Creating A Successful Live Event: A Guide from Concept to Crowd
Putting on a live event with people around you can be the most rewarding thing you ever do.
This means it is your responsibility to make sure your event becomes the highlight of someone else’s week/month/year.
In this article, let me highlight how YATM has done it over the years. The whole focus is on the audience you build over time, so you spend less on promotion. For reference, the 2023 YATM Creator Day, there has been zero ad spend to deliver our biggest-ever event.
I am going to steer away from the obvious, namely using every social channel available to you. Let’s look at the process and then the promotion.
Let’s share with you how to do it when you have an audience on your side.
First Things First
When we think of business events, perhaps this conjures up thoughts of too much caffeine, people being ultra professional, and a speaker talking at you to share how well they have done/battled adversity/rags to riches. Perhaps going to a business event just makes you feel more comfortable away from everyone?
A business event should never hold back from the ultimate goal, you facilitating a way for others to make genuine connections.
To deliver something that truly resonates with others, you have to deliver a message that people care about, so you need to let your guard down and forget the way that it has been done before. You can have true freedom here.
Let’s start to reframe and look at business events as productions. As our work and personal lives merge, swap leads for entertaining at the top of the funnel. This is essential for keeping everyone engaged. If you don’t, someone else will.
Read this article on, how to make in-person events worth the time.
Walt Disney said it well…
Let Me Define A Live Event
Here is what I mean by a live business event:
— It’s something you create for others that they pay to attend
— It’s something that has a defined topic area
— It’s not a workshop for a small number of people
— It’s not a networking event, although networking has a role to play
— It has an over-riding, multi-faceted narrative, rather than being about the delivery of one message
— It has a build-up
How To Put On An Event That People Come Back For More
Treat an event as two separate entities, i) Process and ii) Promotion. Let me highlight the key ingredients for each. This way it helps to define what you need to do.
PILLAR 1 – The Process
Recognise Your Format
The tried and tested option is where a speaker(s) delivers a presentation. That’s fine, but nothing is stopping you building around this. People put too much emphasis on a ‘headline’ act that many people are not familiar with.
For instance, YATM events have their own format. For the Lunch Club events, we have a main topic, but surrounding that are segments with the sole purpose of keeping people engaged. There is nothing worse than being at an event and a presenter is still talking after 35 minutes. I realised from doing the YATM hybrid events (people live and also on Zoom) people became fidgety around 15 to 20 minutes.
Find a way to break up how you present information into sections. Look at how you can bring an element of audience participation into play so that they can feel part of the flow of the event. For instance, we have a section called #winning. This started during our online shows during lockdown where people shared the joy in their lives that wasn’t ‘we’ve had our best month of billing.’ We keep that going today. It helps people feel themselves and the audience sees that too.
Over time, you realise that the format you deliver is unique to you.
Create Your Own Page On Your Own Site (Not On Eventbrite)
Why send people away from you to another domain (where others are competing for attention) to book?
People can spend time looking around your site and pick up the thread for how you help and where you share your perspective (they could then read your blog or other events you are scheduling).
Make sure you are clear on what people are going to take away and why it’s going to be beneficial to them. Is it education? Will it be networking? Is it the enjoyment of being around others? Is it going to be all three?
At YATM we want people to see that the events we put on are not ‘one-offs’ hence in the navigation is a button that says ‘live.’ If someone new is about to commit, I would rather keep people on the YATM site so they can look around and see that YATM is not a one-off, but content to engage further with.
Make It Easy For People To Buy
On your event page, you need to ensure a smooth customer experience by streamlining the buying process.
If you make things hard for people to commit, they will turn away. Having a user-friendly buy button using platforms such as Stripe or PayPal help. Plus when people have bought, make sure you send to them a ‘thank you.’
Why not use it as a way to direct someone to another product or get them to sign-up for your newsletter, if they are not already a part of your community. Even use it as a way to tell them what is in store for when they attend. Let people know that you appreciate their commitment. The decision to attend a live event today is magnified when people realise they don’t have to leave their work surroundings and spend most of their lives in front of a screen.
Be Creative (& Resourceful) With A Venue
People forget the importance of the space you choose. It can’t be an afterthought, it has to be a part of your initial preparation.
When you begin a lot depends on the contacts you have, the spaces they have available and the relationships you build. The first YATM live event (2016) was at a local solicitors and through knowing a good person from the YATM community, Lee Taylor. Lee had a huge lounge space on the third floor, so didn’t involve paying for room hire.
