Earlier this month, we hosted our annual flagship event, Sifted Summit on October 4 and 5 — but the work behind the scenes to line up the high calibre of founders, operators and investors we had on stage started months prior.
Opening a blank agenda document for the first time is daunting, so for our Startup Life newsletter, we spoke to Fiona Craib, event portfolio lead at Sifted, to get her top tips on what it takes to build a well-balanced agenda for a tech event.
Keep your audience top of mind
Who is this event for? What do they want to get out of it? Why are they trusting you to provide them with this knowledge? These should be your guiding points throughout the ideation process.
Find out what people want
If you’ve run an event before, speak to the people who attended, as well as the sponsors and speakers you may have had. Different types of attendees will have had different reasons for attending, key takeaways they remember from your event and feedback. Ask them:
- What were the best bits?
- Who were the best speakers?
- Who was the most exciting person that you met and why?
- What was missing from the content this year?
- What is a must have for next year? Who do we need to have on the agenda?
- What do you predict will be emerging trends?
- How else can we improve?
If you haven’t run an event before, you still need to do industry research. Find people on LinkedIn who are vocal about the topics you are interested in, and ask them similar questions to the above. You want to extract the most useful information as quickly as possible: What do they want to see on the agenda and what would make the event worth attending? Don’t be afraid to ask spicy or controversial questions.
Do market research
Read everything in your areas of interest. Newsletters, LinkedIn posts, media… You also want to look at other events in your industry or those run by your competition:
- What do their agendas look like?
- What seems to be trending across your space or industry?
- What events are key people in your space attending? What are they paying to attend?
- What events are they promoting or speaking at?
Find good speakers
They don’t have to be huge, famous names. Going back to point one, find speakers who can deliver what your audience wants and needs. Startup Life Live, for example, was born from us knowing that founders and startup operators want super actionable business building tips that they can implement the next day. Our speakers were all operators — no one hugely famous, but all excellent at their jobs. That said, there is definitely value to having star power or people with influence as speakers — they can bring in a new audience (we had a few big names on our Main Stage, like John Collison of Stripe, for instance.)
Capture people's attention quickly
Write catchy copy in your agenda or on your event website. If someone is scrolling through session titles or looking at agendas from multiple events, you want something that stops them and makes them want to know more. My favourite thing is to try and squeeze in a Spice Girls lyric somewhere!
Organise content flow
Imagine yourself as an attendee — what would you want to hear first? When will your attention begin to flag? When would you have sat for too long? We try to start with the big picture talks at the top of the day and then delve deeper within different tracks across the day. Also, ensure you have enough breaks so that people can talk to other people — your community is one of the biggest pulls to an event.
Think about your sponsors and partners
Don’t think about sponsors and partners as necessary evils. They often have an incredible wealth of experience and a large team to pull from. You want it to be a win-win situation: Attendees want to learn something or get food for thought, and a sponsor wants to show why they can solve a problem or serve your audience. Just don’t let them pitch or try and sell while speaking — no one wants that.
On the subject of... creating a killer event agenda
🦻🏻 Want to run an accessible event? Here are some top tips from UCL.
🎄 It’s not too early to start talking about Christmas parties, is it? Here’s how to throw an inclusive holiday social.
✅ Create an event that meets your objectives. Before you start working on your event agenda, you need to have a clear vision of what you want to achieve.