What it takes to pull off a successful 500+ delegate conference in 2018

After delivering a record breaking 30th anniversary conference for our client the Money Advice Liaison Group (MALG) in November 2017 which broke new ground in the world of debt advice with an interactive fintech exhibition and line-up of engaging speakers and workshops that took the industry hot topics to the next level (and even got us shortlisted for an award at last month’s CIPR Yorkshire & Lincolnshire PRide Award 2018!), we were set the even bigger challenge of working with both MALG and the Government’s Money Advice Service to pull off a successful 500+ delegate conference as part of ‘Talk Money Week 2018’.

In recent years ever-tightening purse strings, market saturation, and ever-dwindling time and resources has made it more and more challenging to get people away from the day job to an industry conference. While conferences are still recognised as an important way of encouraging collaboration, bringing together key stakeholders, and bringing about change through meaningful debate, gone are the days when fancy lunches and a ‘big hitting’ speaker could sell out tickets. In order to encourage delegates, speakers, sponsors and exhibitors to part with their time and money, it’s got to be as worthwhile as possible.

Here are 5 things I learnt from organising and delivering the #TalkMoney Conference 2018:

  1. You can’t please all the people all the time: At last year’s MALG Conference we were conscious that the organisation had been through a lot of change and didn’t want to alienate old members in our efforts to engage new ones and shake things up. This meant that in some ways, despite being as innovative as we could, we probably played it a bit safe. When it comes to conference content, you’ve got to break down boundaries and having a speaker like John Glenn MP at the Talk Money Conference at such a politically sensitive time for the sector paid dividends in terms of delegate engagement and wider awareness raising.
  2. Waste not want not: Conferences of yesteryear left delegates weighed down with bags of marketing literature and novelty gifts and tried to wow them with impressive signage and stage settings. While it’s important that things run smoothly and look good, discerning delegates want to know that organisers have done all they can to minimise waste. This has the added bonus of seriously cutting costs.
  3. Don’t just talk, listen!: One of the biggest challenges when engaging delegates both before, during and after a conference is to create dialogue with them rather than just talk ‘at’ them. This is what makes events truly memorable and what drives real collaboration and change. Not only was the Talk Money Conference programme designed to do this (with even Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis’ keynote being a Q&A style session) but the heavy use of social media and other digital delegate engagement tools made the whole delegate experience interactive from start to finish.
  4. Convenience is king: There are so many conferences to attend and it’s so difficult to achieve ‘stand out’ with target audiences that anything which makes attendance difficult could scupper your chances of getting people along. We made the booking process so easy and opened bookings so early that we quickly found ourselves with the opposite problem – being heavily over-subscribed and having to get people’s commitment to attend so that we didn’t have to unnecessarily turn others away.
  5. And finally, what makes a conference go from mediocre to outstanding in this day and age is building a pre-conference buzz. We adopted a clear content marketing led strategy to create excitement around the event months in advance. This translated right through the day and beyond ensuring that both the live event itself and the online buzz around it didn’t fall flat. After all, it was the ‘Talk Money’ Conference so our job was to get people talking and we certainly achieved that.

 

But it wasn’t all down to us, it was very much a partnership effort and we loved working with all the different stakeholders involved to deliver what was an unforgettable day. We are now compiling all of the feedback and hope it’ll be an award winning piece of work for us that makes a real difference to the UK’s financial capability and debt advice sectors for years to come.

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