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What goes in to making a great IT Conference?

If you are like me, you have attended many conferences so you instinctively know what’s good and bad about an event. The one thing that we all seem to dislike is dreadful presentations that are boring sales pitches, especially when it’s about speeds and feeds. Today, there is really no excuse for poor presentations.

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Here are 16 things that go into making our ChannelNEXT conferences a success:

  1. Exhibitors and Speakers:

Exhibitors and speakers play a critical role in the success of any conference. They should always be bringing their “A” game to conferences. Typically, professional speakers do a great job. Smart vendors know the true value of meeting and socializing with a group of potential partners. They understand that events are an important part of their sales and marketing efforts to recruit and build stronger partnerships, but also for generating important awareness. It is not just for generating a quantity of sales leads! They also understand that sharing valuable knowledge and getting feedback (business intelligence) from the delegates are important to their success. Building solid customer relationships at conferences is critical because people mostly buy from people (that they like)!

Exhibitors should always find interesting ways to amplify their message and leave a memorable impression. The most successful vendors and speakers do the best presentations that excite and engage the audience. We give out four awards at our conferences for the best presentations as voted exclusively by the delegates, in real-time. It recognizes the best performing vendors and speakers and encourages others to do better next time.

  1. Preparation:

You get out what you put in! As an event organizer, we offer loads of advice on how an exhibitor can prepare, attract and connect deeper with the delegates. We kick off every conference with an exhibitor orientation meeting to ensure they understand the types of attendees and the regional market, as well as every opportunity at the event that they can exploit to connect with the delegates. We also help them to do pre (to pave the way) and post (to follow up) event communications. The bottom line goal is to create the right conditions for both parties to generate a return on their investment! The preparation of the exhibitor is critical for their ROI success.

  1. Delegates:

The delegates have to be right-fit for the exhibitors and vice-versa. Every delegate must complete a comprehensive application before being approved. Applicants provide information that allows us to best understand their business model, target audience, suppliers and challenges. Every application is reviewed to ensure a good fit. Only decision makers can attend and a delegate may only attend once every 2 years, as we rotate through the top 1,000 VARs and MSPs.

  1. Venue:

The venue can also contribute to the success or failure of a conference. Just the quality of the facility’s WIFI alone can frustrate delegates. Quality of the food, service level, accommodations and the registration staff can all affect the experience. For every event, we scout at least 5 locations before selecting the best. We also work with the management of the venue to ensure they are well prepared to receive and take care of our VIP group. Our event team monitors their performance every step of the way.

  1. Experience:

We have been organizing the ChannelNEXT conferences for the past fourteen years and have since become one of Canada’s longest running channel events. Our original event management team is still organizing the conferences. We have since expanded with other event brands like VARTrends and MSPTrends in six countries. We have been honored to win several Reseller Choice Awards for being the #1 channel event. Our post event surveys consistently rate us 98%, yet our event team is always striving to do better.

  1. Review:

After every event is over, our team does an intensive debriefing to analyze the good and bad. The survey results are carefully reviewed and action plans are immediately implemented to correct any shortfalls. We track the number of business partnerships generated to ensure good ROI metrics. Of course, we still make mistakes at our events but it is this level of care and determination to do better each time that has helped us to outlast our competition and more importantly remain relevant as a successful conference.

  1. Research:

Determination alone is not enough without a deeper understanding of the current and future needs of your delegates and exhibitors. We must constantly innovate. For this, you must do extensive industry research to ensure the content at the conference is on trend. It’s nice to meet the expectations of your delegates but the magic really happens when you exceed them.

We do lots of industry research throughout the year with the support of our news divisions eChannelNEWS and ecnTV. They continually feed us the latest trends in technology as it relates to our channel audience. We track over 4,000 vendors in the IT industry to ensure we have the pulse of the channel. We also consult with numerous industry leaders and experts to build a rich content agenda that will help our delegates to build a bigger, better and stronger business.

  1. Evolve:

In the early years, we were basically adapting the event and vendor line up based on feedback from past attendees. Since then, we have evolved into a leadership role by introducing new ideas and trends that may surprise the delegates. Fast track to today, our events have become a lot more interactive with workshops, town hall type discussions, training boot camps, group breakout sessions and mastermind-type sessions. We do our best to educate, energize and motivate the delegates to take action.

  1. Trends:

We are currently focusing on the latest trends like Cloud, Managed Services, Mobility and Security as well as future trends like Internet of Things and Big/Little Data. We also have some of the best hardware vendors. The goal is to showcase the right vendor-mix that every delegate can sell. Beyond showcasing outstanding vendors, we are heavily focused on helping our delegates to improve their business practices and build recurring revenue.

  1. Education:

Over the years, we have built an army of coaches that can literally help any VAR or MSP to improve their business, in any area. We now have three business courses targeting companies looking for “traction”, “growth” or “optimization”. We offer one of the most comprehensive resources in the World for these companies to find all of the tools and services that they need to better streamline, manage and market their businesses. We also have an exclusive online test to help them figure out their business strengths and weaknesses – for free!

  1. Innovation:

This year, we are about to revolutionize the way MSPs scale their businesses and reduce costs with a global Network Operations Center provider. This will also help more VARs to transition into a MSP model. We have been working on this opportunity over the past couple years to ensure that it will get the job done right. It’s part of our core mission to help more channel partners to grow their recurring revenue business model!

  1. VIP Personal Touch:

The one thing that we are most proud of is the fact that our conferences offer a personalize experience to our delegates. Everyone is treated like a VIP. We still call our delegates to personally remind them of things they need to do. We hand out a comprehensive 40+ page printed conference guide, but we still have people guiding them every step of the way. At anytime, delegates can reach the onsite event team by phone, text or e-mail. We ensure that everyone is satisfied with the experience. In a sentence, we truly care about our delegates!

  1. Right-Size:

The conference needs to be the right size! We have figured out that 50 resellers to a maximum of 25 vendors over 2 days is a good ratio between sellers and buyers. It allows enough time to connect to a deeper level that will build better partnerships. How many times have you gone to a conference with hundreds of delegates and came away with a stack of business cards, but you really cannot remember much about whom you met (and neither do some of the contacts remember you)? It has some to do with quantity verses quality, but also the sheer number of connections that a human can handle in a couple of days. Do a test for yourself at your next conference. Try to meet more than 50 people over 2 days and review how much you really know or remember about each.

  1. Time:

We know your time is valuable so we respect time! A well-organized event that runs on time will reduce frustration and carry the delegates along a more enjoyable journey. Most delegates comment on how our schedule is always on time. Our event team runs a very tight ship to ensure no one wastes precious time.

  1. Social Networking:

Successful events have the right social networking activities to make the experience fun. People tend to learn better when they are also enjoying the experience. We always try to add a little fun into our ChannelNEXT events and sometimes a few activities that take some of the delegates out of their comfort zone. Whenever possible, we try to challenge the delegates a little to make them open up and actually get more value and a better experience from the event.

  1. Operations:

The daily grind to invite delegates; Get vendors to exhibit; Maintaining the web site; Processing registrations; Producing the badges and conference guides; Selecting the food with more healthy choices; Arranging entertainment; Organizing the event staff…the list just goes on and on.

As you can see, there are a lot of moving parts and work that goes into producing a successful conference for you to experience. The conference work never stops. The events for next year are already being planned.

Unfortunately, I cannot give out all of our conference secrets, but I can tell you that we are digging down to the DNA level of the conference culture to ensure we stay at the forefront and deliver the very best experience and value to our delegates. If you have ever attended a ChannelNEXT event, then you know the experience. If not, come experience it for yourself.

Julian Lee