For our annual Creator Day event today, we use a local theatre (but a cost is attached to it). This is so people don’t feel crammed in. You still have to be creative. Look outside of your industry, you don’t always need a defined business space such as a hotel function room. What happens is that your event starts to have character by being playful with the space available.
Use Imagery To Show Proof
The use of imagery makes everything relatable.
Over the years I have put more focus on great photography, over the video footage. This is because it helps set the tone, at a glance and just adds variety. It’s never about showing an empty-looking space with no one in it or photos of the back of people’s heads looking at a speaker, you need to show the congregation of people in the moment.
If this is going to be your first event, are there pics of you at other events over the years? This is all about showing personality and a sense of spirit than it is about finding a business-looking pic on Unsplash.
PILLAR 2 – Promotion
Create A LinkedIn Event Page.
I have found this extremely useful. Be selective on the people you invite.
For instance, if you are looking to start a local evening event, it’s pointless inviting a connection from the other side of the country, or overseas. This can be time-consuming but look at who your event could be relevant to (LinkedIn provides the option to refine your search to location and industry).
When someone ticks the box that they are interested in attending, they have shown a willingness. However, you can’t ignore it and just expect people to commit. I tend to send gentle reminders to people.
I try not to be overawing, but ways that highlight more information, from an article in the press to topics that we’ll cover. I also give people the option that if they’d like me to stop, then just say and I won’t continue. A LinkedIn Event page is an organisers hidden treasure trove.
When you have built an audience and there is familiarity, this is where you can achieve something that no advertising budget can ever achieve, others sharing their enthusiasm and that they are going.
If promotion is all on you and people see a relentless feed of ‘buy now’ type messages, people will start to switch off.
When others take the torch and share within their network this is where people beyond your immediate network have the opportunity to see.
For YATM Creator Day day, we have approached it two ways. Firstly, anyone that booked, they were sent a visual to share that said they are going (one visual to lots of people). Secondly, from the image library that shows people from the YATM community, individual images were sent to people with them in the pic (one visual to one person).
This is for people to say ‘I’m a part of this.’ When people commit to you, find a way that encourages them to share and is easy. Even write a paragraph for them so they just need to cut and paste. Recognise ways that can save people time, they will then be more likely to share. Don’t make anything complicated or dull, such as ‘can you post the URL in your feed.’
Have A Newsletter
When you have the right people to address, this makes everything easier.
Promoting your event has to fit the ongoing newsletter narrative, not take the place of the newsletter, it can’t become an ongoing sales email. You start a newsletter to be the driver of value and information, this helps to build trust.
Never abuse the people who subscribe, by treating them as part of a sales funnel. For instance, the way I promote events in the YATM newsletter is part of the 80/20 rule. 80% is driven by value and 20% is to showcase what is happening and to ask people if they would like to commit. If it was the other way around, unsubscribes would be significantly higher.
If you want to put the effort into producing your own newsletter, read this article called how to get your newsletter started.
Have An Associated Content Narrative
If every post from you is promoting your event, people will turn the other way. Find other ways that still link to your event, but the narrative is there for other people to consider and is more of use than to trigger a purchase.
Here are some suggestions you could use. Share an article on how to put on an event 😉. Be open about how challenging it is to get people to attend. Share why in-person events are tough (read more here). Share what you are learning from the whole process. Share the human side to delivering an event from managing stress to being aware of burnout. Share the unexpected intricacies that no one gets to see such as liaising with venue operators, ensuring comfort for attendees and managing budgets.
It doesn’t matter if this is your first step into bringing people together, or you have experience delivering live events. It’s the process you follow that becomes the template you can use over and over again.
It’s important to remember that as you find your rhythm you start to define your own format. This is what makes your event different from everyone else who is happy with a structure that has been around for generations, namely networking/presentation. This is where the real strength lies and where you build your own space away from everyone else.
Creating a successful live event means facilitating genuine connections. You realise, over time, that it’s the commitment from others that can elevate your whole event.
It all comes down to delivering a message and a way for people to gather that they do care about and want to feel a part of.
If you break the whole approach down into processes (what you need to consider to create your own format) and promotion (others knowing that it’s right for them), then it helps to give two clear areas to progress.
Whilst you may have a sizeable budget to promote, it’s the relevance to others and if someone else can say, ‘I’m going,’ then it puts everything into a much more impactful place. This transcends the availability of budget as other people, apart from you are giving their seal of approval.
Remember, putting on a live event is all about creating an experience that people will enjoy and remember for a long time. By following these steps, you can put on an event that people will come back to time and time again.