Behind the scenes of a successful VC and Startup event organization
Before you start reading check the latest events that inspired me to write these tips 😉:
SummerSaaS 2022 conference. International Financial Institutions in European Tech Panel with the participation of Małgorzata Walczak (PFR Ventures),Bakhrom Ibragimov (EBRD Venture Capital), Bjorn Tremmerie (European Investment Fund), Dénes Jobbágy (Széchenyi Alapok).
If somebody has never before organized an event, what is your advice on how to start?
First, you need to know why you want to organize this event. What is your real goal, and what do you want to achieve? It’s essential to have a budget. In-person events are more expensive than online ones. Sometimes there are situations where you initially don’t have any budget. Before covid, most events were organized in person. During covid, we didn’t have a choice and moved everything online. Thanks to this, many people opened up to the online formula and saw its potential. And now we are at a point when we can decide what is more valuable for us.
When deciding to organize an event, it is also essential to answer the questions of what is the target audience of this event, whether it will be better for them to come in person or better if we organize the event online, is networking important to us, or maybe just a presentation. This first step is significant because it influences the whole process.
What tools and abilities are needed to organize an event?
I often hear from my friends that they have been at a company organizing events (meetings, conferences) at some point in their career, and they already know it is not for them. I have been meeting people in this environment throughout my whole career, and you know whether this person is in the right place. I believe you need to be well-organized and detail-focused in this business. You need to be open to last-minute changes, and I must say never everything goes according to your plan because we are working with people; you need to be very open, flexible, and communicative. Not everyone is always pleasant and it can make your life harder. I think the most important thing — is experience. You learn from your own mistakes and provide new solutions.
When covid started, I was in the middle of organizing the biggest annual event for my company. We invited 800 people to an event in person, and it was the most important event of the year. One week before, we were forced to reschedule the event and do it in a hybrid form with a limited number of people in the studio. It was a tough moment for me, the event organizer, and the entire production team. Due to the large promotion in the media, we had to prepare everything very carefully so that the company’s image would not suffer. It was also a sizeable logistical undertaking, as we had to inform all the guests about the event’s postponement and invite only some of them to the studio and the rest to watch the broadcast. It was a lot of work, but the event went well in the end, and we got excellent feedback from the audience.
I believe I have never organized the same event twice. Always try to change something and do it better.
How to meet deadlines and keep everything under control?
I will say maybe about larger events like conferences, forums, and congresses. This is the most challenging and vital — you need to feel in charge and control the situation. That’s why it’s essential to plan and schedule, and I always prepare a checklist.
You are always working with subcontractors, and I recommend hiring an event agency if you have a budget. The cost of this cooperation is not that high but is much easier. Especially if your company is smaller and only one person can always be involved in the process. I always try to work with people/ subcontractors I have worked with before. It’s crucial that you can trust that this person can deliver precisely what you expect or more. Often, if I don’t know anyone in the exact country or city, I will first ask my contacts about recommendations, or I just simply check options online and review their opinions and reviews.
A few years ago, I organized an event in Brussels. In the evening we were organizing an official dinner, and looking for a very nice place. At that time, I was working with one event agency, and they offered me the old library in the middle of the park in the city center where we could prepare dinner. The place was beautiful, very unique, and within our budget. We confirmed the place and sent invites to our guests. After that, we received information from this library that they had made a mistake and sent us pricing for a different place. The price of the library was twice as high, and we couldn’t afford it. Because it was recommended to us by an event agency, they covered the difference by themself. It was one of many situations in my career where sometimes working with a professional event agency is profitable and safer.
I will say that the most important thing is sticking to the plan, being open to unforeseen things, and working with people with a lot of experience and whom you can trust.
How to make the event program relevant to your audience and invite interesting speakers?
This is a significant part of this process because the attractiveness of your event depends on it.
I will start with the keynote speaker. This person opens your event and brings the audience. It’s best if the person is known internationally, and has experience in your industry. I always try to find a charismatic, open person who “has a following.”
When it comes to discussion panels, there are a few points that I always try to fulfill. First of all, the title of the panel — must be clear to everyone but at the same time attractive, unique, and one that is not replicated at other conferences. We have a leader/moderator in each panel plus a minimum of 2–3 panelists. It is best if it is 5–6 people in total. This is the optimal number, in my opinion. If we are doing an online conference, everyone is visible on the screen — here, we must remember that some streaming platforms do not even allow more than five people on the stage simultaneously. It is essential to always check it before inviting participants. If we are doing a hybrid or stationary event, it also looks best on stage. In each panel, I try to have people from different countries so that the topic can be discussed from different perspectives, and it is essential to ensure gender parity. It’s not always possible, but it’s good to have at least one big name on the panel — a person that attracts your audience.
When creating the agenda, several important issues should not be forgotten. The number of panels — remember that we do not want the conference to be too long, leaving the right amount of time to find panelists. The earlier we contact them, the greater the chance their schedule will be available. Here’s an important topic to keep in mind — compensation. These are people working professionally, and often participation in events such as keynote speaker is also part of their profession, and then you should remember about the budget for their salaries. If the event is in person, sometimes, despite the lack of the need to pay the fee, we have to cover the costs of travel and accommodation at the place of the event.
