 90% of it to cut out before I can even come close to being able to afford the bill...

Conference Adventures Part Trois - 2 Weeks 'til

It's 1:30 am and after a couple of hours of sleep I woke up only to find I can't stop thinking about what I still need to do. On top of organizing the conference, I still have my full time job and I finally found a 2 bedroom apartment for my daughter and I to upgrade from the little studio we have been sharing here in San Francisco. We're moving in on February 2nd (right after the conference). There is still a lot to do... Though I tend to love when my life gets like this. So many tasks ahead leading up to a big goal that may seem overwhelming - but just take each day one by one and check the items off the list that need to get done, and it will all be ok. Not to mention that all those items checked off at the end of the day make me feel like I really accomplished something.

14 Days Until the Event


Status Update: 
Speakers: 28 out of 29 speakers confirmed
Speaker's Presentations (PPT or other): 0
Agenda: 1 spots left to fill (almost there)
Logistics: Still need to coordinate F&B (meeting with the hotel on the way home today), layout of room, AV (emails back and forth with the Hotel's IT guys), Video Recordings, Meetup event details, Party details, and Photographer.
Marketing/Promotion: Started on Daily Emails but haven't gotten any further - still need to get speaker emails set up as well as the marketing emails; schedule tweets, Facebook updates, get a Google+ event update schedule figured out (can't schedule those - have to do them manually), update Lanyrd,  finish last years videos, print materials for event (signs, schedules, promotion of next events) and oh so much more.
Master of Ceremonies: Still Me
Volunteers: 1 (Lydia is going to check people in - Yay!  Thank you Lydia)


Social Media Encouragement


I saw this tweet come through on Sunday and it reminds me how buzz like this around the conference makes all the hard work worth it.


I know, to you it seems like just a simple question, but to me it's so much more than that. You see, when you market an event, you don't get much feedback on how successful your marketing is until you see registrations come through. The conference purchasing decision is a process, and tracking that process is difficult - especially on a tight budget like mine (that's no budget really). It goes something like this:
  1. The user saw an ad, a post on Facebook, a Tweet, or some form of notification about the event that peaked their interest.
  2. The user visits the website for the event and looks at who is speaking, what the agenda looks likes, and generally reads up on the event.
  3. The user Google's the event to see if there is more about the event or if anyone is saying anything about it. In some cases, the user might Tweet or Facebook and ask their "friends" if they heave heard of the event, or are going.
  4. The user then goes back to work (or just generally goes about their day)
  5. Days, or weeks pass and the user sees another mention of the event (ad, Facebook, Twitter, etc) and then talks to their boss (if they need to get approval) or checks their schedule, with spouse, and.or budget (either way, they need to get some sort of approval).
  6. The user then goes back to work or day again.
  7. Days, or weeks pass and the user remembers the event (or maybe might see another reminder). The user will then ask the boss, or consult their spouse, schedule, etc one more time.
  8. The user then gathers whatever they need to justify the spend. Whether it be their boss, spouse, or own personal budget. This process could include a simple breakdown of costs, or it could involve comparing it to other similar events. It can also include items on the agenda that might help state their case (either to the boss, spouse, or themselves).
  9. Once the event has been approved, the user will go about planning their trip (or if it is local, getting ready to be out of the office for a few days). The flight will get booked, but perhaps not the hotel quite yet, and certainly not registering for the event.
  10. Days, perhaps weeks might pass and the user has let everyone around them know they are going. Facebook posts, Tweets, co-workers, Family, Friends, etc. Everyone knows that the user is going to attend the event... but the event itself...
  11. 1-2 weeks prior to the event the user will realize they haven't booked their hotel, or registered for the event. At this point, the user will go to the website and register for the event, then find the hotel information and book their stay. If they are local and there is no stay to book, they usually register a few days before the event.
So, you see there is a lot from the awareness to the commitment that has to happen, and tracking that process is a very tough thing to do. I have my ways, don't get me wrong - I wouldn't be a marketer if I didn't find ways to track the process as much as possible. But numbers don't say nearly as much as seeing a Tweet come through that your event seems to be THE event to attend.  




Saturday, January 12, 2013

Conference Adventures Part Deux - Speakers

(yeah, just "Speakers")

It's Saturday 2 weeks before the event begins, and I am finding myself focusing on getting these speakers confirmed, their profiles on the website, their talks in the agenda, and their details emailed to them. At times I feel like I can take an hour or two to relax (and watch mindless sitcoms on Hulu) and there are times I feel like there is too much to do and I can't take a break.

