Reflections on Hosting my First Multi-speaker Event

While I’ve been running business events both locally and online for over ten years yesterday I ran my first multi-speaker event with ten speakers–a Visibility and Impact fundraising event to help raise funds to to build a school in Cambodia. 
 
This morning as I noted down my personal reflections of the day, I realised some of these may be of help to others too. Hence this post that shares my thoughts on:
 
What went well? 
What would I do differently in the future?
What went wrong?
What impact did we have?
Would I do it again?
How do my reflections compare with those of attendees?
 
I decided to answer the above questions BEFORE looking at any of the feedback forms. 
 
Yes, lots of people told me at the event and have shared on social media how much they enjoyed the day, but I also wanted to acknowledge my perspective too before this is influenced by others. 
 
You see one of the challenges we have in being more visible, is giving in to our own self-talk, worrying about what others think, being scared to sharing our vulnerability or not seeing ourselves as others do. While part of me feels brave and bold in doing this, there’s another part that’s scared to share my reflections before reading the feedback forms. But as Jennifer Main said yesterday “your vulnerability is your superpower.” So here goes…

Why did I decide to host this event?

The main reason to raise funds to go towards building a school in Cambodia. 
 
There are many ways I could have done this but rather hosting my own event which I’ve done many times in the past (and in many ways is a lot easier), I thought it would be fun to host an event with some of my friends who are part of the Cambodian School Building Project Team. 
 
I wanted to put on an event that would give us the chance to do something together and to offer an incredible experience for business owners in our communities.
 
There is a magic that happens when you bring together the right people and trust you’ll collectively attract a good audience. Sometimes as happened yesterday you co-create an amazing energy and natural flow of connections and events you can never anticipate in advance. 
 
What was the format of the day?
It was a fast paced day of inspiration, networking and practical activities. We had ten brilliant speakers who spoke for 18-minutes on a range of topics relating to Visibility and Impact. During the day our audience also had over two hours to connect with once another, they videos to share on social media, and travelled into the future. They also participated in a range of fundraising and giving opportunities (see below). 

What worked well?

  • Doing this as a team – gosh organising something like this is definitely so much easier when you have a great team around you. My co-hosts may be great friends but we’d not worked together on something like this before. All the other co-hosts are part of my Cambodian school building team. Our shared goal and values were the glue that held us together. Throughout the planning and delivery of the event, there was space for all our different personalities and skills sets to shine. Working together has been a joy! 

  • The brilliant mix of speakers – I only selected people I’d seen talk who I knew would deliver a really good talk. They all also volunteered their time and helped promote the event. 

  • Taking the audience on a journey – we wanted to create a transformational experience throughout the day. First, exploring their inner motivations and self-talk around their mindset towards visibility and impact. They then heard about many practical ways to raise their visibility and turn their business into a force for good. 

  • The participants – co-creating a new audience made up of followers from all the speakers brought together a really good mix of attendees who were willing to engage and participate in all the activities. Even the activities where we challenged them to step outside their comfort zone. 

  • The format – a good mix of practical business tips, activities and opportunities to give. No matter how good speakers are, attending events can be a waste of time and money unless you experience an inner ‘shift’ or do something different in the future. As well as offering a range of inspirational and practical talks our activities helped stimulate engagement, embed deeper learning and had people taking action. Activities included visualisations, breathing exercises, discussions, personal reflections, creating videos, giving activities (see below), movement and even singing along to music from the Greatest Showman on Earth!

  • Giving our audience opportunities to give – just by being there (paying to attend this fundraising event), participating in our raffle (donating prizes and buying raffle tickets), hearing about a great local charity they could volunteer with, buying fundraising products, joining our fundraising team, making up food boxes at the end to give the many excess cakes out to homeless people, and becoming supporters of the charity we’re building the school in Cambodia through. 

  • Having long breaks – we were keen to give people time connect and speak to each other. Not an easy feat when we also wanted to showcase a lot of local talent. However, despite a tight schedule and a few hiccups, people had over two hours during breaks and lunch to network with one another. 

  • Finishing on time – whilst our schedule was timed to the minute, and there were times we were running behind due to practical challenges. Thankfully everyone adapted well to what was happening so we could make up time. 

  • All the prep paid off – to secure the right speakers, venue, support team, marketing the event and planning to ensure the event went well took up a lot of time and energy. My co-hosts joked about the packs each of them received in the morning containing detailed instructions and notes on every aspect of the day such as the event schedule, welcoming guests at the registration desk, taking payment at the shop, selling raffle tickets, security, contingency planning and our obligations under GDPR. But it all paid off-including needing to use song sheets when we were unable to access the internet later in the day. 

  • The exceptional service from the venue – the events team and staff on the day delivered one of the best levels of service I’ve ever experienced from a venue. As this was a fundraiser we wanted to minimise the funds we spent on the venue and catering while still delivering a great experience. The staff was so accommodating of our many changes, we had endless drinks and a massive range of cakes throughout the day. Even when things went wrong they did what they could to resolve the situation. They were brilliant! 

Overall, I felt it was an amazing day that flowed well despite a few hiccups–thanks to everyone who helped make it happen. Personally, it’s been a brilliant test of ‘trusting’ others and the process of what happens when you lean into what feels the right thing to do. It’s also been an invaluable practice run ahead of the Business for Good Conference I’m running in Edinburgh next year. 

What would I do differently in the future?

