360 Live Media
360 Live Media is an event strategy and digital marketing agency in Washington, D.C. serving association, professional society, and not-for-profit conferences.
Otter Talk Quick Tips

Top Event Tips for 2019

At the end of the year, I always like to reflect back on what has happened, what I’ve delivered, the mistakes I’ve made, and the wins I’ve earned. One of my favorite wins for this year is Otter Talk. It has been great to share my thoughts with you and hear back from you. I’ve enjoyed the emails and comments. I’ve even met up with a few of you for coffee. And we’ve had so many join us for the Event Innovators Exchange.


Our gift to you at the end of 2019 is a collection of some of our favorite tips we’ve published this year. I hope you find it useful. It’s a little long, because there are so many, but it’s easy to skim.


We have some fun ideas for how to enhance and expand the content for 2020 that I’m excited to share with you.


Happy New Year Otters!


Regarding Diversity and Inclusion

  • Acknowledge there are barriers and you want to do something about it.
  • Talk about the importance of the issue and your reasons for pushing it. This article gives some good advice.
  • Set rules to accomplish what you need. Establish what percentages of different perspectives should be represented in your committees and your speakers and stick to these goals.
  • Ask for help. If you only know white male speakers, ask them who they recommend in their space.
  • Ensure that your collaborative and interactive activities include a way for all to participate. Remember that the fun things you want to add may not always be friendly for those with physical and sensory differences. Train your speakers and put information in your kits for them.
  • Add a diversity and inclusion committee to your conference and task them with providing recommendations to make your event radically inclusive.
  • If you are asked to speak, question the diversity of the event and only participate if it is reflective of radical inclusion.
  • If you are a sponsor, make it a requirement of sponsorship that the event is inclusive.
  • Need help identifying speakers? Here are a few starting points.


Ideas for Tight Budgets

  • No budget for breakfast? List in your agenda that the local diner pancakes are not to be missed, and it’s only a five-minute walk from the hotel, or that your trip to the fill-in-the-blank city isn’t complete without trying this famous local coffee shop located just around the corner. (Maybe you can even work out a discount for attendees who show their badge).
  • No room for bags in this year’s budget? Tell people to BYOB—bring your own bag—to the event.
  • Unable to secure a sponsor for your evening reception? Send your attendees on a dine-around, pub crawl, or scavenger hunt.
  • No money for giveaways? Give your group directions to that perfect souvenir shop.
  • Add a “VIP Access” ticket, which gives them access to your speaker’s lounge.
  • Can’t afford to add breakout space? Create small-group stand-up conversations, spread throughout the hotel.


Ways to Mix Up the General Session

  • Kristen Keenan from NAMA just shared a cool idea for a panel session. Instead of having all of the panelists on the stage, she distributed them throughout the audience. They were on platforms with high chairs and had their conversation across the room.
  • Try a theater in the round setup. Ideally there would be no stage, and the audience instead is on platforms in a stadium seating setup. It creates a very different vibe when the speaker isn’t positioned above you, but you are surrounding them, much like my concert experience.
  • It could be really fun to try a walk and talk type of session. Instead of being stationary in a general session room, what if you were walking down the street or in a park and the speaker was talking over headphones? You could try this in small groups, or for something really different, record the speaker ahead of time and encourage people to listen to the session while they are walking on their own or in small groups.
  • Imagine getting a bus tour while listening to the general session. You could have a speaker talk to 55 people at a time or broadcast it to several busses at once. Or you could have a live speaker in each bus, so that everyone gets some part of the live and some part of the broadcast session. This could be a really interesting option if you have offsite tours as part of your event, or if you want to take people to a venue that is a distance away.
  • What if there was no speaker at all? What if the general session was just audience conversation using a Q&A type app or a Twitter chat? After all, our events are full of experts that we bring together. Could we create a space to highlight and share ideas in an engaging way? And giving it the space of a keynote session has a psychological effect as well—it says that you as the attendee are valued as an expert and your opinions are important to share.
  • In your general session room, assign a topic or question to each section, and have people choose their seats by whatever topic most interests them. Designate the dead time before the opening session to conversation with your seatmates about whatever the topics are.
  • Crowdsource the top industry issues from your attendees in advance. Pick the top 5 and assign each a color. As attendees walk into the room, have them pull colored index cards from a hat and then join the corresponding table to discuss that issue.
  • Consider partnering with another relevant organization to hold a convergence session at your event. Intentionally invite people from outside of your core audience who may have interesting ideas to contribute. Run it as a facilitated working group session to discover ideas.