17 Days Until the Event


Status Update: 
Speakers: 26 out of 29 speakers confirmed
Speaker's Presentations (PPT or other): 0
Agenda: 2-4 spots left to fill (I reworked the times and cut back a few slots)
Logistics: Still need to coordinate F&B, layout of room, AV, Video Recordings, Meetup event details, Party details, and Photographer.
Marketing/Promotion: Started on Daily Emails - still need to get speaker emails set up as well as the marketing emails; schedule tweets, Facebook updates, get a Google+ event update schedule figured out (can't schedule those - have to do them manually), update Lanyrd,  finish last years videos, print materials for event (signs, schedules, promotion of next events) and oh so much more.
Master of Ceremonies: Still Me
Volunteers: 0 (possibly 1 or 2)


A Note to Speakers - or Advice when Speaking at a Conference  

However you wish to take it

After my close friend, and fellow SES conference frequenter Simon Heseltine confirmed that he will be in San Francisco the day of my Birthday party, I asked him if he had time to come speak at the conference as well. The day he confirmed I saw his post on SEW "The Guide to Speaking at Search & Social Conferences" and it got me thinking once again about the frustrations I get with speakers for every event I plan.

There are certain triggers and qualities in the people that approach me about speaking that send up red flags of warning. I often wonder if they know they are discouraging the person that approves their speaking, and if they knew they were doing it that maybe they would stop. I have thought about writing a post that talks to those wanting to speak, but worry I might offend someone. Well, no one reads this blog anyways (there are 1-3 visits to it each week), so why not do it here? If someone is offended by what I have to say, and to the point where they cancel their speaking on me, well... I guess I didn't need them to speak anyways (so there *sticksouttongue*).

Some of the points Simon makes are very valuable - so I'm going to call them out, and perhaps add to them so anyone that reads this can get more insight from a planner as well as someone with experience speaking. So, you should probably read Simon's article now (if you really want to get something out of this).

Speaking at a search or social conference like SES brings with it a few perks.
Most (not all) conferences will give you a free conference pass as a speaker, which makes it much easier to get your boss to agree to let you leave the office for a week to go to locations including London, New York City, Toronto, San Francisco, Chicago, and Las Vegas.

Note the "few perks" including a free conference pass, and great locations to visit. For example "San Francisco" which is one of our conference locations. Even cooler, is my conference in Hawaii. The reason why I point this out is because a lot of speakers (and I'm talking about people I have personally never heard of before, haven't met, and don't have a very impressive background) will ask me about T&E coverage and an Honorarium. When I started planning these conferences I had grand visions of paying travel and expenses to every speaker, and giving them a gift in the form of a iPad, or something cool, as a "thank you" for speaking.

But then reality set in and the budget of a conference that is just starting out is not big by any means, and I just haven't been able to compensate the speakers. What I have been doing is offering them an all access pass to the event they are speaking at and, in addition, provide them two passes to hand out. To them it's worth $3,000-$4,000 with my out of pocket being just $1,000-$2,000 (depending on what they eat and drink, what activity they go to, if they use those extra passes, etc). Most speakers are perfectly happy with it, and some even get very excited and appreciative of the extra passes they get. But, there are a few that not only ask about T&E but then actually tell me they won't speak unless something is paid out to them. As I mentioned in my last post, the speaker that filled out the form requesting to speak (which clearly states all the details) actually 2 weeks before the event asked for T&E and honorarium, then told me he won't speak since he isn't getting compensated.  It's really no skin off my back as I can always find another speaker, but it frustrates me that I gave him a spot, have been sending him communications, and so close to the event he cancels. He is no exception... It happens often.

What gets me through it is the speakers that do end up speaking at our events. They love getting on stage and inspire the attendees. They show up to all of the networking events and activities and get to know attendees. In the end, when we weed out those that are above speaking for the sheer passion of the community and the greater good that we are all working towards, it makes for a very valuable event in the end.

Planning Your Conferences

Think about the topic(s) that you’re able to speak on knowledgeably, and that your company will allow you to talk about. Look for conferences that align with those topics by looking at the agenda for previous events. While prior events may not necessarily have had a session on that exact topic, when you make your pitch many conferences will add in new or consolidate new with existing sessions in order to keep the content fresh and up to date.
Wappow! conferences are extremely different from any other conference out there. There are often times that speakers fill out our form and I can tell that they haven't researched our event. EmMeCon in particular is a TED like event (which is the closest I can come to explaining it quickly) - the topics are a quick 20 minutes and are meant to be inspirational. We look into the future of technology and will ask the questions "Where are we going?", "Where have we been?", and "How did we get here?" often. I get so many speaking proposals wanting to talk about "How brands can benefit from social media" which is great, but everyone wants to cover it, and this event is for the advanced, it's not about teaching, but rather about inspiring. If speakers would take the time and watch our videos, check out the agenda, and get to know the event, then they would have a much better chance of getting chosen to speak.

