Events are an increasingly popular way for companies to share expertise and thought leadership, and engage with both current and existing clients. They’re especially useful for lawyers, accountants and other professional services firms for bringing clients together to discuss trending topics like GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and Brexit, or to dispense practical advice on funding sources or exports.
One of the main benefits of running events comes not from the event itself but from what happens before and after: networking. This gives the chance for people to talk to you more informally about your products and services. When people mingle and talk over coffee or lunch, they’re bound to swap business cards and may well connect with each other in future. All this reflects positively on your company.
The content generated during live events can also be leveraged long after the participants have left the room. You may get an initial buzz from social media, but that will quickly vanish. However, an article published after the event acts as content marketing, drawing people to your website or blog. I can produce event write-ups in any format you choose, including magazine-style PDFs that can be downloaded or shared with clients.
I’ve involved in two types of event: round-table discussions and panel debates.
These typically involve the participants gathered around the table to discuss the topic, typically for about an hour. Incidentally, the table doesn’t have to be circular. A typical rectangular boardroom table works just fine, as long as the people at either end are still able to hear and join in the debate.
Having around 10 participants works best in my experience. Any more and there will be people who don’t get the chance to have much input. Fewer than 10 means you don’t get the diversity of perspectives and opinions that makes for a good debate.
Once you’ve gone to all the trouble of inviting people to a discussion, you need to make the most of it. An experienced chairperson can help because they can:
- Keep an eye on the time to ensure it doesn’t overrun
- Ensure all participants are involved
- Steer the discussion onto desired topics.
Round-table discussions inevitably go off on a tangent, which in itself is a sign that participants are engaged. Where a chairperson comes into their own is making sure these detours don’t go on for too long and bringing the discussion back to the themes chosen by the sponsors.
It’s also worth saying that round-table discussions should never be a hard sell. Otherwise, participants are unlikely to want to come along in the first place, or attend future events. Rather, the general sense of camaraderie is likely to reflect positively on your business and foster relationships.
Whereas round-table discussions are held behind closed doors, panel debates require an audience. Generally, there are two or more people on stage and an interviewer to ask questions.
Having been an on-stage interviewer myself, I have a much greater awareness of what makes an event go well. There are many environmental factors, of course, from the audibility of speakers to the position of the audience. But there are three key things the interviewer can do to make the event run smoothly:
- Keep to the published timings
- Talk to speakers beforehand
- Allow time for audience questions
When I attend events as an audience member, it’s surprising how often a speaker appears flummoxed by the very first question. That’s why I like to agree at least a couple of questions in advance, so that they can think about what to say. Typically that will involve them talking about their company, a recent project, or a subject they’re an expert in. It’s an icebreaker to help them get comfortable.
That doesn’t mean that speakers won’t be asked about other subjects. That’s not desirable, and in any case can’t be guaranteed with questions from the audience. Leaving sufficient time for audience questions is crucial because listening to speakers, no matter how engaging, requires concentration. Questions from the floor gives audience members a break and can make the time appear to fly by.
Audiences don’t always ask questions, however, so an interviewer must have ways of engaging them. Typically that means coming prepared with set questions, asking for a show of hands, or prepping an audience member with a question beforehand. Often it only takes one question for a Q&A session to burst into life and effectively run itself till the end of the event.
For both round tables and panel debates, hiring a professional photographer pays dividends. For one thing, photos reinforce the fact that an event actually took place, which text alone would struggle to do, and are great for sharing on social media. Photographers are used to dealing with varied lighting conditions – light streaming in from windows, bright artificial lights, or dimly lit rooms. Photographers will take dozens of pictures, and among them are bound to be at least one or two that make the event look fantastic.
Bad snapshots, taken quickly on a phone, reflect poorly on your brand and are worse than having none at all. If you’re going to the time and trouble of hosting an event, you may as well do it properly. Most photographers have an hourly rate, and an hour or two is all you need in most cases.