If the event is organized cyclically, try not to duplicate the speakers — if we have already invited them to the previous edition, let’s suggest someone else. We should also try not to select several representatives of the same company for one event.
You also must remember that If you invite your event VIPs most of the time, they will confirm their presence at the last moment (even on the day of the event). That’s why If they are involved in your Agenda, you need to always have plan B, just in case they will not show up.
How to effectively attract an audience to the event (promotion, info sponsors, releases, social media activity, etc.)?
The topic of promotion is significant, but it only applies to events in which we invite people from the outside or those in which we want to present the results/summary of the event to a broader audience (but the event itself is only for a closed group of people).
In both cases, the most important thing is the budget we have. And even if you don’t have a budget you can get it by attracting sponsors! You can analyze your target audience and understand who can be interested in promoting themselves in front of such an audience. Make a list of targets and reach out to them with a deck showing the main results of the previous events and the benefits of such partnership.
If we do not have a budget and any sponsor, we must support ourselves with our activities, i.e., social media of the company (FB and Linkedin) and company employees. If we run a newsletter, it is also good to do a regular mailing to subscribers. Each company cooperates with other companies and partners. It is always worth using their help in promoting the event. It is worth preparing a press release and sending it to the local/regional or international media because it is a no-cost action, and there is a chance it will be published. If our event is recurring, we can also send a mailing inviting participants from the previous edition to the next event. You can also ask your speakers to share the event post on their social media. We can prepare a banner for them, which they can publish. For example for online events, we sometimes use HOPIN platform and you can generate specific UTM codes per each marketing campaign so that you can track which campaign was the most successful in attracting the audience (Hopin- Registration- Sharing and messaging). UTM codes are simple query string parameters that are added to a URL to track how campaigns perform. This empowers users to understand marketing performance and where their traffic is coming from. Within UTM codes, users can track different parameters that can be used to quantify their marketing campaigns and provide accurate referral code tracking.
If, on the other hand, our budget is more significant, our range of possibilities is wider. It provides more opportunities to market the campaign on the Internet and in the media. Regarding cooperation with the media, you should choose media with a high reach of our target group. In my experience, a nice way to increase the number of participants of an event and its promotion is broadcasting the event on the media page. During such cooperation, a given media portal is involved in promoting the event, and the broadcast can be done in any format, both during the online and stationary event. This is a higher cost, but beneficial in my opinion. However, it is necessary to consider the medium with which you want to cooperate.
What can go wrong with organizing events, and how to solve it?
I believe that doing events, you need to know that everything can go wrong or needs to be changed many times according to the first plan. That’s why organizing events is very stressful and not for everyone.
Maybe I will give some examples:
- Once, when I was organizing a hybrid event, we decided to record in a studio with a view of the city and record all the panels earlier due to the availability of panelists. However, we wanted to keep the effect of a live recording. We recorded the panels for two days in different orders. Some of the speakers were in the studio, and some were online. Unfortunately, at the end of the first day, we realized that some of the panels were recorded when it was already dark outside, and on the day of the events, they were to be broadcast in the afternoon. Therefore, we had to change the whole scenery to them, and we recorded the panels in the evening with a different background. Of course, it was not a perfect solution, but at the moment, the only and ultimately led to a great outcome.
- A very common problem is the last-minute cancellation by the panelists — if we have more of them in the panel, this is not a significant problem; the worst is when we receive a cancellation by a Keynote Speaker or someone who makes an individual presentation. During one of the events, a keynote speaker resigned an hour before the event. Unfortunately, in such a short time, we could not find a new person, so we contacted the person opening the event and the person who had a keynote speaker presentation to extend their presentations a bit, and the next panel started a bit earlier. Check here how we solved this problem.
And maybe at the end, personal question — why are you doing it, and what do you like about it?
I did not choose this profession; it was never my dream. I think this profession chose me … it started with a favor for a friend, then someone recommended me somewhere, and that’s how it turned out, and now I’m at Flashpoint. And why am I doing it … because, even though it is a very stressful job and very unpredictable, it gives a lot of satisfaction. There is always an effect of your work here, and I know from experience that if you give it all, the result is always positive.
About the author
Adrianna works as an Event Manager, being part of the Flashpoint PR/IR/Marketing team.
In this role, she is responsible for Flashpoint events, including online events (e.g. our annual VC online conference and pitch competition SummerSaas, Limited Partner day, VC club, webinars on particular products, demo days), and offline external and internal events (e.g. team meetups, speaking opportunities at events, improving Flashpoint presence in different ways at events).
Before joining Flashpoint she spent 6 years in Polish Agency for Enterprise Development (PARP), where she was responsible for organizing and coordinating over 50–100 conferences annually (online and offline). She was leading the promotions and communications project for Norwegian and startup projects. She was deeply involved in creating and executing informational and promotional campaigns, including social media
Adrianna holds a master’s degree from the University of Warsaw and a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Finance and Management in Poland.
When she has time she likes travel planning and exploring new cultures, tennis, doing yoga, and reading adventure books.