How to Host an In-Person Event
Events can be a lot of work, but they also come with a plethora of benefits. They attract new customers, increase brand visibility, and provide networking opportunities.
In 2006, HubSpot coined the phrase ‘Inbound Marketing’ to describe a unified strategy for attracting customers. This method places an emphasis on providing excellent content and adding value to a customer’s experience at every stage in the sales funnel.
Since the phrase was coined, customers expect different experiences as they research and buy. Inbound marketing is more relevant than it has ever been. Even brick-and-mortar companies, who have traditionally used outbound strategies, are updating their strategies to include inbound marketing, particularly in regards to their presences online.
The changes continue. Technology, shifts in SEO, and general trends in marketing make it difficult to keep up. Events are a good way to combat these difficulties.
For businesses, hosting an event comes with a lot of work and a plethora of benefits. Besides positioning your agency as an expert in your field, events make your company more visible to local and regional businesses. It also provides opportunities for networking with both prospects and potential partners.
Developing new partnerships through events could result in fun and effective collaborative projects. Since many people are trying to establish themselves as speakers, you can further develop those relationships by providing top clients and potential prospects a chance to speak publicly at the events you host.
It’s good practice for running your own conference someday, too, although it’s an enormous undertaking. If you’re an agency owner who’s interested in hosting an event, this guide will walk you through each stage of the planning process.
Eight weeks before the event
If you’ve decided to host an event, one of the first considerations is finding a theme that will interest and engage your niche audience. At this point, you should also be thinking about goals for the event and what you hope to accomplish.
Find a theme
Finding a relevant theme requires you to understand your niche audience. Brainstorm some themes that would be interesting to the people in your region or area of expertise.
If, for example, you live in a relatively rural area, consider emphasizing how inbound marketing can help local tech companies reach larger markets. If your area is largely urban, and your audience already has a worldwide reach, add an element of reaching micro-niche businesses located in out-of-the-way places.
Themes can also center on what you’d like to achieve.
The most important thing to remember when choosing a theme is to make sure it is relevant to the people who will be attending. Choosing themes that focus on market trends and how to use them to enhance inbound marketing practices is always a good way to go.
Your goals for the event can play into your theme, as well.
Set event goals
There are two things to think about when you are setting goals for an event. You need to know what you want to get out of it and what you want your attendees to walk away with.
Thinking about why you want to host the event will give you a good basis for lining out two or three personal goals, such as building a stronger local network or getting the attention of prospective leads by offering them speaking opportunities.
Give some thought to what the people in your area lack. If they need training in basic automation techniques or if they need help understanding how to develop effective social media marketing strategies, zero in on those areas. Set two or three goals to help them learn how to meet these needs.
Your event will be a success if the theme you’ve chosen matches the goals you set. At this point, you can reach out to a handful of possible attendees and ask them whether the theme aligns with their personal goals. Use the feedback you get to tweak the theme, if necessary.
6 weeks before the event
The real work begins about six weeks before the event. At this point, you should have a pretty good idea of what you want to accomplish and what the main topics will be.
Line Up Speakers
Finding speakers for your event doesn’t have to be stressful. Many people like presenting and want to improve their speaking skills. Some will say yes to a presentation request because they have new insights to offer or they are passionate about the topic.
You’ll need at least two or three speakers to make presentations based on the theme. Brainstorm possible speaker ideas.
A list of twenty people is a good place to start. Once you've made a list, set it aside for a day or two while you think about what each possible presenter has to offer. Then, go back through it and prioritize your list, with those you think will have the most to offer at the top.
Your list might include clients or marketing executives from partner companies you work with, like Databox or SEM Rush. This is another good way to build your network. Marketing specialists, CMOs, and CEOs, and academic professors are all good options. What you’re looking for is someone who can bring value to the topic.
You shouldn’t have to pay for speakers. Many people in professional capacities are great presenters, and some will see presenting on a topic related to their work as a natural extension of their careers.
The point of an event is to build enthusiasm as well as to inform -- the best presenters to do that are the ones who are completely involved in activities related to the topic or theme. Choosing speakers who are engaged and knowledgeable will provide you with presentations that are as much fun as they are informative.
About halfway through the week, you’ll be able to whittle down your list to the top four or five candidates. Then it’s time to reach out and formally invite them to speak. If your top choices can’t make a presentation for this event, make a note to ask them for another time, and move down the list.
As you speak with possible presenters, make sure you mention the following:
Each presentation should be about 20 minutes long and given in a TED talk style.