Pre-Conference Prep

You should get an email from the conference giving you all the details about your session (e.g., timings, fellow speakers, moderator, equipment), about the conference (e.g., dress code, expected level of attendees, and other event logistics), and most likely some badges to display on your blog or website.
I skipped "The Speaking Pitch" - I highly recommend reading it, he's pretty spot on. So, onto preparing for the conference. I highlighted here that Simon points out how "You should get an email from the conference giving you all the details...". I cannot stress enough the importance of each speaker watching for that email and all emails following. I personally (since I am a one-woman operation) spend at least 2-3 hours (often more) crafting up the emails making sure speakers have all the details. Not only to make sure they have everything they need, but to hopefully avoid the one-off emails I get from them asking the same questions that I spend the time putting in the emails. In fact, I just got the question as I am typing this "How many attendees are there? What is the recommended hotel? ". There have been 3 emails mentioning the hotel - and a reminder that they needed to book their stay before yesterday or they would miss out on the discounted rate (that I carefully negotiated with the Hotel). Now because this person didn't pay attention to her emails she will have to pay full price for her room. I don't write those emails for my benefit, I write them for their benefit... but I will still get complaints that the hotel is too expensive, or get questions regarding the logistics of the event.

Preparing Your Presentation

Many conferences require that you submit your presentation electronically a week or so in advance. This doesn’t mean that you can’t make changes, should it need further refining, or should some new data or news become available that would be of value to the audience.

Back when I was speaking I never had a conference ask for a Power Point before the event. In-fact I usually emailed it to the person in charge or brought it up to the AV person on a thumb drive just before I spoke. I started asking for presentations ahead of time because, now that I am on the other side, getting the presentation as they are going on stage causes a lot of confusion, delays, and looks unprofessional to the audience.

I know the last few events there was confusion as PPTs weren't queued up and there wasn't a consistent person manning them. It's something I plan on making sure doesn't happen this time, and speakers sending me their PPTs days before the event relies heavily on that.

Speaking


Make sure to show up at least 15 minutes before you’re scheduled to speak. Check that your presentation is on the machine and is the latest version (if not, whip out your thumb drive). Make sure that any videos or audio you have work correctly, then head to the rest room as unlike the attendees you’re not able to leave the room should nature demand so.
Listen to your fellow presenters speak. They may say something that you can tie into your presentation, or during the audience question-and-answer period.


I can't stress Simon's point enough that you show up at least 15 minutes early and to listen to what your fellow presenters have to say. I actually ask our speakers to attend the entire event. I'm so particular about this that I will not ask someone back if they just show up for their talk, present, and then leave shortly after. Staying for a full day, or even the full three days bodes well with me, and will get them asked back every time. Someone that stays and adds value by attending the networking events will also get recommendations from me to some of the larger more prominent conferences (yes, conference organizers know each other and we talk).

The rest of Simon's post covers Q&A and a few more helpful tips that I strongly recommend read and fully understanding.

More Notes (from me)


Just a couple more pointers to add to Simon's post.

Check your ego at the door


Just because you were chosen to speak, does not mean that you are any smarter or better than anyone else at the event. You may think you belong to the "speaker's club" but the truth is there is no club. Whatever celebrity you feel while at the conference, it goes away when you get back home to your friends and family. Trust me, I've been there. I thought I was a celebrity with people lining up to meet me after I spoke. People would buy me drinks, pick my brain, and hand me their cards hoping that I would talk to them after the event is over. When I started planning events instead of speaking that all went away. Now no one knows my name, no one even knows I am the person that organizes the conference - I am just the "man" behind the curtain. I don't even see articles mentioning my name as a top SEO, Social Media, etc. expert or writers asking to interview me anymore.

To add - my favorite speakers include Myron McMillin, Lynne D Johnson, Dr. David Evans, Evan FishkinGillian Muessig, Bill Leake, Shravan Goli, Zoe Harris, Jeff Jonas, Pascal Schuback, Scott Porad, Ian Lurie, Mike Yao, Josh Rizzo, and a long list of brilliant and inspirational speakers that are just like everyone else. If you're looking to speak, spend some time with these people (you can find them at my events, and soem at other events too). Each and every one of them has a passion for helping others and if asked, will tell you they have no idea why I love them as speakers so much (I admire their modesty).

