How To Plan an Ignite

I lead the Ignite Boulder effort.  Every two months, we do a big night of presentations.  We sell out the largest venue in town with an event for geeks.  I started Startup Weekend, now active in 74 cities around the world.  Almost every weekend hundreds of startupers get together to throw down ideas and code.  Quite of few people have asked for tips for organizing an event of Ignite, here they are:

Ignite Boulder 5-24

Pre Event Planning:

Know Your Motives

When I moved to Boulder I didn’t know anyone and couldn’t get a job.  5 years later I do as much as I can for people moving to town because I wish that person was here for me.  Those are my motives, to build community and help people love where they work.  When I plan events, this comes off.  If your goal of an event is to get more followers on twitter, you will fail.  You might not realize you have failed, but the events feel and what people think about you will win in the end.

Know Your Style

This is for you, and your community.  Know what you both need to get out of it.  If you live in a place with glitz and glam you might put on an event that is trendy.  If you live is a place that doesn’t have many events, make it as accessible as possible.  If your community kicks ass and doesn’t have a lot of time, make it quick.  Don’t put on an architecture Ignite if your community is Social Media Experts.

Get a Kick Ass Team

I did 90% of the work for the first four Ignite Boulder events, a big mistake.  The 4th one was 400 people or so and I made a plead on this blog for help, and found a kick ass team that wants to build amazing events.  Find low drama people that like to get things done.  Action > Talk. Ignite Boulder has the best team I have worked with for an event.

igniteboulder6--17

Get a Venue

Sometimes the toughest part.  Get a venue for free(ish) and use social capital to give back.  Think about parking, where your core audience is coming from and the size.  You should fill up the room.  If your events are standing room the feel is so much better than filling 50% of a venue.  Look at other events in town and

Define Success

Write down what you wold be happy with.  100 people coming / 15 people saying ‘best event ever’ / have fun personally.  Work towards this.

Ignite Boulder 5 at Boulder Theater

Putting it On

Create a Home

Get a yourevent.com and put up a nice looking wordpress self hosted site.  It should have the basics (time, where, what) and make a personal plea for people for people to show up.  If it looks bad, people will not want to come (don’t use a facebook group, typepad, etc).  Create a facebook group, Twitter account and feedburner for rss and link to these from your home.

Ticketing

Use eventbrite or similar to sell tickets, even if it is free.  Send out a few emails before the event with honest updates about how sales and planning is going.  If you need help, ask your community.

Promotion

I think you need to build events by having quality events.  Get your friends and friends friends to the first few.  Then reach out to promoting at traditional venues.  Do not hype your event. Don’t describe how cool / awesome / most amazing thing ever it is going to be.  Don’t say you are setting a world record.  Don’t say ‘tweetup’ or ‘social media guru event’ or anything else that a smart person would think ‘that sounds lame.’  Lame is the killer of events.

Describe it as an experiment and let your attendees make it their own.  We didn’t have formal press for Ignite until it was 700 people.  We used social media and email blasts well.

Planning Style

My style is to be very relaxed with planning of events.  It seems to work.  I used to be really, really up tight about things, but found I was stressed out and hated planning.  If you hate planning, events wont happen.  So find the happy medium.

Keep a List

Know who has come to your events and invite them to future ones.  Be smart and don’t spam.  We send out three emails per upcoming event to those who have had tickets in the past.  One month out, two weeks out and one week out.  Always include an opt out.

No Pitching

We have a bucket of icewater waiting for someone that wants to pitch their product.

Slides

20 slides, no transitions, video, anything.  They must be in by noon the Monday of the event or we will bump your roll to the next time we do it.  Bad talks come from no preparation, and if they don’t have their deck the day before the event, it is going to suck (from our experience).

Organizer Email List

Just the core 7 people on it.  Send out questions, report how things are going. Google groups are fantastic and simple.

Have Great Swag

We have done wristbands and shirts.  Spend the $ for quality ones that people will wear and care about.  Don’t put your sponsors on the shirts, thank them other ways (sponsors on shirts make them one time wears in my opinion).

Ignite Boulder 3

Post Event

Be Honest

How did it go?  If it was bad, that is ok, it was your first event.  Send out a post survey and work towards being better.  Listen to your community.

Send Out Thank You Cards

and emails.  Your volunteers make the event in the end.  Thanks them (here is the kick ass welcoming crew for Ignite).
Ignite Boulder 5-3

Have a Post Dinner

Invite your volunteers and buy dinner.  How did it go?  Was it fun?  Should you do it again?

The next Ignite Boulder is December 10th, and you should come (buy a ticket here).  There will be around 800 people there, you should help make it yours.

  • In stead of a self hosted WordPress site I recommend Blogger or a similar site where you can use your own domain. Don't deal with the hassle of WordPresses security flaws.

  • briangillet

    Thank you for sharing these nuggets of insights on producing successful events Andrew. Really helpful to hear your thoughts, especially knowing your track record of putting on engaging events.

  • Great post man. Good insights. I've helped organize small-scale things before but nothing large. Can you elaborate more on finding an appropriately sized venue for a reasonable price? That seems to be the toughest thing from my point of view as a (potential) small conference / event organizer?

  • You sort of mentioned it while talking about getting getting a kick ass team but perhaps one of the most import aspects of event organization is to not over extend yourself and try to plan to many events.

  • I'm one of the organizers mentioned in the post and HOT DAMN is it fun to put together. We wanted something social, memorable and approachable and Andrew has let those qualities flourish amid increasing attendance and greater expectations with each outing.

    I'm honored to be part of the Ignite Starship with Andrew at the helm.

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