This is not an opportunity for the speaker to market themselves or their company (although the exposure they get will have its own subtle marketing effect.) Instead, they should provide insights on inbound marketing trends, actionable tips or other takeaways that will be useful to the audience.
Ask them to prepare a presentation or summary page that can be distributed afterward.
While you are conversing with your potential speakers, ask about possible days and times that will work best for them to present. If you can get a list of at least three or four days that might work, the next step will be much easier to complete.
Choose a venue
Like choosing speakers, choosing a venue doesn’t have to be costly or stressful. There are many free spaces willing to host events.
Research the possibility of using a Google Campus, Microsoft Scaleup or coworking space such as WeWork. Additionally, entrepreneurial incubators run by local universities might be good options, as well as local city offices, trade schools, and university extension sites. Sometimes a city or other small government entity will partner with businesses for events like this, allowing you to use their building space for free if the public can attend. That can mean more publicity and networking possibilities for everyone involved.
Don’t be afraid to call up and ask, and don’t drag your feet. You’ll need to have your space booked about six weeks in advance to make sure it’s available.
Make sure to visit the venue if you've never been there before. Ask about the availability of amenities such as projectors, screens, chairs, internet and audio systems. If they are not available, you’ll have to either find another venue that provides those things or rent them through a third-party, which can be expensive.
Lastly, ask about parking spaces or public transportation options and which rooms or spaces you’ll be using. Make a note to include that information on the invitations you send out.
Choose a date and time
Choosing a date and time has to be completed in conjunction with finding your speakers and your venue. For example, you don’t want to schedule a speaker and then create the event when he or she will be out of town. Make sure you communicate with them about days and times that work with their personal schedules.
The date and time also depends on the venue you choose. If you want to meet after work, for example, a bar or restaurant might be a logical choice.
Morning events tend to do well because many people have family commitments after work. Keep in mind that while some attendees will be able to count an event as part of their work time, others will have to take time off. If the event is held in the morning, they can be ‘late’ to work and still fit both the event and their work priorities into one day.
In most cases, having the event during the first half of the week is better. Toward the end of a week, people often have plans, are busy trying to wrap up their work week and tend to prioritize their to-do lists and calendars.
Create your event on a hosting platform
Create your event in Eventbrite, Anyvite, or some other event hosting platform that allows you to track signups, so you know how many people to expect.
You can also create a unique landing page with a trackable URL for the event.
Include a registration form like 123FormBuilder or Event Espresso. A system that integrates with WordPress, Hootsuite or other packages you’re currently using will help simplify the tracking process.
There is usually a 50 percent turn-up rate for free events, so always aim to attract double the number you would like to attend. That leads directly to the next step—promoting your event.
Promote your event
Promoting your event is an ongoing process, which you should start six weeks out. Start with these first steps:
If you know of people nearby, contact them yourself with written invitations or personal e-mails. If there’s someone you especially want to attract, consider placing a phone call to extend a personal invitation.
Email your database but make sure to filter the relevant contacts for your event.
You should also make sure you are utilizing your social media:
Create an event on Facebook, share it with your relevant contacts and promote the link. Post quick reminders weekly to encourage people to RSVP to the event on your Eventbrite page and link back to it. If they’ve already done that, it will keep the event in mind and attract others who haven’t heard of it yet.
Share the event within relevant groups on LinkedIn. You’ll have to do this in a way that avoids spamming, so consider adding it as a link inside of content you’ll share organically within your industry anyway. LinkedIn shares should be professional and informative.
Share the event in relevant Facebook groups, as well.
Write a blog post on the topic. Include a call-to-action that encourages people to attend the event. You can tweak the blog post to be as informative or as informal as you want for sharing on different social media sites.
Ask your local network to tweet about and retweet the event and blog post.
Use images and short videos to promote the event during its planning stages on Instagram and Snapchat,.
Use paid ads to promote your event on Facebook and LinkedIn within your city or local region.
Use Canva to create banners for social media and your event pages.
When promoting your event, it is crucial that you reach beyond your circle of influence.
Ask speakers to promote the event to their network. This is a great way to extend your professional network and put your speakers in the spotlight.
Ask the venue to promote your event. For example, a coworker location can promote to the people that work there, and those people can forward the event page to their contacts, as well. If you are working with a city, library or local government, ask them to put a note in their newsletters and on their landing pages.
4 weeks before the event
By now, your event is set, and your promotion is well underway. You’ll be working on building momentum during the next two weeks and on monitoring the details as they come together.
