How To: Do a Conference

By Niki Wheeler, Director, Launch,

A conference is defined as ‘an event, sometimes lasting a few days, at which there is a group of talks on a particular subject, or a meeting in which especially business matters are discussed formally.’  Worth putting your OOO on for?

I worked with a visionary ‘conference guru’ called Brendan Barns to launch something called the London Business Forum, just after the 9/11 attacks. Brendan’s radical model banned dodgy coffee, boring venues and even sponsors. Over the years, speaker glitterati including Sir Ken Robinson, Charles Handy, Richard Branson and Malcolm Gladwell have talked about ‘stuff’ businesspeople really care about.

Brendan’s also used boxing rings, orchestras and graffiti art as the backdrop to his morning or afternoon events to show that talking about business doesn’t need to be boring.

The fact that Dragon’s Den, The Apprentice and Lady Brady’s ‘Give it A Year’ have made primetime TV, shows that we find conversations about business so entertaining that we’ll tune in during our spare time. Yet the opportunity to sit back and ‘watch’ during working hours means justifying the investment of our time.

Even if the line-up is to die for and venue is worthy of a red carpet – there have been declining numbers at Cannes. The famous ‘Love Boat’ was also docked in favour of a hotel in Watford in 2018. Perhaps this indicates that many comms people today are finding it tough to justify a ‘few days out of the office’.

It is clear that when you do spend a day ‘out’, listening attentively to a ‘group of talks’ just isn’t enough. Today’s delegate – needs to go way beyond active listening and take action!

This means tweeting key insights that get ‘likes’ from the organiser or keynote speakers (capturing key quotes, images and following what others have to say via a hashtag), tracking down potential collaborators, potential hires or clients during the coffee breaks (following up on email or Linkedin afterwards) before sharing notes on aforementioned talks with clients or colleagues so others can learn from your fresh perspective.

My boss set up something called ‘The Creative Shootout’ – a ‘done in a day’ creativity competition that sees groups of colleagues who sign up (potentially) presented with an agency gong –after the audience and a panel of big hitting judges have voted. This seems to be a direct demonstration of how a ‘day out’ needs to be interactive and have a positive business impact.

Fresh back from the CIPR 2018 Conference at The British Library though and a fellow Launcher and I can confirm that it was one of the best industry events we’ve been to.  A focus on purpose (interesting / relevant and shared on social), big name speakers we felt inspired by (our former client Josh Hardie at the CBI, Richard Walker, Iceland and Jonny Dymond, BBC) and the opportunity to connect with previous workmates and clients meant we had far more than a branded tote to take away.

So how do you do a conference?  By appreciating that it is everyone, not just the speakers who need to deliver on the day.

Photo by Andrei Stratu on Unsplash



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