What Do Conferences Do Right and Wrong?

Suzanne Bowen : Monetizing IP Communications
Suzanne Bowen
32 yrs in telecom, teaching, blog & grant writing, biz development, marketing, & PR. Favorite moments in life involve time w/ family & friends, networking, IP communications industry verticals & horizontals, running, traveling, foreign languages
| 1. "Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition..." Barack Obama ..... 2. "One of the sad signs of our times is that we have demonized those who produce, subsidized those who refuse to produce, and canonized those who complain." By Thomas Sowell

What Do Conferences Do Right and Wrong?

After a whirlwind tour of global conferences in the past two years, I and many friends, colleagues, suppliers, clients and partners can easily elaborate on "Best Practices" and who's doing it right and wrong.

A list of the conferences that Super Technologies, Inc has sponsored, exhibited or presentated in and/or participated in any other way include: PTC, ITEXPO, EXPOComm, LinuxWorld, VON, Ecomm, CTIA Wireless, GTM, ITW, Interop Russia, Communicasia, Carriers World, Wimax World, ISPCON, CCMI, NXTcomm, Supercomm, Cluecon, Astricon, GitexITCN Asia with 127,000 attendees and 200 quality exhibitors, CEBIT, CES, Oman Conference, MECT, TCME Middle East, GSM 3G AfricaCOM, Voip China, and AsterConference. (I'll point to the corresponding URLs as soon as I have time. My flight is about to leave from Dallas.)

The emphasis of this blog post is not on what the conferences are doing wrong, but what they are doing right, so that perhaps these best practices will get attention and be included in revisions for future conferences. Why? Conferences are one of the greenest (link) and least expensive ways for an individual or business to conduct as many quality collaborations as possible in one location with as many other individuals and businesses one can imagine. But, this will only occur at conferences that effectively promote ongoing opportunities that feel natural. In my opinion, conferences need to keep this in mind in order to grow and be perceived as effective.

1. Badges -
Comptel and EXPOcomm win here. Comptel's badges are displayed with the lanyard attached on both left and right upper corners instead of in the common center top area only. The ExPOComm badge show the owner's contact info on both sides. Both of these styles help conference participants quickly know who is who. Comptel's style is best because it enables the badge to stay put. It will very likely not twist and display on the blank side. (Pics)

2. Public and Personal Attention, Recognition, and Appreciation of full-conference attendees, presenters, exhibitors  and sponsors pre, during and post-

First, all four are equally important. Remember that. Don't treat one sector better than the other.

ITEXPO operated by TMC is by far the most successful in this category, and I hope they will continue to set new quality standards and examples for other conferences to follow. They mingle with everyone in the sessions, at the exhibits, in the hallways and among the networking activities (breakfasts, receptions, dinners, competitions, etc.). They do not just hang around with each other sharing stressed out looks, heads buried in computer and ears glued to cell phones.

In addition, it is a common practice to have the TMC administrative staff and the TMC blogger team contact you via email, phone, and/or in person before, during and after every conferences. Where do they find the time, you say? Answer, it is time well spent. Watch this conference grow exponentially because of the time they spend on it. They ask for your ideas for  improvements and take your responses seriously. This does not matter if you are major sponsor or a free expo pass attendee.

In their written and spoken conversations they share and connect every kind of participant with others who can and need to easily develop business. They are all avid and effective bloggers (TMC team), and those bloggers are extremely skilled in noting other bloggers' great posts and showcasing exciting new and old services, developments, partnerships, products, and marketplaces.

One comment I heard regarding TMC Team was perfect, "When they see you, they see you. They do not just look through you and ignore you, no matter who you are. They seem oblivious to any prejudices regarding gender, nationality, religion, ethnicity, appearance, etc. Instead they give everyone a welcome feeling."

3. Translation services -
EXPOComm/Linux World Mexico (previously in collaboration with VON Mexico) wins in this category. We exhibited there for the first time in 2008 and were very pleased that they offered translation services where we met Jessica Ruiz. She was able to help us converse with those who speak English, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian. If you want to attract international attendance, you must include this. My company is very typical of the new next-gen companies who do business globally in all 190 countries. Draw more quality participants from all over the world with translation services.