Continue promoting the event
If you haven’t already done it, re-share the event in relevant Facebook and LinkedIn groups. At this point, you can also look for more groups that would appreciate knowing about the event.
This also might be a good time to send out a quick video on Instagram about the planning process and why you’re excited about the upcoming event.
Hopefully, you’ll already have a handful of registrants. Check the numbers every day so you can tweak your promotion campaign if you need to. Follow through with questions that people who are interested in attending the event might have, and encourage them to register as soon as possible.
Check in with the speakers. Ask how their presentations are coming. Remind them that you will need a copy of their presentations and takeaway handouts a week before the event. This will give you time to make sure you have enough time to print copies of any handouts and make sure the necessary technology is in place.
This is also the time to check in with venues and look for a caterer to provide light snacks. Sometimes the venue can take care of this for you, so ask about it, but don’t feel shy about looking for other options. You’ll want to make sure you’re staying within a reasonable budget for food.
Two weeks away from the event day
Now you’re down to the busy work.
Check your list of registrants, and track whether you’re getting the numbers you want.
Email a reminder to people who have already signed up for the event. Add value to the message by providing a link to relevant content that’s related to your event theme.
Check in with your speakers and provide assistance if they need or want it.
Confirm plans with the caterer, and double-check with the venue to make sure the rooms will be ready on time.
If you’ve had to rent audio-visual equipment, confirm the delivery, set-up, and takedown.
At this stage, you should also hold a team meeting where you can delegate final responsibilities. Assign team members to take pictures, videos, notes, time presentations, track registration and help with technology, logistics, and foot traffic.
One week prior
Now you’re getting down to the wire. Excitement and anticipation is building, and the details should be falling into place. From here on out, it’s one foot in front of the other. Make sure you:
Confirm with the venue once again. Double check that nothing has changed and that everything is moving forward as scheduled.
Collect the presentations from your speakers. Upload the presentations on Google Drive and a USB. Think ahead to any technological problems you might have, and try to prepare for them in advance.
While you are speaking with your presenters, get their permission to allow attendees to download their presentations (or edited versions) after the event. When you have the go-ahead, you can set up landing pages with the necessary links.
Make any necessary print copies, prepare takeaway lists and action plans that can be sent out in an e-mail later as well as added to the landing pages.
Near the end of the week, send an email reminder to attendees. Include full details on the physical location, including room numbers or names, and information on transportation and parking options. Give them the contact information of a team member who can help with last-minute logistical problems, as well.
Day before the event
Send an e-mail reminder to everyone who registered. Include the venue’s internet password and an image or map of the venue if you haven’t done that yet.
Make sure you have a presentation clicker. Along with that, check with your team to make sure everyone is up to date on their responsibilities and ready to go.
Double check with the caterer, and make sure they plan to arrive at the venue an hour before the event starts.
Day of the event
After weeks of planning, the day of the event will hopefully go as smoothly as expected.
To catch any last-minute snags before they become real problems, plan to get to the venue at least an hour before the event begins. If possible, get there before the caterer does and do a quick walk-through of the space and how you’ll use it.
Check the presentations to make sure they work on the AV system, set up the catering, and greet your speakers and attendees as they show up. When it’s time, begin the meeting and facilitate it with as much enthusiasm as possible.
Once the event is over and everyone has left, make sure everything was taken down properly. Settle accounts with the caterer, and provide feedback to the venue and speakers on how the event flowed.
As soon as you can get to it, create a summary blog about the event. Include links to the landing pages where attendees can download the presentations they’re interested in. Then send an e-mail to all attendees with a link to the blog post. Send a separate e-mail containing the link to people who registered but were unable to attend.
As you close down the event in your records, send a thank-you email to the venue. Prepare a report on the event to share with your team, and start analyzing and reaching out to leads.
As you work through the planning process for hosting your first event, consider having someone provide feedback on the way you facilitate. An image coach, a boss or even members of your team can give you hints on how to speak authoritatively, charismatically and powerfully.
Also make sure to keep conversations on track so that professionals who attend your event will want to come to the next one.
Get feedback from the attendees. Ask them what went well, what topics they’d like to discuss during the next event, and what action items made the most impact.
Finally, take every opportunity to grow your network. New leads might become speakers at your next event, for example, and you might develop a long-standing relationship with the venue provider or caterer.
Leverage the event to grow your contact lists, especially with potential partners and clients.
If you’d like to learn about other ways to attract new customers and expand your company's visibility, book a meeting with us here.