Recently, I had the chance to attend Marketo’s Marketing Nation Summit, a conference for marketing professionals. While in many ways it was a regular conference—with keynotes, sessions, and your standard formula catered lunch*—the Marketing Nation was also full of the type of hype and excitement that I’ve never seen before at a conference.
While it was full of ups and downs, I think that Marketo was able to create a memorable and meaningful conference by building their event experience around their attendees.
* bread roll + salad + chicken in sauce, in case you were wonderingMarketo created a memorable conference by building the experience around attendees. Click To Tweet
Let them speak: mixing up the speakers and sessions
A clear standout at the conference was the huge amount of variety—both in the speakers, and in the sessions that were available.
Celebrity guests are always cool, and this year James Corden and Queen Latifah were really good at talking generally about diversity, reaching your audience, and achieving success. Another standout was the keynote, which included speeches by different executives, such as a majority-female CMO panel.
It was great to hear what top professionals in my industry were doing, and the inclusiveness was great to see. I most remember the unplanned, interesting moments, such as when the CMOs spoke about the Porta Party. They stood out because of their sense of humor and feeling of authenticity, but were also legitimate examples of valuable content. Kudos have to be given to the moderators, who kept the panels on-track and professional, but also light-hearted and fun to watch.Unplanned moments stand out at conferences because of humor and authenticity Click To Tweet
The sense of humor carried over into the sessions. Topics like Marketing Like Taylor Swift, Killer Content Strategy, and Behavior Hacks for Engagement were really good at talking relevantly about issues I cared about, while keeping us engaged with a sense of light heartedness and openness to discussion. Many of the speakers for these quirkier sessions were very lively and engaging to listen to, in addition to being helpful.
While I wasn’t able to attend every session that I wanted to, it was usually just because I had to pick between sessions that were at the same time.
Event Planner Takeaway:
Try to select a variety of speakers, so that you get more diverse sessions that show different points of view and aspects of the topic.
Expand the event experience off-hours
After the long days of sessions, Marketo didn’t let up. Parties and meet & greets with tech partners/sponsors filled up the nights. These were extra opportunities for networking, meeting other attendees, and getting a glimpse of San Francisco’s local hangouts.
Every major partner sponsored some type of event, from Tiki themed parties to billiards lounges. The exhibition hall was also open after the last session ended, for a “happy hour” where attendees could visit vendors, nibble on appetizers, and generally fuel up before the evening’s events.After-hours activities are great opportunities for networking and getting to know the local culture Click To Tweet
I found this a great time to meet other attendees. At the sessions themselves, there was time for a bit of conversation before the speaker started, and a while after. The parties gave us the chance to sit down and have longer conversations, exchanging ideas and talking more generally about our work. And even though it was a professional event, the atmosphere was also more relaxed, making it easier to connect with people.
It also provided an easy conversation starter, as I found myself asking or being asked about last night’s event, or the upcoming one. Overall, the off-hours events helped to create a more well-rounded event experience that allowed all of us to unwind after long days of sessions, while still doing productive, professional networking.
Event Planner Takeaway:
More relaxed after-hours events can round out the event experience and help attendees connect and unwind after a jam-packed day at the conference.
Timing is everything
After a late night at the Marketing Summit concert, I (and most people I spoke to) was very relieved that breakfast the next morning started an hour and a half later. The Marketo conference was generally very well timed—there were a lot of opportunities to do things outside of the sessions, without strictly overlapping with session time.
The slightly later start time also allowed people to feel able to stay for the previous night’s evening activities. By setting it up for the attendee’s convenience, more people were able to attend. I definitely felt more satisfied because I was able to get the full event experience without worrying about the next day.
I noticed this tactic in a few of the sponsored parties as well. Most parties all happened at the same time on the first evening of the conference, so they were vying for the same audience. The most popular party was the Tiki party, which was at capacity within 20 minutes of opening—because this was the latest-starting, latest-running event that night.
Another stand out was a “Barbers and Blowouts,” which offered professional barbers, hairdressers, and makeup artists to attendees, helping them get ready before the big concert on the final evening. Not only was it the only event on the day, it offered a unique experience that no other party at the conference had. Needless to say, it was incredibly popular and spots filled up quickly.
Event Planner Takeaway:
Spread out your events and arrange the timing of sessions, keynotes, and even meals so that attendees will be able to go to all of the activities without being afraid of missing out on others.
Do you have any tips or takeaways from conferences you’ve attended? Tweet us @QuickMobile or leave a comment below!