While I’m really pleased with how the event went, there are of course a few things I’d do differently in the future:
  • Serve refreshments outside the room – because we were at full capacity for the room, it would have been better to have served refreshments outside the room beside our registration, shop and raffle tables. We’d tried to make changes ahead of the event but limitations of the venue (only because we’d changed our needs) restricted this. 

  • Have more space – ideally, I prefer events with round tables to stimulate discussion but this significantly increases the price of a venue as you need much bigger rooms for the same number of people. This is something I’ve already invested in for the Business for Good Conference as it’s a commercial venture and I can charge more for the tickets. But when offering a fundraising event there can often be compromises somewhere unless you get the perfect venue that’s happy to provide space for free or at a significantly reduced rate. 

  • Have a dedicated technical person – to manage the presentations, music, speaker timer. We’d planned this to an extent but didn’t quite work out on the day. Thankfully for the next event, there will be a team of people providing this support! 

  • Delegate more – the team were brilliant and constantly offering to do more. While they did a lot, I know I could have made it easier on myself if I’d taken up more of their offers. 

  • Ask speakers for copies of their presentations sooner – this would have made things a little more polished on the day and given us a chance to check all the slides appeared OK ahead of time. 

  • Offer lunch –  either include lunch as part of the event or to at least agree a menu with the venue attendees could preorder their lunch from so they are served lunch quickly. 

What went wrong?

Thankfully most went to plan (or went better than expected). However yes, there were a couple of things that went wrong too:
  • The internet connection – the venue provides free internet connection and we’d had a pre-event visit to double check the connection would work for what we needed it to do. It has worked fine whenever I’ve been there before and worked fine during the pre-event checks. But then on the day, the whole venue had a problem with their internet. This meant some of our activities and the ability for people to share what was happening on social media was limited. The staff at the venue did what they could to try and resolve the issue but unfortunately it just didn’t work in the afternoon. 

  • Lunch – while we’d tried to get a set menu agreed in advance with the venue so people could pre-order and get served their lunch promptly this didn’t happen for various reasons. The result was some people were served quickly while others didn’t get their food until the time we were due back from lunch. 

  • Our hashtag – not testing the hashtag in advance to make sure someone else wasn’t using it! 

What impact did we have?

We won’t know the impact of the funds we’ve raised until after the schools is built and there are likely to be impacts we’ll never hear about. However what we do know is that thanks to everyone’s support and participation we raised over £2,000 on the day which we’re really chuffed about. I share some of the impacts we had on attendees below. 
 
Would I run an event like this again?
In terms of organising an engaging interactive multi-speaker event-yes definitely. In fact, my main focus for the next few months is organising the Business for Good Conference I’m hosting in Edinburgh in April 2019. While I’m bringing in speakers from further afield and the topics covered will be different, the format of the first day of this next event will be similar.
 
Would I run an event like this again as a fundraiser? I’m not sure at the moment as it was a lot of work. That was fine this time as the timing worked from a fundraising perspective and it’s been a massive learning experience ahead of the Business for Good Conference. My priority for the next few months is putting on a brilliant event in April. 

How do my reflections compare with what attendees said?

This is the scary bit. Now, having noted my thoughts and reflections I’m about to review the feedback forms to find out what others thought…
 
How did people feel about the day?
Phew, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive with people raving how much they really enjoyed it. They mention so many words including amazing, inspirational, incredible energy, brilliant speakers, variety, glowing, confident, buzzing, enthusiastic, connected and many more. That’s a relief! This is backed up by all the fantastic posts still coming through on social media. Only one person said their feelings were mixed as they didn’t connect to all the speakers/topics which when you’re putting on an event that covers lots of different topics is probably not a surprise. 
 
What are attendees going to do differently?
Again participants mentioned a huge range of action and indicate we have had a positive impact including: be more vocal, drop the need to be perfect, put plans into action, make films, use social media stories, create a marketing plan, play to my strengths, connect more, develop more video contact, give-to-profit instead of waiting to ‘give back’, take care of myself, take action and much more…
 
What could we have done better?
 
It’s always good to get positive feedback but it’s also really helpful to get ideas on what we could do better too. So a huge thanks to those who shared some ideas on this. We’d already picked up most of them (as I’ve mentioned above) but there were a few additional points to note:
  • Some people would have preferred to start later whereas others like the early start as they had commitments at the other end of the day. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that timings will never work for everyone in the audience and so you’ve just got to go with what works for most people. 

  • Despite testing some of the slides, apparently, we could have done with a bigger screen for the size of the room and/or had people use larger fonts on slides. Worth knowing relative to the size of the room we used! 

  • A couple of people would also have likely to know more about the speakers. We’d thought about giving out a bio handout but to save costs and the environment so didn’t do so as the speakers were on the event sign up webpage so people could check them out in advance. However, this is a good reminder that some people still prefer to be given info in paper format on the day. 

  • We provided gluten free biscuits but didn’t make it clear vegan cakes were also available. When providing meals at events I always ask for people for dietary requirements but I hadn’t thought about that just for biscuits (probably because I always carry my own gluten free snacks with me). That said, it’s a fair point to be mindful of for future events. 

Closing reflections

It feels wonderful to have hosted this event and to know we’ve collectively raised over £2,000 towards our school building project. Personally I’ve enjoyed the whole experience-I’ve loved working with the team, having the chance to collaborate with our speakers and to connect with everyone who attended. 
 
I’m full of wonder and awe at what unfolds when you have the courage to lean into your insecurities, do something for others, and take on something new. 
 
Thanks to everyone involved – I couldn’t have done this without you! 
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