If you spend any time on social media, it was hard to miss technology news coming from Austin, TX recently. The annual, South by Southwest Festival was in full swing. SXSW is actually three festivals under one umbrella, music, film, and interactive. It was at the largest of the three, Interactive, where companies like Foursquare and Twitter got their humble beginnings. South by Southwest Interactive is run by Hugh Forrest. I recently interviewed Hugh on my podcast. You can hear our discussion and read the show notes here. He shared his wisdom on organizing and attending events, which inspired this post.
Whether the event draws a handful of people or thirty-thousand like SXSW Interactive, there are key things you need to know to make your experience a success.
7 tips for event organizers and attendees
1. Start with passion. Find out what attendees are seeking in an event. Hugh explained, "The more you can engage and work with the community, and reflect the passion, interest, and energy of the community, the stronger the event will become." If you are attending an event, find ones that are related to what you are most passionate about.
2. Size doesn't matter. The important thing is whether attendees find value in your event. Hugh pointed out that slow growth is good growth. Let your event grow organically.
3. Break out of your group. If you are attending or hosting an event, try to meet new people. It's easy to stay with the people you know, but you will get the most return by breaking out of the group and introducing yourself to new people.
4. Attend the unknown. Go to events you know little about. This will broaden your mind. You will come away with new contacts who you wouldn't typically meet elsewhere. Attending the unknown may inspire ideas for your own event.
5. Follow up. The second most important part of networking is the follow up. The first is getting out there and meeting people. Send the people you met an email, invite them to connect on LinkedIn, or offer to buy them a coffee or lunch. Find a way you can bring value to your new contact. Perhaps you can provide them with an important introduction to someone in your network.
6. Don't reinvent the wheel. In episode two of New Business Networking Radio, I interview Jeff Dolan, who runs the Nashville Filmmakers meet up group. Jeff explained that he took over the group, which was dormant. If you are interested in starting your own event, begin with a Google search to see what already exists. It may be easier than you think.
7. Embrace Serendipity. Hugh Forrest left my listeners with a line that I love, "Surrender to serendipity". This was in reference to the chaotic crowds in Austin during SXSW, but can be just as relevant in every event we attend or organize. Go with the flow and trust your gut.
When you are finished reading this post, do a quick search for events in your area. Use Google, and check services like Meetup.com and Eventbrite.com to see what's coming up. In Nashville? Check out the Wannado app.
Don't be shy, click that RSVP button and add it to your calendar. Who knows, maybe I'll see you there.
Photo by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid
This article, “How to get the most out of business events“, originally appeared in The Tennessean newspaper.