Last week I had a great conversation with Todd Harrison, who is an Event Manager at Intel. Any big technology events such as HP Discover, IBM PartnerWorld, Intel Developer Forum or Salesforce’s Dreamforce usually have three components: Keynotes, Exhibits and Training/Breakout Sessions. Todd’s specialty is managing the training component of big events on a global scale. Content is the centerpiece of that component. I asked Todd five questions about managing training content at events.
Q: How do you determine what content to include in a big industry event?
Well, there are two approaches: top-down and bottoms-up.
Top-down: This is probably true for company-centric events. Usually corporations have specific messages they want to communicate. Senior marketing and product managers will take ownership of creating a track with a specific session in mind. Sometimes, they will go as far as writing abstracts and creating slides. The benefit of this approach is that you control the messaging.
Bottoms-up: Some industry events are more sales-driven; they will create sessions through calls for papers and marketing sponsors’ content. The benefits are that you get a variety of topics and you have the authority to choose, but it may not totally align with the event theme and drive your key messages.
Q: Some of these large-scale events are cross-region, how do you manage to scale content across regions?
There are basically 4 situations you have to account for, assuming that the event originates in the US and uses English as the source of communication:
1. English speaker with English presentation: Basically, there is no translation. In BTB and technology industry, this still works! A lot of them may not speak or write well, but you will be surprised how well they read English.
2. English speaker with translated presentation: Speaker communicates in English, but the slides are in local languages. Sometimes, there are on-site interpreters to translate the presenter’s talk. Keep the slides simple and in bullet points. Jokes don’t usually translate well.
I remembered a story I heard: a presenter told a joke in English, the on-site translator did not translate the joke and basically told that audience that the presenter just told a joke, please laugh politely. Funny!
3. Local speaker with English presentation: Speaker talks in local language, but the presentation remains in the original format. Again, this works well, when the audience can read English well. The key is to keep your slides simple and easy to understand. Use bullet points.
4. Local speaker with translated presentation: This usually is needed when audience doesn’t really understand English well.
Translating hundreds of sessions are laborious and costly. You may need to prioritize what to translate or scale back on sessions.
Again, it’s important to keep presentations simple, get to the point, use bullet points and avoid lengthy paragraphs. This rule applies to both English and local presentations.
Q: How do you manage hundreds of session of a large-scale industry event?
Using a content management tool to keep a library of content is absolutely essential. Don’t use the tool simply to upload the final content for each session.
Make sure the content management tool can track file versions, presenters, names, events and presentation dates.
It will give you a sense of who will present what and when. In general, the shelf life of content used at events is pretty short. However, it’s nice to have a history to track what topics were presented throughout a series of events, especially since some large-scale events occur every year.
By the way, it’s important to designate each session with one fixed identification number. The session numbers of one presentation may change from event to event, but there is always a permanent number for you to track this presentation. This is similar to how you can change your name, gender or address, but your social security number always stays with you.
Q: Keynotes are also content. How is managing a keynote different than training sessions?
They are totally different. Session content tends to follow specific themes, topics, technologies or product lines. For training sessions, there are specific templates, tools and timelines that everyone follows. For keynotes, presenters tend to spend a lot of time to add personal touches and last minute changes. Session speakers are presenting to event attendees. Keynote speakers are typically presenting to the press, the real influence is in how much their messages are picked up and spread via press articles.
The content of keynotes tends to focus on what and why, while the session focuses more on how.
Q: What are your thoughts about session surveys?
There are a couple schools of thoughts about this. In general, when your sample size is bigger, the quality of your survey result should be better.
In order to increase the sample size, some event organizers will offer certain incentives to get higher response rate. Then, the results tend to skew to people who don’t care. The quality of the survey results are impacted. If you don’t offer incentives, the response rate tends to be substantially lower which impacts the sample sizes and the results. It’s a catch-22 situation.
Generally, if you can get 30 surveys back in one session, it is considered statistically significant.
Survey scale is interesting, too. Some like a 1-5 scale, but the middle number 3 means I don’t care. It’s neither good nor bad. Some like a 1-6 scale, it forces audiences to choose, it does not provide a middle ground.
Don’t ask survey questions that you can’t act on. Sometimes we do add questions that we can’t act on, due to senior managers’ requests. That’s not a battle that you really want to fight though (laugh).
It was wonderful talking to Todd. I find a lot of similarities between event marketing and global content marketing. Thank you, Todd!