Don't let the next conference you organise be just another forgettable event. Here are six ways you can create more engagement at your future events, with a focus on networking and professional development, at zero or minimal extra cost. This includes extended sessions, creative afternoon breaks, personalisation and the use of "passports".
Mark Herschberg is a versatile professional who is a prominent CTO within the artificial intelligence and cybersecurity sectors. In addition to his fractional CTO work, Mark teaches professional development at MIT, is frequently invited to speak at conferences and events. He is the award-winning author of The Career Toolkit: Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You and creator of the Brain Bump app, where content creators can repurpose highlights of their published works.
Quotes from this episode:
"Networking at conferences for most works about as well as a middle school dance."
"(Providing) headshots... every time they looked at their LinkedIn, they'll think it was your conference that gave this to me."
Mark's website and book:
The Career Toolkit: Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You
Connect with Mark Herschberg:
Connect with Adelaine:
Record interviews remotely with Riverside:
Get 15% off your subscription with code: Adelaine
Host your podcast on Buzzsprout:
Get $20 Amazon gift card.
Edit interviews like a word document with Descript:
Adelaine's game-changing podcast production AI tool
Note: Some links on this page may be affiliate links, meaning I may earn a commission that supports this podcast if you make a purchase through them. All recommendations are based on my personal experience and made in good faith to provide helpful resources.
Last time on this podcast.Mark Herschberg:
I've been a keynote speaker, panelist for decades at different conferences, and here's the sad thing I don't think it has changed that much, and that is a problem.Adelaine Ng:
Welcome to Upon Arrival, a show that uncovers stories and strategies that make up all the moving parts of business events tourism. I'm Adelaine Ng, and this is part two of my interview with Mark Herschberg, a lecturer, award-winning author, award-winning ballroom dancer, criminal tracker on the dark web and someone who's both been an event speaker and a tender of hundreds of conferences over the years. Needless to say, Mark has seen a lot in the conference world and if you missed the last episode, he had teased that he would be sharing six tips for up-leveling what could otherwise potentially be a mostly forgettable conference. If you remember Mark's point, you can't rely on content to be king in your conferences and if you were relying on that model, you can expect to see your attendance numbers drop. He also said that the current surge at in-person events post-COVID is not a reliable indicator of future attendance numbers. So what are the six tips he promised you can add to up-level your next conference and, even better, for little or no cost. Here's Mark and he's getting right into it.Mark Herschberg:
Perceptions, networking, business development, location-specific activities, virtual follow-ups and professional development. These are six things you can add at little or no cost. Let's jump into the six Extended sessions. This is the simplest. This is just workshops. This is more interactive. You can listen to me on YouTube for an hour. But doing something interactive, let's have you fill out forms or do things or work on something and then we discuss it as a group or the expert there gives you feedback, or it's literally physically hands-on. That's a little easier in person and that's something that's usually higher value. A lot of conferences have been doing things like this. I've seen some, particularly in tech, where they'll have half-day or all-day training workshops that might be before or after the general conference. So this is one thing I have been seeing and something we can continue to do. The biggest one is networking, for instance. Well, of course, my conference is about networking. Look at your next event, because networking at conferences, for most of them, works about as well as a middle school dance. Everyone's there, they know what they're supposed to do and yet everyone kind of sits off to the side and doesn't know how to talk to a stranger. They even have that middle school mentality of oh, I don't know if I want to approach that stranger and that timidness that all of us have. There are things you can do to facilitate networking. I'll give you three simple things right now. These are not the only things you can do, but just three basic examples. I have seen some conferences do the first two of these. The first you can do the passports. Now, this is a little gimmicky, but the passport usually you see it with vendors and you have to go and speak to different booths and you get your things stamped. If you get enough things stamped, you get some entry into a lottery or you get some prize or something. You can do this, by the way, not just with vendors. You can do it with other people. It could be meet three people. If you have an app, you have to click your apps with each other, scan each other's badges or write down one thing about the other person. Don't even worry about checking for accuracy. But this is a good way to break the ice is go and meet people and motivate. It's amazing how many people will go to all those vendors to get the stamps, to get whatever the little swag is. You can do this with other members, other people attending a conference, not just your vendors. The second thing you can do is take an unconference approach. This is so easy to do.Adelaine Ng:
I love that term.Mark Herschberg:
