Thursday, May 01, 2008

Conference Success


So here's the deal.

I've mentioned from time to time that I lead multiple lives. But let me tell you, my friends, you have no idea.

By day I'm the mind mannered Karl Palachuk, nerd, author, preday seminar organizer. But by night I run a book publishing company and motivational training company.

And I've been chewing on another great adventure.


My experience with "conferences" has consisted almost entirely of attending. In a former life, I've attended academic conferences, convocations, political assemblies, national conferences, international conferences, large conference, small conferences, and everything in between.

Now, on the techno-goober side, I attend ASCII events, SMB Nation events, SMBTN conferences, SBS Migration conferences, xChange events, etc., etc., etc.

And on the Relax Focus Succeed side, I attend a whole different collection of events. There I see the wide variety of groups and organizations that make up this great country of ours.

In some conferences, I'm an attendee. I see how things are organized, what works, and what doesn't. For some events, I'm a speaker or presenter. So I see how speakers behave and what they look for.

I have become a student of the great conference organizers. In the technology space, on the small end of the scale, the great conference organizers are Harry Brelsford, Nancy Williams, Mike Iem, and Jeff Middleton.

Harry. OMG. 150 people at the snap of his fingers. 500 people at SMB Nation. 650 people at SMB Nation. Europe. Canada. etc. He is the man. I'm actually on my knees while I type this. I'm not worthy . . ..
Super Power: Making People show up!

Nancy. Started with SMB Nation. Now organizing events for MobiTech, SBS Migration, etc.
Super Power: Providing the human touch. That is, making people feel like the whole event was designed for them.

Mike. Experience with Microsoft. Experience with the SMB space. Massive experience with the SBSC and user group communities. Has worked with SMB Nation and SMBTN.
Super Power: Making everything first class. Stay tuned for a Customer Service post re: SMBTN.

Jeff. Tuned into a "themed" event. It's like he was born in the Disney studios. Every element is planned and executed superbly. Each piece is perfect, and the entire experience is greater than the sum of it's parts.
Super Power: Getting MVPs to show up en mass, along with scores of Microsoft employees and all the most well-known people in the SMB space.


So last weekend -- April 26th -- I pulled off organizing a conference for the Authors and Publishers in the Northern California region. It went well. In fact, it went very well. The evaluations are absolutely through the roof.

How did I do this?

Simple. I learned from Harry and Nancy and Mike and Jeff.

I did all the big things right. I tried to do all the little things right. I threw in some touches that made it a personal experience. I made the vendors feel loved. I gave the attendees enough choices that they hated missing a session because there were two sessions at once.

We had 100 attendees. 65 filled out evaluation forms. One -- One -- said the conference wasn't great. Everyone else gave it rave reviews.

Lesson from Harry: Throw out the highest and the lowest evals. Every crowd's got an "outlyer" on each end.

Once we throw out that one person, we have 100% rave reviews.

So I've just completed a 10 month job "on the side" organizing a major regional event. Thank goodness, it went off well.

But Harry and Nancy and Mike and Jeff have nothing to worry about. I'm done. Got the t-shirt, put a fork in it. I'm done.

And I have a new-found respect for people who put on these events and somehow make people walk away wishing they could stay another day or two.

  • I had speakers making changes at the last minute.
  • I had pushy attendees who think the world needs to stop for them.
  • I had people-you've-never-heard-of acting like prima donnas.
  • I had hotel employees who don't give a shit because they're paid by the hour.
  • I had sponsors and speakers and volunteers who can't read a five-line email.
  • I had a board who ignored all the hard work that was done until six months had passed.
  • I had attendees who thought I was responsible for their food, lodging, and transportation.
  • etc.

I cannot imagine doing this on a national or international scale with a conference that costs four or five times what this one did.

My hat is off to the people who makes these events happen. Whether it's ICCA, SMB Nation, SMBTN, SBS Migration, ASCII, Everything Channel, or whoever.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I am in awe.

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