Have you ever thought of hosting events? It’s not easy, but it’s not as daunting as you may think and the rewards make every bit of effort worth it. I’ll never forget the first event I hosted. It came at the urging of Sarah Evans and Kelly Olexa when I attended one of their tweetups in the Western suburbs of Chicago. I was telling them how great it was that someone from outside of Chicago was doing this and I wish someone would do it by me, in the Northern suburbs. I’ll never forget when they told me I should do it. Not many people knew me at the time and it did take me 2 months before building up the courage to decide to actually host my first Lake County Tweetup (later changed to Lake County Social Networking), but that first tweetup lead to a monthly gathering of social media enthusiasts for the next 3 years. With the connections, friendships and things I learned, it formed the basis for the Chicago Community Manager Group I started (still in going strong) and then the creation of My Community Manager, which hosts Community Manager UNconference. What can you learn from hosting events? Let me share what I’ve learned.
1. You may host the event, but it’s always about the attendees
I have a confession to make. Every event I’ve created was born from some something I wanted. To create something that didn’t exist. After just completing our 3rd Community Manager UNconference, I did two things I haven’t don’t at the other events. I asked people what they liked best about the event and also sent a survey to all the attendees. Two things that surprised me, but will be reinforced and implemented moving forward. First is the format of #cmgrUN. More than one person mentioned by having speakers in the morning, it made the conversations in the breakout sessions more lively. The second is to have a recap of each breakout session so everyone can share their takeaways. These are both things I didn’t do, or do for the reasons the attendees stated. Listen to your attendees and make your next event better.
2. The venue doesn’t define the event, but it makes it
Google, Internet Media Labs, SmartRecruiters. Those are the 3 venues that have hosted #cmgrUN so far. Each is unique in it’s own way, but all have allowed the conversations to be the focus. They allowed food and drinks to be brought in, so we could all network during lunch and happy hour. They provided a large enough space to have all attendees in one place and had enough separate rooms to host the breakout sessions without voices being drowned out. An UNconference isn’t “UN” if it’s at a conference center or hotel meeting room.
3. Borrow, don’t steal
If you try to replicate an event, you will never host a great event. This isn’t to say you can’t take ideas from other events and incorporate them into yours. There are two events I’ve been to that I’ve taken something from and tried to incorporate into #cmgrUN. #SOBCon is an event run by Liz Strauss and Terry St. Marie. The sense of community they have at their conference is amazing. Speakers don’t fly in, speak and then leave. They participate in the entire conference. #REBarCampChi (Real Estate Bar Camp Chicago) was an event I attended back in my real estate days. It opened my eyes to the value of an unconference. The topics were suggested by the attendees, who lead the sessions. Everyone gets to participate by leading a discussion or contributing to the conversation.
4. It’s what you do after the event that counts
When you are trying to build a community, the event is only the beginning. The connections formed at an event remain connections until you create the opportunity for the engagement to continue. Since the very first #cmgrUN in Chicago, I have sent hand written cards to everyone who had attended. I’ve received tweets, emails and even phone calls telling me how classy that was. Making a lasting impression is not enough. Attendees have asked for a place to continue the conversations they have at #cmgrUN, so we created a private Facebook group for all attendees to join. This provides the forum they were looking for but also fosters relationships to form, taking those connections and turning them to community.
Hosting events can be a great way to build community, expand your connections and provide rich insights into your community. By remembering who the event is for, choosing a location that fits your format, using ideas from others and turning them into your own and following up after the event, you can expand your network by turning it into a powerful community who will return for future events, help promote future events and refer others to attend.
What have you learned from hosting your events? Are you ready to start hosting your own? I’d love to hear from you whether it’s in the comments or you want to give me at call 312-970-0846 and talk about it privately.