Be Appreciative


Organizing a conference is not an easy task, and the costs that come with that far outweigh the financial benefits. Every person I talk to that organizes conferences have the same passion for what they do that I seem to have. We get a high off of the value that people get from the event we planned for them. That is all the reward we need. If you have ever organized an event, you probably know that there is absolutely no money in it. If there is, then the event tends to lose it's integrity - speakers are booked without given the topic of person presenting it any thought. Sponsors provide thousands of dollars to market to the attendees, and boy do they market to the attendees.

If you understand what we organizers put into the event, you will appreciate the chance to speak at one. Show your attendees appreciation for paying money to be there to see you speak. Thank your conference organizer for all the hard work and effort they put in to make the show happen. Talk to other fellow speakers and admire the efforts they put in to being there just as you did.

Lastly - Be Professional


I haven't had a problem with this at my events (thankfully) but I have read some pretty horrific reportings and even articles regarding harassment, "hooking up", and general misconduct at conferences. What attendees do, is their business, but speakers are also representing the conference they are speaking at during networking and other activities associated with the event. If I know a speaker tends to behave inappropriately, I won't ask them to speak. I myself am no perfect angel, but I know enough not to drink too much or carry on inappropriately at a conference. I also don't drink at my own events (though my 40th Birthday Party at this EmMeCon might be the exception).

If you are truly serious about speaking, memorize Simon's post, and head my rantings just the same, and you will be an amazing speaker. If you wish to speak at one of my events - there is a form (and an official process) on the website. Don't contact me directly, it just annoys me.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Conference Adventures Part Un - 18 Days 'til

Planning and organizing a conference is not an easy feat by any means, and I often ask myself why I keep doing it... But at the end of each event I have this "conference euphoria" (as my Father calls it) that feels very much like an addiction. Which gives me this feeling like a crack head itching for their next fix to plan another conference.

It's now 6:33 am on Friday and I have been up for 2 hours after 5 hours of sleep coming off of answering emails to speakers that have questions already answered in the 4 emails they have gotten so far, only to find they "can't make it" after all just 2 weeks before the event.

So what keeps me sane while doing all of this? 


Simply talking it out... So I'm going to use my personal blog to get out what needs to get out to save the rest of the world my frustrations.

 

18 Days Until the Event

 


Status Update:

Speakers: 29 out of 36 speakers confirmed
Speaker's Presentations (PPT or other): 0
Agenda: 5 spots left to fill
Location: Booked; deposit made; still need to coordinate F&B, layout of room, AV, Video Recordings, Meetup event details, Party details, and Photographer.
Master of Ceremonies: Me (until I can find someone)
Volunteers: 0

After my mostly Master of Ceremonies for all of my events past canceled on me for all conferences in 2013, I have asked one other person that I trust to take on such a task but was notified last week that he will not be able to do it. My backup plan is to host the event myself, but that leaves me to rely on volunteers to check people in, and someone else to man the AV, Social, and Photography. If everything is queued up before the speakers comes up to speak, I can hand them the mic, and then go up on stage why they get ready. That is IF the speaker's presentation is ready to go before they show up for their talk. Then once I introduce them, I can check the video camera (propped on a tripod) to make sure it is in place and running, Take some photos, check the Hootsuite feeds (Twitter, Facebook, etc) and get ready for the next presentation. But... that's only if I can get someone to volunteer and check people in without needing my help throughout the day.

The key to making this go smoothly is making sure I am available to watch the coffee/tea (making sure we don't' run out), be available as people check in (in case they have questions), and being able to check on the marketing aspects during the event. This will be my first time MCing... The fear of getting on stage is beyond my at this point (which used to be my biggest fear), now it's making sure I get through another conference without a complaint from any attendees or speakers.

This morning I actually snapped (a little) at the speaker that cancelled on my last minute. He filled out the form on the website requesting to speak back in November, and after several emails pleading him to confirm his topic, time, and speaking he asked when he was speaking, his topic, and if there was any compensation for speaking (T&E and Honorarium). I pointed out that his topic, date, and time has been sent several times, along with all the details of the event - and that the form he filled out clearly stated that he would be compensated with a Pass to the event for himself along with 2 passes to give away as he chose (worth up to $3,000). He said without compensation and T&E covered he will not be able to make it... I just simply said "Thank You" and explained that int he future perhaps he should come to these decisions more than 2 weeks before the event, and to read the information regarding speaking before requesting to speak.

I'm going to turn my computer off and head to my day job now...