When it comes to hosting a kick-ass event, no one knows the ins and outs better than the people who’ve been there. That’s why we dug into the best presentations given at the San Francisco Entrepreneurs for Coworking Meetup.

The following tips are taken from a panel discussion between event experts Edith Yeung of BizTechDay, Myles Weissleder of SF New Tech, and Cassie Phillipps of SNAP Summit’s FailCon. These three are all prominent figures in the bay area events world — and have a lot to say about how to set up an event for success.

Here are their five biggest tips:

1. Know your audience

The first step in throwing a kick-ass event is knowing your audience. All three event organizers stressed this multiple times throughout the discussion. To attract both attendees and sponsors, you have to focus on creating compelling content that generates excitement and draws a crowd. But in order to focus on the right content, you have to think about who you are trying to attract and what they’d find compelling.

Once you have the content, then you can target the audience and entice them with the event details. Of course, you’ll have to know where to find them first. By understanding who your audience is, you can uncover where they get their information. Whether it’s targeting specific online communities, trade journals, or industry associations, know your audience — and know where to find them.

Finally, know your audience at the event. Collect data on attendees during the registration process — specifically, information that will help you further understand your audience for future outreach. You can also collect information that you then share on the day of the event. For example, what percentage of the audience has a blog or contributes to online reviews, or how many people use Twitter.

2. Location is everything 

Location is key to throwing a great event. Think about the theme of your event, the vibe you want to create, and what type of location will best support it. Do you want the event to feel more like a cocktail hour (bar), or a serious meeting (hotel or conference space)? You’ll also want to:

  • Think about what amenities will be required. If you’re on a tighter budget, you can often get free event space at a bar if you go with a cash bar and agree to give the venue the proceeds from drinks. This works well for weekday events where the bar would otherwise have low traffic.
  • Get ready to negotiate. Hotels usually quote 30%-40% higher than what you can actually get them for, so don’t be afraid to present a counter-offer. You can also usually get 50% off on the original quote for AV equipment provided by the space.
  • Get a flexible space. If you don’t know how many attendees you’ll have, get a flexible space that can expand or contract depending on your turnout. For example, restaurants with additional rooms to add or conference spaces that have moving walls that can be set up in different configurations.

3. Speakers get as much from your event as you get from them

The first step to attracting speakers is to find a topic based on what your audience is interested in. It will be much easier to attract speakers once you have a concrete topic or theme in mind because it helps them envision their role in your event. Collect speaker submissions and then search your network to see if you know anyone in common. Getting a personal introduction from a mutual contact can go a long way.

Cover room and board for your speakers, but don’t pay them for their appearance. (There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but they’re rare.) Your speakers aren’t at your event to do a job, they’re there to connect with your audience. The value should be one of reciprocity — you give them as much value for being a part of your event as you get from having them speak. You have a lot to offer them: visibility, a chance to meet your attendees, and a chance to meet your other VIPs. As Edith put it, when you reach out to a speaker, “you are giving them the opportunity to speak at your event.”

4. Get creative to sell out early

Nailing down an accurate attendee headcount is critical to your planning — but can be one of the hardest things to do. Getting attendees to put some skin in the game by charging them just $5 will tremendously increase the accuracy of your RSVPs. You can also try a creative tactic that Cassie uses: a few days before the event, send out an email or put up a social post saying that the event is sold out. Ask those who aren’t planning on attending to kindly let you know so that you can give someone on the waitlist their ticket.

When it comes to selling tickets, stand by your price — and believe in your value. Think about what you are giving attendees and what that experience is worth. Leverage Twitter for the few days before the event to create urgency around buying tickets or registering and allude to selling out. You can even send buyers on a scavenger hunt to find discount codes hidden on partner websites.

5. Keep your eye on the prize

The day of your event rarely goes exactly as planned. Don’t sweat the details! No one notices, and if they do, people are generally very forgiving. Remember that people attend your event to have a good time, to connect with others, and sometimes to learn something. On the day of the event, your role has to change from operator to gracious host. People will have a better time if they see you having a great time. So most of all, allow yourself to enjoy the event you worked so hard to create.

 

Now that you’re set up to host a kick-ass event, make sure that it’s accessible to everyone. After all, a more accessible event means a better experience for your guests — and better retention, loyalty, and ticket sales for you. Learn how to make sure your event is accessible to people of all abilities in this handy guide.