The annual series of Women into Leadership conferences has established itself as the main go-to event for people interested in seeing more leadership opportunities for women. The 2016 events were held in London, Leeds and Edinburgh, featuring over 50 speakers and more than 1,000 attendees.
EventTech Talk spoke to Claire Walmsley, Senior Content Manager at Dods – organizers of the event – about her experience of working on Women into Leadership as well as getting some insight into what it takes to be successful in event management.
How far in advance do you usually start planning and booking guests? Do you already have dates scheduled for next year?
Women into Leadership is a year-round project that not only covers multiple venues but also numerous sessions within each one that require extensive planning and advertising. As soon as one event finishes, we will move straight onto revamping the agenda for the following year. The conference agenda is shaped by the suggestions offered from our planning group so it’s essential to get the ball rolling as soon as possible.
We already have the dates for 2017 and have added Cardiff to the list. So we’ll have four events next year, spanning across March, May, September and October. This means we have even more pressure on us to be organized and focus on every detail.
What would you say was the biggest challenge of planning the Women into Leadership events? How do you prepare for a crisis scenario?
There are lots of very high profile speakers at these events, and they really make the events what they are. The biggest challenge is therefore getting the dates in their diaries as early as possible, and keeping them there! It’s crucial we are as flexible as possible with the agenda for as long as possible, as our senior speakers have competing commitments making their way into their diaries all the time. In terms of crisis management, we always expect some last-minute speaker cancellations so we always make sure we have people who could step in at short notice.
Has anything gone wrong at one of the Women into Leadership events that required a quick response and how was it handled? For example, issues with the venue, tech problems, etc.
Yes – when we arrived on site for Women into Leadership Leeds last month, a miscommunication in our operations team led to no AV being ordered for the event. This meant that, in a room with over 150 delegates, there was no PA system, no microphones, nothing. Luckily, we were able to work with our venue contact to get a hand-held microphone straight away, while the in-house AV team worked on getting a more substantial system (lectern, microphone, panel table microphones, etc.) up and running. By the time our first speaker took to the stage, we were all set-up and ready to go, but it was extremely tight! We almost had to go into that first session with one hand-held microphone between the chairperson, keynote speaker and audience!
How big is the team involved in the planning and execution of the conferences? Do you work on multiple events at once? What project management tools do you use to ensure everyone is up-to-date with each stage of the process?
I work on Women into Leadership year round with support from various teams around the company, including sales and marketing. I have support in terms of agenda and speaker ideas from the FDA [the union for senior public servants and professionals], our event partner, and also a wonderful planning group of civil servants who contribute lots of great ideas for content. I also have my lovely colleagues to call on in particularly busy periods and a brilliant team of Dods staff with me on the day to ensure on-site execution is top notch.
How do you evaluate the success of your events?
The most immediate feedback comes from social media. Our delegates are really active on Twitter and we can always tell straight away how well particular speakers are going down [see @WiLeadership_UK]. We also have a more formal feedback form process, which I write up into an evaluation report and take with me to the subsequent planning meeting. This provides the basis for the next event.
How does the Eventsforce software benefit your events?
All of our delegates register via Eventsforce, so it’s an essential component of the events. We can tailor the sign-up process to our particular events and delegates always feedback that they find the system to be simple and straight forward – exactly what we need with this volume of delegates!
What do you see as the most important trend in the events industry today?
From a Women into Leadership perspective, speaker line-ups are definitely becoming more diverse and event managers are very aware that they are being judged on the diversity of their speakers – it’s very important. Gone are the days when an all-male panel was acceptable – our audience want to hear from a diverse range of people, which reflects the society we live in!
Which mobile app or social media platform couldn’t you live without?
Is there any advice that you would give to someone considering a career in event management?
Know your industry. Delegates are attracted to events which show a deep understanding and passion for the topic area. Get on Twitter and sign-up to news bulletins, follow all the relevant organizations/groups/individuals who regularly comment on your industry and keep up-to-date. Knowledge is power, and this could not be more true than when working in events – your agendas really need to reflect the most up-to-date policies and ideas to stand out from the crowd.
I often think about Bernard’s Watch (anyone who grew up with kids’ TV in the 90s will understand the reference!) and how totally amazing it would be to have one of my own at these events. It’s basically a pocket watch which, when you press it, stops time for everyone but you. At the London event, there are six breakout sessions running at the same time and I am running all across the venue just to pop my head into a room and check all the speakers are there and the session is ready to start. I really do need to be in six places at once during these times of the day. If only I had Bernard’s Watch, I could actually do it!
Images © Women into Leadership