Event Organiser & Speaker – 2 Years On (Part 1)

My End Of (Two) Year Review

It’s been just over 2 years now since I launched CRAP Talks and had my first public speaking opportunity. To this day I haven’t forgotten how it felt to do both, the experiences were surprisingly similar. Fear, excitement, joy, nerves and impending doom – these were just some of the feelings I experienced during the rollercoaster ride of emotions that I was on. To some extent, I still experience these feelings everytime I get on “stage” to host or speak but they aren’t as crippling anymore. And looking back over the last two years I’ve realised that allowing myself to do both was the most professionally fulfilling thing I could have done for myself. Sure I look to my job, manager, company and colleagues to help me feel fulfilled at work but really, taking ownership of my professional life has been biggest contributor for why work for me doesn’t feel like work.

So what have I actually achieved aside from a warm fuzzy feeling? The timing for this post is quite good as I’ve just completed my end of year review and I’m in quite a reflective mood. I need to break this question down into two parts to answer; part 1 – an organiser and part 2 – a speaker.

Part 1: Event Organiser

In two years the CRAP Brain Trust (a nod to you all) and I have run 10 main CRAP events, 2 Future Leaders events, 1 Statistics event and 1 Christmas drinks. We’ve also expanded into 2 new chapters, Istanbul and Manchester. But most impressively, we have had a total of 45+ unique speakers ranging from the “Nervous Noob” to the “Seasoned Storyteller” sharing their ideas and stories and we’ve grown our member base to over 2000 individuals.

All in all, I feel like we’ve achieved something great and I’m proud to have been on this journey with everyone involved.

So that’s what I’ve achieved but achievements are only half of the journey, what you learn along the way is really where you grow as a person and the things I’ve learned (about myself, event organisation and the audience), have helped me grow personally and professionally and I’ve learned to bring together an incredible series of events. I’ve never said that out loud to try and remain humble, but I’m going to throw caution to the wind and just say it “CRAP events are f***ing awesome”.

What I’ve learned about myself:
I’m an extroverted person, I get my energy from large groups and social environments. Although I’m not the most organised person in the world, I’m one hell of an organiser. I bring and maintain a high level of energy into a room full of people. I’ve also learned that I’m terrible at delegating work and documenting and communicating my long-term plans and vision, but I’m working on both.

What I’ve learned about event organisation:
Running events is easy, running good events is hard but running good events on a shoe string budget, well why would anyone put themselves through that. The best advice I can give is to not get distracted by the noise. The noise is things that distract you from your core objective which is to “run a damn good event”. If your main selling point is “free beer and food” or the key takeaways have been a bag full of free merchandise then your focus has been on the wrong things.

First and foremost, focus on your audience – get to know them, what they do, their experience level and what they want to get out of your event. After all, without attendees, there is no event.

The second thing is to focus on relevant speakers. Far too many times I’ve been to events where it has been a “speaker first approach” and I’ve found myself wondering who’s at the wrong event me or the speaker, either way, we were not compatible. There should be a symbiotic relationship between speaker and audience. (I use the term speaker to mean someone who talks, presents, runs workshops or delivers training).

It’s not easy finding the right speaker for your audience but I promise you, the reward of finding them is well worth the effort. Out of all the challenging tasks in event organisation, finding new and exciting speakers who are a good fit for your audience is the most challenging but it can be done by putting in the effort, talking to potential speakers about your values and painting a picture of your audience so that they can create a talk that is tailored with the audience in mind.

What I’ve learned about the audience:
Audience time is a commodity when it comes to event organisation. Sure, you might be able to attract them once, but if you want them to come back, you need to give them more than free food, drinks and merchandise. Give them ideas, connections and discussions. Find speakers that will provoke them, challenge them and delight them.

Questions and note taking (see image below) are the number one signs of an engaged audience. As the organiser, keep one eye on the audience during talks, if you see eyes, nodding faces and note taking you’re OK. If you see eyelids looking down and the glowing light of a screen shining up you’re in trouble.

Don’t get me wrong, you need to ensure that the Basic needs from Maslow’s hierarchy are met (food, water, shelter) but the Psychological (belongingness and community) and Self-fulfillment needs (achieving one’s full potential, creativity and experience ) are where the magic happens.

My Vision

Growing CRAP Talks into the community it is today has been one of my proudest professional achievements and whilst I’d like to believe that it can grow exponentially to the point where people no longer have to go to badly run events, I’m probably not going to be able to achieve this. The best thing I can do is help other communities from all walks of life grow with the same passion and attention to detail as I’m able to give to CRAP by helping them with the most challenging part, finding speakers. So I’m building KEYNOAT, a platform where event organisers can find the perfect speakers for their audience. To begin, I’m curating a list of the best speakers in tech, digital, data etc… and would love to have anyone who is passionate about public speaking join this list. If this is you then all you need to do is fill in this short form: KEYNOAT. or contact me.

Part 2: Being A Speaker

This post is starting to become a bit wordy so I’ll follow up what I’ve learned about being a speaker in a separate post.

Thanks for reading

(Image below courtesy of Marla Woodward. Notes taken at CRAP Talks 10)

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