We recently hosted two conferences during the same week. Honestly, we are still tired and recovering. However, we are both in awe of all that happened, the relationships made, and the impact that was seen. We thought we’d share a few of the mistakes that we made and some others that we avoided. Below you’ll find some common mistakes in our experience when hosting a conference:
1. Don’t over-focus on the content
Don’t get me wrong. People come for the content oftentimes. But if they can’t relate to you or feel like you are simply attempting to download information into their brains, you’ll lose your crowd. There were times this week that we deviated way off the schedule that were some of the best moments of the week.
2. Don’t forget about your audience
We hosted a group of Argentine leaders this past week. We always had hot water ready (for Maté), bizcocho for breakfast, and also held onto the schedule as loosely as we could (whereas North Americans sometimes over emphasize time, Argentines value people and relationships).
3. Don’t plan every second and forget to rest
I struggle with this one. When I have people for a short time, I want to do it all. That’s not possible. Last week we “planned” 3 hours or so in the afternoons for rest, for people to process what they had discussed, and for our daughter to take a nap. I wouldn’t have survived last week without it.
4. Don’t try to do it alone
My boss is an expert at this. Last week there were twenty to thirty or more people involved in leadership. When you spread the responsibilities around, you accomplish more, you are freed to focus on last-minute surprises, you empower others, and you see save the mental and physical energy that you need.
5. Don’t plan a busy week immediately afterwards
This, my friends, is what they call burning the candle at both ends. If possible, schedule some downtime after hosting/leading a conference to recharge, to reflect, to give your family the attention it needs, and to rest. Today, Lindsey, Shiloh, and I are out-of-town enjoying some time away as a family without any connection to work. We needed it. We are learning that when we rest like we should, we work better, faster, and more effectively.
6. Don’t cook all the food yourself
Lots of restaurants, independent caterers, and others will reduce prices and give all sorts of discounts for large conferences (especially if you put out information with their name on it). Leverage your influence as you negotiate for reduced prices on the food, facilities, giveaways, and materials.
7. Don’t forget to charge your cell phone
Forgetting to charge your cell phone before a large conference (especially one that you are leading) can be disastrous. On Monday night of last week, my cell phone died. I forgot to charge it. In reality I should have charged it and should have had a spare battery on hand. Poor planning is not an excuse for under performance.
8. Do as much as possible before the conference starts
This includes food, materials, presentations, gifts, plans, speeches, etc. If you have a couple of meals to serve, you could follow Lindsey’s (and our colleague Cheryl’s) example of making a couple of meals a week in advance. That way you only have to warm them up the week of. Creating gift bags for attendees, a certificate for having completed the course, and other things beforehand will only free you up more to interact with your attendees.
What other common mistakes have you noticed in your life and others when hosting a conference or event? We would love to have your input as we learn from ourselves and others.