Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Conference Adventures Part..: Dernier Versement (final installment)

All-in-all the event went as well as could be expected. Financially, I am left with having to put up ~$1,000 to still cover the expenses of the event. The total cost for the event ran me ~$9,000.00 (slightly under) with ~$8,500 (give or take a few hundred) in registrations and no money from sponsors (sponsors this year received their sponsorships in exchange for distributing swag, or offering award prizes).


Why do I do This?


When I started writing my first post documenting the organizing of this conference, I mentioned in my post titled "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...

Which is now bringing me back to asking myself once again why do I keep doing it? I honestly can't find a one sentence answer that rationalizes the time, effort, stress, financial strain, or the pressure it all puts on me.

I'm sure you're probably reading frustration in my post here, and probably in my previous posts, but know this - the last few days I have been coming up with ideas, excited that registrations are already coming in, and I almost have a full speaker list for EmMeCon Seattle that isn't happening until June. I have even started the groundwork of organizing a 2 day Search and Social Series, and/or an SEOGoddess 4 hour SEO Workshop in April so that I don't have to wait too long to do another event).

So why this odd addiction to holding events? I got to talking with a few of the attendees and speakers at this last EmMeCon and the one word that kept popping out of my mouth (and repeated back to me) was integrity. My events, though small, and not highly profitable, still have integrity. I haven't sold out with mindless topics, uninspiring speakers, and selling tickets at an insanely low cost just to appease sponsors with more attendees. Even after all these years of organizing conferences, I still constantly remind myself through the entire process what it is that I wanted to do when I started these events. With EmMeCon, I want people to gain inspiration from the amazing people I have been lucky enough to have access to. People like David Evans Ph.D. who has taught at the University of Washington educating Masters students on Psychographic Segmentation and the importance of understanding the minds of the users they are marketing to. Or Gillian Muessig who has guided not one, but 3 children into thriving adults and in the process molded 2 of them into very successful and inspiring SEO's. The list of inspirational individuals that I feel privileged at the ability to pick their brains, gain inspiration from, or have been helped by in some way is a mile long, and ever growing.

Because of this desire to share, I take careful consideration into the details of every event I organize. It may run me rampant and I get flustered and exhausted from it, but reading the tweets, hearing the feedback, and knowing that at least one person (if not many) has gained inspiration from the event is what I deem as success. 

On Thursday night we wrapped up the event with a packed house for the Meetup Group organized by Chase McMichael (CEO of Infinigraph) the tweets were still coming through strong, and the room was full of questions and discussions. After the Meetup wrapped I began packing things up, and while exhausted I was bouncing around with excitement as the folks that lagged behind thanked me for putting on such a great event, and asked me all sorts of questions on how I got into this, how I came up with the idea for the event, and even asked more about the event in Seattle.

It's that feedback that I get that keeps me going. 

I promise that I won't "sell out" and start making this about the money, I won't ever forget what this event (or any of my events) are there to accomplish, and I promise never to lose the integrity that I still hold onto.

If I do - someone please take me out back and put me out of my misery...?

Friday, February 1, 2013

Conference Adventures Part..: en Cours (in progress)

It's the Friday after the event is finished, and I'm finally getting a chance to sit down and relax long enough to to write a summary of how the event went during the week.

How did the event go?


I have been asked the same question several times throughout the course of the week. The first morning of the first day there were only a handful of people in the audience. I had spent the evening before setting up the room and the audio visual until midnight and didn't get to sleep until well after 2am. With just 3 hours of sleep (I spent another 1.5 hours typing up notes for the next day)  I walked up on stage welcomed everyone, explaining a bit about the conference, dove into announcements, and then introduced our first mini-Keynote Irene Koehler. I am always worried about the first speaker of the event. The speaker and the subject chosen is what sets the tone for the remainder of the event. Irene is a seasoned and very respected speaker. She is an expert in her field, and knows more about social marketing on Linkedin and anyone I know.  I think Benj's tweet summarizes the one word used during the remainder of the event that Irene provided us all: "Stalking"
The room filled up as people trailed in throughout the day. The VIP room was a hit, and no one tried to sneak in for lunch. I didn't hear a single complaint, and none of the volunteers said anything to me about anyone being upset. I have to give a special shout out to Tracy, Lydia, Brenda, and my daughter Katie for all their help on the first day. Especially Tracy who's car was randomly dinged by a crazy driver in the parking garage. Poor Tracy was so distraught that she couldn't come back the remainder of the event. 

Everything went so smoothly the first day that one by one, my volunteers said "It looks like you have everything covered, so I won't be coming tomorrow." or something similar. The evening of the event was one of the best nights after a conference I have ever had. The Speaker's Dinner was great (despite our food coming 85 min after arriving and my steak being very, very well done). Bill Leake and Aaron Kronis blew through the wine, and entertained my daughter while I moved onto my Birthday party with my co-workers and a few other friends. All-in-all Day one is going into my record book as a perfect first conference day.

As the sun rose up the next day I was already busy getting ready to head over to the hotel. My daughter got ready for school but then crashed and said she felt very ill. I told her to stay home, and went onto the event. I struggled with the problem of how to check people in when I needed to be on stage most of the day. I asked our hotel rep and she sent one of their staff, but the staff that arrived was clearly very upset that she had to be there. I asked Stephan (who I work with and had a pass to the event) if he would help out by checking people in. We moved the table into the room so he could watch the talks and hand people their badges as they trailed in. It worked out great!

At some point in the middle of the day I was hit by a ton of bricks and could barely get my energy up enough to even introduce the speakers. I hadn't had anything to drink the night before, so had no idea why I was feeling so ill. Hoping it was stress I powered through. The Meetup organizer showed up and I talked to her about getting set up for the talks that evening and then leaving. I asked Aaron Kronis to help her out that evening, and I eventually went home to bed. I really don't remember much of that day - I remember waving to speakers and saying "just introduce yourself" and checking the video camera, taking pictures, and then sitting down to rest until the next speaker went up. 

The last day was the quietest day I have ever experienced at any of my events. Even my workshops had a better turnout than this conference. Was it the free passes that kept people from wanting to come to the event? If they all pay, then will they show up and stay the whole time? Bill and I talked about where this conference should be headed. Cutting it down to 2 days, holding it just in Seattle, and look into other cities (like NY or Vegas). The conference has an "eclectic" (as Bill called it) array of speakers and topics and as a result we get such a mix of attendees it's quite refreshing. It took over 10 years for TED to finally gain some notoriety, perhaps this event is on the same path.

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...