4. Clear timelines and accountability -
No matter how your conference participant actually participates, he or she needs to know his or her responsibilities and yours and when each step should be taken in order to fully leverage the time and money spent in that participation. I think this requires timely reminders of what has been accomplished and what should happen next via blog, email, press release, conference website, phone, and/or social/business networking sites. I recommend to include Facebook.com because it offers you the opportunity to create a PAGE and GROUP, tagging people who can contribute, and get Fans. It offers discussion boards, wall area to post thoughts and announcements, and the ability to add all related events.
The owner of the PAGE and GROUP, i.e., Trendsmedia, TMC, Digium, etc. will assign ADMINS and OFFICERS (who can be employed with the company or just be supporters such as event sponsors.) These ADMINS and OFFICERS should have excellent social, communication, and collaboration (a.k.a. team-playing) skills.

They should be able to also leverage other sites such as Linkedin, Ping.fm, Ning, Hi5, PlaxoPulse, Youtube, Picasa Google, Video Google, Flickr, Shozu and so on. I personally prefer Facebook because it is more interactive and puts the power in your and my hands to manipulate settings for privacy, notifications, prioritization of newsfeeds of friends in our networks. It offers so many tools and opportunities to leverage thousands of Facebook apps. You can even create your own apps to integrate as well and take advantage of an AD function.

In this category, NXTcomm has also impressed us at Super Technologies, Inc. and DIDXchange. As a media, association or supporting organization sponsor, our company's DIDXchange provides publicity for NXTCOMM. Each year, Jacqueline M. Williams contacts us several months in advance of the event, stays in touch us and keeps us well-informed on a timely basis as to what has happened, what should happen next, and who is responsible, DIDXchange or NXTcomm. In a world where time is more valuable than anything, these reminders and clear timelines help us to fulfill our responsibilities on time and with quality. Plus, EVERYTHING they say they will do, they DO.

5. More social networking activities -
Not everyone is a naturally intelligent and socially-skilled extrovert and because of this, we find ourselves feeling mmm... well... lonely at conferences and more and more desperate for activities that make networking a natural occurrence... for extroverts and introverts. Listen on Qik to one example of someone explaining why they are attending Astricon 2008. I spoke to 100s who were similar as John of www.talkmotion.com.

So... I want to mention a few successful activities I've experienced that help me and others I've interviewed to network easily:
Astricon's Developer Contests, Code Zone Developer Room (met with the people who made/make/continue to make open source telephony possible), All Conference Party

LiveContact's Bloggers' Breakfast during CTIA Wireless... wow, that was so cool. They sent an open invitation to all bloggers, and every blogger who didn't attend, missed out on a seriously creative event. In fact, I think every conference should a MEET THE BLOGGERS' Social where bloggers are clearly noticed and those in the industry who want to be blogged about can easily interact with them. Cameras and mikes will be everywhere, and the atmosphere will be electric and never forgotten.

ITCN Asia created an experience that was available to exhibitors, sponsors, and full-conference attendees complete with full course dinner and entertainment. What made it memorable was the show performed by Hearts in Motion. This group is composed of a gentleman from Europe (can't remember his name) and the daughters of the couple who run a local nonprofit organization that offers career and educational help for  the deaf and also a gentleman from Europe. The three sang in English and Urdu and performed dance that I will never forget. My business colleague Rehan Ahmed did get a chance to record them. See here. The styles included traditional and new Pakistani genre and style as well as worldwide dancehall, hiphop and rock and roll.

ITEXPO's TMC do a great job of recognizing and publicizing particpants' own social networking activities such as DIDXchange's DIDX dinner parties, Lucky Strike Bowling Alley parties (rumor says maybe there will be one at ITEXPO East 2008,) and Facebook Meetups. 

One year Spring VON in San Jose used the services of Event Mingle which helped me to build lasting international business and friendships. How? I posted in the discussion forum that I wanted to have a group run every morning at 6 AM, and we had a group of as many as 15, no joke! Social networking activities make doing business a natural thing. How can you not help but want to collaborate with those who you have cheered and competed with in bowling, golf, a fun run, industry competitions, etc. at an industry conference?

In conclusion, I am more than happy to share more tips of effective use of Facebook for promoting conferences. Contact me if you would like DIDXchange to publicize your event on http;//www.didx.net/events, on Facebook, via photo galleries and video galleries, in blogs, press releases, in the event flash scroll on http;//www.didx.net and more. We have excellent references to offer you and would truly enjoy publicizing quality events that are attractive to the world's IT and telecommunications industry as well as the 110,000+ valued members of http://www.didx.net.



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