We sat down with Jim Christian, founder of Advanced Search Summit, to talk about:
- How to start and grow a conference
- Tips to get booked as a speaker at an SEO conference or event
- Examples of speaker pitches that Jim loves to see
- Dos and don’ts of running large conferences
- A lot of stories about Jim in a hot tub (not a typo)
Let’s get into it!
Do you think doing live events is a good idea for an agency?
If you think you are gonna be rich for the amount of time and effort you put into doing live events for your company then you’re kidding yourself.
How critical is the role of a keynote speaker for a successful conference?
Speakers come and go. People enjoy them and forget them. They remember your conference for two reasons:
- You gave them a memorable experience
- They felt they connected with the right people
A lot of conferences focus on getting famous and usually expensive keynote speakers. That’s great but people forget them as soon as they are off the stage.
People are more apt to remember you if you gave them a memory to hang on to. So focus on that when planning a live event.
How many people attend such events to learn something?
There are different kinds of people that come to the conferences. Some are there for a beautiful setting while others are after advanced information.
But most people attend these conferences only because they want to connect with people that can help them further their careers.
How do you plan your presentations for the event?
We always ask for new presentations or to gear the presentations towards a mid-market or enterprise brand.
That way it’s not the same talk every year. The topics in a PubCon or a general SMX show are usually shopped around from show to show.
Even if you choose a common topic you should not have the same material that has been used before.
Good speakers know how to bend it to the crowd. People who reuse the decks over and over again are using those for more talking points and they’re also kind of spinning off.
How do you choose your topics?
We aim to deliver a unique experience for our attendees.
You should come up with some crazy topics. Topics that no one else is covering. Topics that demand attention and still inform and guide people in some critical way.
Try to vary the programs so that it’s not the same experience every year.
And that is one of the most difficult tasks that we deal with.
A lot of the shows are the same in format and design. They make things repeatable, year after year, to make it easy on themselves. Avoid that.
How do you choose your speakers?
We try to get people that can be well represented on stage. People with a strong stage presence.
We look at where they’ve been in their careers and match that to what we’re looking for.
We watch videos of them speaking, if there are any on the Web, so we can know how they will react in front of a microphone.
What advice you have for someone looking to start a conference?
I would say you should start small and build a following first.
Then once you plan an event keep an eye on the cost. Keep it as low as possible and the mechanics of the event as simple as they can be.
People complicate their events by adding things like food or AV or transportation etc.
Big conferences can reduce the cost per head which attracts people. But with small conferences keeping the cost low is not an option so you must select a location where people would want to go.
Location is critical when planning an event.
Put a better show and make it cost less. Everyone should have a great time if they come to your show.
Deliver a unique and memorable experience by attending to the details and making people feel welcome.
What kind of sponsorship opportunities organizers should provide?
There are two types of conference sponsorship opportunities that you can go along with.
One of them is to try to sell out everything from a label on a bottle of water to an insert into a backpack that no one will ever find.
Sponsors want foot traffic. You should aim for that but you should also remember that it’s not the amount of foot traffic that you can get, it’s the quality of the foot traffic that matters in the end.
Our sponsors, for example, may not get a huge amount of leads but the leads they get usually close the deal.
What is the best way to network in an event?
People think that scanning someone’s badge is going to work for them. They do not focus on making connections.
You need to put in the time and effort needed to connect with someone and you’re only going to be able to do that with two things. One is time and the second is a memorable moment you shared.
Without those two things, you will never connect with people. You will be another person trying to sell them on something and that never works.
You’ll get a higher rate of return if you spend quality time with people and that is exactly what we strive for—creating those points of connection.
Multiple conferences per year or one conference every year?
It is challenging both ways. I would still stress the location part. It has to be a place people gravitate toward and the experience should not be repeatable.