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If you’re making all the decisions, you’re doing it wrong

Kelvin Newman, founder of Rough Agenda, which runs BrightonSEO, offers a more practical way of decision-making 

We’re a community led event,” all the conference organisers scream. I wish I could get a quid for every conference and exhibition that claims it is at the centre of its community – I wouldn’t need to organise another event. But, I’m afraid, in my experience most organisers are only playing lip service.

If you’re able to convince any number of people to step away from their desk and into the room you’ve booked, then you’ve created a community. But that alone doesn’t mean you are actually listening to them and serving their needs.

For most organisers their main form of customer feedback is a hastily knocked-up survey; one that often doesn’t get read when it is mailed out in the aftermath of the event.

I hate these surveys as they are rarely actionable: “My speakers are 7.48 out of 10 knowledgeable. Next time I must strive to get my speakers to be at least 0.66 more knowledgeable,” by way of example. 

I like to see the role of our community as far more practical and specific to our needs than this. If my team and I have hit an impasse or if we decide which design for our conference T-shirt, we share the five colourways we are considering in a private Facebook group. These people who have bought VIP tickets to the events are all opinionated and our best customers.

The best case scenario is a victor emerges and we find the majority decision for any question we ask the community.

Often that’s not the case, their opinions are as divided as me and the team, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Each person who chipped in with their point of view has contributed to the event; they feel a tiny bit of ownership of it. We’re not another event where we’re trying to make as much money out of them, we actually care what they think.

Once you get into a mindset like this, with a willing audience who like to express their point of view, it can have a quite profound effect on how you organise events.

There’s a lot about organising conferences and exhibitions that’s hard work. For me it’s the sheer amount of decisions I have to make. 

Often these decisions feel arbitrary with equally weighted pros and cons. Accepting there’s often no right decision and leaning on our community to help make even the smallest decisions completely changes the way you approach the hardest part of organising events. If you’re making all the decisions about your event you’re doing it wrong. 

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