Have you been in a situation where you had a killer idea for a user conference, and you were sure the agenda would drive registrations in the thousands (ok hundreds! We’re no SaaStr!)? But the audience response was a lukewarm ‘meh!’?
Nothing crushes the spirit of an event marketer like poor registration (and poor turnout!), and event folks are pretty darn tough!
Most of the times when we look at building an agenda for an event, we are put in topics and themes, and panel discussion ideas that we think are of interest to the audience. But it’s more nuanced than that. A user conference agenda needs to be a careful balance of activities that deliver value for customers and the company, for instance track learning as well as product updates, roundtable discussions as well as talks by customers.
Let us look at some tricks to building an agenda that will guarantee a fantastic user conference.
1. See how other companies are doing it
Not just competition, look at how other companies are building agendas. Afterall, inspiration can strike from anywhere. And wasn’t it Picasso who said “good artists borrow, great artists steal.”? No, we are not advocating you lift an entire agenda off someone’s event, but it is certainly a good place to start looking for ideas.
Taking a look at how other B2B companies have curated their agendas allows you to discover speakers, session topics and trends that you should be familiar with but have slipped your radar, as well as to see how they’re organizing the conference days.
Take for example SaaStr 2022’s agenda. (SaaStr Annual is one of the largest B2B conferences in the world, every year bringing together 10K+ founders and entrepreneurs to learn what’s new, what’s changed, and what’s a secret in the space.)
The conference usually has something for everyone - a startup owner seeking advice on how to scale their business, a company looking for a niche B2B software solution, or your everyday B2B marketer wanting to refine their ABM strategy. The 2022 event agenda reflects this, with tracks dedicated to Growth, Scaling, Customer Success, and Team Management.
You’ll notice that each track offers a blend of
- Keynote sessions
- Masterclasses and workshops
- Mentoring sessions
So, for instance, a Revenue Leader at Saastr 2022 could attend plenty of tactical sessions from world-known founders, and Q&A rounds.
- 10 Lessons Learned Scaling to $1B Valuation with Drift's Co-founders
- Growth Day Q&A (with Alogolia’s CEO Bernadette Nixon and CRO Michelle Adams, Zendesk’s SVP Global Marketing Prelini Udayan-Chiech, and SaaStr’s GM and SVP Amelia Ibarra)
- Scaling Revenue in 2022: What’s the Same and What's Different? with Confluent's President
- Revenue Alignment: How to Pull Marketing, Sales, Customer Success Together with Divvy's CRO
- How to Scale a Platform and Ecosystem to $10B with Atlassian's CRO
The agenda is organized so well that each day drives new learning, new connections and immeasurable value for different persona types - as should yours.
But keep this caveat in mind: Because a competitor did it, and it was well received does not mean that a similar agenda would work for our audience as well. Your audience is yours for a reason - you offer them something no one else does - your viewpoint.
2. Send out before-event surveys to gauge attendee interest in session topics
Getting your attendees to weigh in on what kind of content they want to consume, and what they’re expecting to take away from your event is exactly the direction you need to build an interesting and valuable event agenda. To this end, you can conduct a simple poll on LinkedIn or check in with your Sales and Customer Success colleagues about what customers are asking about, or even post in relevant Slack communities.
You can also gauge interest by customizing your registration form, as illustrated here:
Protip: An alternative to the text box shown in the example above is to let attendees pick the session topics they are most interested in, using a multiple-choice format. You can then use this insight to plan additional panels or discussion rooms in the agenda, and create more targeted marketing materials to hand out during the event.
PS. Involving attendees from the get-go displays thoughtfulness and commitment from the organizer’s side, and can translate to a higher level of engagement.
3. Keep event sessions length to 45 minutes with breaks in between
Your attendees are going to lose focus and energy if your webinars and event sessions last longer than a typical Netflix show episode, so it's best practice to keep them between 30 or 45-60 minutes long.
Within each webinar or event session, set aside time for an introduction, then at least 25-30 minutes for the main speech/presentation, followed by time for Q&A. Here’s an example of a structure to follow:
How to plan in breaks for virtual conferences
Schedule regular breaks in between sessions, ideally 5-10 minutes long.
This enables attendees to:
- Stretch their legs to stave off ‘Zoom fatigue’
- Check their email and mobile messages so they aren’t distracted during a session
- Replenish the brain’s stores of attention and motivation
- Return to the event energized and focused
Protip: Arrange wellness or fun activities such as yoga or meditation or even a game like a scavenger hunt during some breaks as “palate cleansers" to make your event more memorable and fun.
Here’s an example of session durations at SaaStock. As you can see, they can be as short as 20 minutes.
4. Arrange sessions by ‘tracks’
As seen with Saastr, sometimes there are hundreds of sessions at a conference. Using tracks lets you group them under different umbrella topics - and importantly, make them visible on the agenda. This makes it easier for attendees to navigate the agenda.
As an example, here’s how Kaltura used tracks at their Virtually Live! event.
Event sessions are grouped under larger topics such as branding, ROI, and data. Attendees can jump from one track to another, but grouping them as such makes it easier to understand the agenda, and make a choice on what sessions to attend.
5. Catchy session titles can make a difference
This might seem like a low-priority tip compared to some of the other points in this article, but you may be surprised to find out that it's actually one of the most effective.
If you talk to your email marketing colleague or the copywriter in the team, they’ll no doubt tell you the difference a well crafted subject line or phrase can have in driving people to take an action. The same principle applies here.
Taking a little bit of extra effort to make your session titles more catchy and creative can make your event agenda that bit more memorable and entice more attendees to attend them. Rocketlane's Propel 22 conference for customer onboarding and implementation professionals is a stellar example, with session topics so catchy that they immediately grip your attention, yet provide enough context to make you want to attend.
Protip: A simple way to approach session titles is to make it as specific as possible about a problem, a challenge, or a goal.
6. Schedule your most in-demand speakers for the beginning and the end of the day
To start strong, schedule your most important speakers at the beginning of the day. They’ll be able to energize your audience and set the tone for the rest of the day, leaving them excited and interested for what is to come.
Similarly, by scheduling a high-profile speaker for the last session of the day, you can leave attendees uplifted and inspired to return for more the next day.
7. Plan in time for attendees to network and socialize
Aside from breaks between sessions, it’s important to give attendees the opportunity to meet one another, chat, mingle and make a new friend, business connection, or even a new investor - you just never know where a conversation will take you. To this end, it’s a must for you to organize breakout and/or networking sessions during the event schedule.
Here’s an example of how Private Equity International built in some networking time during their CFOs & COOs Forum New York 2022.
Breakout rooms: Virtual rooms in which attendees can gather can be used as spaces for socialization - for instance, you can name Rooms after topics related to the event theme, that are sure to bring together ‘birds of a feather’ groups.
Networking sessions: Use AI-powered matchmaking to connect with attendees with like-minded or complimentary goals and interests eg. investors, and startup owners.
Protip: Energy levels can flag in the middle of the day, after lunch, and in the middle of the evening. Scheduling breakout and networking sessions around these times can help to get attendees energized and ready to go again.
A well crafted agenda is non-negotiable
A well-crafted user conference agenda can go a long way to driving up attendance and participation rates. Put a little bit more effort and time when building your own (with the tips from this article), and you’re sure to see it pay off.
Zuddl is a unified platform for events and webinars that helps event marketers plan and execute events that drive growth. The platform has clients across the globe, such as the United Nations, Kellogg’s, Microsoft, HSBC, VMware, Google, StackCommerce and Cipla amongst others. In January 2022, Zuddl announced that it closed $13.35 mn in Series A funding.