Creating Collective Outcomes for Your Event

  • A reverse registration fee structure—the more people who register, the less it costs. People can buy “shares” of registration to drive down costs further. Incent it by providing perks. For example, if you buy ten shares, you get to come to the VIP reception. It would encourage people to get their colleagues to attend because every person who registers makes the overall cost less to the individuals.
  • Have attendees contribute ideas with the goal of publishing a book or a white paper after the event. The item can only be published if enough material is collected, urging people to contribute. Celebrate the publication with press, so everyone gets a resume boost.
  • Create a collective engagement score for the event. Determine metrics like the number of questions asked, the number of votes in the app, the number of people at the early morning awards breakfast, etc. Assign milestones for points collected, and for each one passed something happens like a charitable donation. Keep the metrics reasonable and aligned with your ideal engaged attendee. Set the milestone thresholds in a way that requires 99% participation from the audience.


Create Great Experiences

  • When you go on your site visit, find out what the local breakfast favorite/hangover recovery dish is. Ask about the mom & pop stores and the neighborhood coffee shop. Learn some local stories to include in your promotions and interview some hometown heroes if you can.
  • If your event is in the same city year over year you have a great advantage here. You can publish a list of attendee favorites, and have people vote and submit their own tips. Everyone likes to be seen like, and feel like, an insider.
  • And for the real story, ask some of your long-time attendees to write their own insider’s guide to the event. Consider a version for students, first-timers, sponsors, and other cohorts. You might even be surprised what you discover yourself.
  • Try “rearranging” your event just as an exercise to see how it changes your perspective. This could be as simple as mixing up some dates and times in your Excel schedule. Or, for real fun, put everything (sessions, meals, breaks, etc.) on separate sticky notes, and move the pieces around. You may not make any changes at all, but this process can help you see your event in a new light and craft some new experiences while still honoring the soul of the event.
  • Spend time talking to attendees and exhibitors about their experience, and what can make it better. It can be good to use volunteers for this task, because people might be more honest than they are to the staff. Do this onsite in a small facilitated session. Have a team of 10 people make 5 phone calls after the event. Word your survey questions to get at what people are trying to accomplish, instead of how they rated the lunchtime speaker, and provide incentives for answering so you pull from a broader set.


For the Expo Floor

  • What if the show floor was less of a shopping mall and more of a meal at a fancy restaurant? Instead of the attendee walking from booth to booth, looking for swag and maybe stumbling on an idea, what if the best stuff was served up to them based on what they wanted? Imagine being seated at a comfortable table, offered some water, and then a server presents you with a menu of options. You “order” what you like, and then the exhibitor comes to you for a comfortable and valuable conversation.
  • The menu could be presented like a restaurant menu – the tech list, the innovators list, the supplies list. There could even be prix fixe options that give you a flavor of everything, if you aren’t looking for something in particular. This option offers a more refined and more comfortable iteration on appointments. The attendee doesn’t have to do all of the work of seeking things out, because it’s been curated for them. If you have a two-hour time block, that’s six 30-minute appointments, tailored for you. If you are an exhibitor, that’s six 30-minute meetings with a qualified lead – with no shipping costs, booth set-up/tear-down, or tired feet.


Three Simple Event Formats to Try


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