The concept of an unconference is one where, instead of planned sessions, we're going to have this speaker or this panel in this room at this time. You say you make it up, you do what's important. Now some do honestly. There's going to be some open rooms and people can sign up with topics or times. An even simpler thing you've got the lunch tables. Let's put on some lunch table, say we're going to designate some lunch tables by topic. You just get some small little standard, some table placard, and you put the topic there. Anyone interested in that topic can walk over the table and sit there. Now you know everyone at that table. You have something in common. It could be a sub-industry you're in, it could be a functional area. It could even be AI in our industry. Doesn't matter what the topic is. You pick the topics and now you've created that catalyst for conversations among people to avoid, whenever we happens, where everyone just sits with their coworkers and has the same conversations and doesn't meet anyone new.Adelaine Ng:
I love that idea.Mark Herschberg:
The third thing now. One of the talks that I do at conferences, I teach networking. It's one of the chapters in my book. This is a really subtle thing, but you don't need someone doing a formal talk on networking to do this. At the end of your keynote, you want to give people permission to network. This is subtle but important. We are all at the conference and we hope to network. That's why we're there. We hope it happens, just like at the middle school dance. We hope we get to dance with that cute other person, but we're scared to make it happen. At the end of a keynote, I often say something like while you're here, I want you to go up and meet at least three people who you don't know each day of this conference. Something as simple as that. Because now what happens when I walk up to you? Instead of oh, hi, I'm Mark, what's your name? I walk up to you and say, hey, the speaker told us we should meet someone new. My name is Mark Nice to meet you, Because what I've done is I've basically, as the speaker, I've taken the responsibility. So if you feel awkward, you say, oh, it's not my fault, I'm doing what we were told by the conference organizer or their proxy, the keynote speaker. It's a subtle little mental shift, but that permission to network helps to break the ice and gets people out there. So these are three simple networking things. There's a lot more you can do as well.Adelaine Ng:
That is so good because, I mean, I go to events that are organized by, for example, destinations, and the people who tend to go there usually have larger than life personalities who are very comfortable in social settings. So we tend to forget that some people, in the events that they are creating for, have people who need that permission to network, and it's just one of those things that we sometimes just forget, and thank you for reminding us of that.Mark Herschberg:
Let's jump to number four location. We'll come back to business development. But you said location. You're at a location. How often do people just sit in that generic conference room for most of the time? Now we think about there are some cities Vegas, new York, miami where well, okay, that's why I'm going to the conference. It's kind of exciting and they might get out and do some stuff. But whether it's a big city or small city, there is something local and engaging that makes it unique that they can't do just watching YouTube videos. Find a way to engage in local activities. Now there's two basic ways you can do this. One is you actually coordinate a local activity. It might be. There's a ghost tour. Just about every city, including the smaller ones, have some evening ghost tour. I say ghost tour because it's in the evening. It doesn't conflict with what you're doing during the day. Say, there's a ghost tour, we're getting a group rate. Maybe it costs a little extra, maybe you just have a sign-up sheet and you do it on your own, but we're getting one that's going to be specific, just for people from the conference, and so now when you go and do this, you know everyone in your group is also a conference attendee. It's not well. Here's other random tourists. I don't know why we want to talk to them. These are the peers you wanted to meet, but now you're doing something active together. That's not just the boring small talk at a conference about your industry. It's oh, this is exciting. Oh, I was on a ghost tour like this, but in this place oh when were you in that place? And it works as an icebreaker so you can do local activities, even if your schedule or cost or just whatever doesn't lend itself to additional activities. Bring in a local person. Every town, no matter how small, has some type of historical society. Bring in one of those local historians. Bring in someone from a local museum and have them do a talk. Probably they're willing to do a talk for free, or there's some nominal cost. We're talking typically hundreds of dollars. These aren't the keynote speakers like myself. This is just someone who's excited about local history or some local industry or local whatever. And you bring them in because, let's face it, at three in the afternoon on the second day I am tired of talking about tax reform or whatever the medical procedure is or whatever the conference is. Yeah, this is interesting, but we've been talking about for a day and a half. I'd like a little break. You know what? Learning about the history of this town, learning something about the industry, just learning about the local architecture it's different. I can kind of veg out. I don't have to pay close attention to remember things. So it breaks up the day and it's fun, and this is again something that's unique to the location. That helps tie in. This is why you're here and not just watching the videos of this whole conference online.Adelaine Ng:
Yeah, those in destination experiences are so valuable and we talk about adding value to that event. That'll be one of the things that people will sign up for. That content by itself can't provide. So I'm glad you brought up that idea. When you're giving back to the community, when you're connecting with that local experience, there's that travel and cultural exchange that happens when you do that as well.Mark Herschberg:
Tip number three Number three, business development, and this is a different type of networking. One of the biggest conferences in the world CES Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas. It's a nightmare. Every hotel room is booked, every restaurant, every cab, everything's expensive, everything's crowded. Why do we go? Why do we go? Because everybody goes, and this is where you go to meet people. It's not even the conference itself. You just know everyone is there and so, creating that engagement, you can do something as simple as speed dating. You might have vendors and people looking for certain things and they can sign up. I hate talking to vendors. As a CTO, I get pitched by vendors all day long, but sometimes they go to a conference. I know well, I need to look for this type of vendor. There's three of them at the conference. You know what, if I do three 15-minute conversations? Great, they know they have to be efficient. They're going to skip the small talk and get right to here's the value proposition. So much more efficient for me. And then, depending on how you do it, maybe exchange cards there or maybe afterwards, everyone swipes left, swipes right afterwards, however you choose to do it. But we can make that more efficient. And again, it could be whether it's vendors and clients, it could just be people in an industry looking to meet others, but you can create this type of speed dating because everyone is here and everyone's looking to meet each other.Adelaine Ng:
Two more tips.Mark Herschberg:
The last two things are going beyond the conference content. So the first is virtual follow-ups. When you, as an event planner, think about your event, you are doing so for months or even a year prior to the event At big conferences. The moment that event ends, you're already talking with the hotel, you're talking about scheduling for next year, you're starting to find the contracts. You're thinking about this all the time. Your attendees think about it a couple hours before they board the flight, while they're there, and then, the moment they're off the plane, they've forgotten about this whole thing. You get them for a small period of time, but we can capitalize on the event to extend your brand, to have them remember and engage with you even outside the event. The event, that is the crown jewel, that is the keystone of what you're offering. But that's not the only thing. Sometimes, as a speaker, part of the contracts I have with conferences and you can ask other speakers if they're willing to do this Say okay, I'm there, I'm giving the talk or whatever events I'm there doing in person we can also arrange, for example, some follow up webinars. Over the next month I'll do, as part of the contract, three 30 minute sessions and those are going to be a lot more interactive. It's not hard for me to add that into the package because I don't have to get on another plane. It's going to be me sitting here at my desk for other folks. Again, they don't have to get on the plane, but it's a chance. They might not have been able to catch me after the keynote or during the conference. But we can extend the topics and it might be topics you've preset, it might be other topics I bring, it might even be these were the popular topics or questions you got in the follow up. Another version of this is when you send out the hey, I hope you enjoyed Mark and his talk, or whatever your keynote speaker is. If you have any questions, email us, because he's agreed to do a blog post or over the next few weeks we're going to do an email. He's going to answer some of these questions. So, again, you're taking what was just at the conference and you're extending it in space, but time as well. It's not that hard for your speakers to do this, because we're doing it from home, but you're creating more engagement and you're having people think about your event, not just while they're there but other times. That builds up your brand.Adelaine Ng:
Yeah, and this is interesting. We have one more point to go to. But you also have an app that sort of fits into this picture of post conference engagement and I mean, you told me what the name of it was. It's called Brain Bump and I've had a curse to really look at it and if it does what I think it does, I think you could have become my new best friend because you can apply it in conferences. But have I got this right? This is an app that's like those AI YouTube summarizers, but you've marketed it for podcasts and books, but there is that application for conferences as well. Have I got that right?Mark Herschberg:
You do. The Brain Bump app, which is completely free from the Android and iPhone store, takes content books, blogs, podcasts, talks, conferences, classes Doesn't matter where the content comes from. It puts the key points into an app. The reason for this I know from years of teaching students and years of being a student myself and reading books. I'll read a book. I'll say, wow, there's so much great information here. Two weeks later I forgot it all. When you listen to a podcast like this, your podcasts have such great advice what are the odds you're going to remember what you heard in that podcast even two days later? Your conferences especially if you're hitting them with a fire hose, they're forgetting 90% of it as soon as they're off the plane. How do you help them retain the content? Now, their interest in remembering the content. You're interested in having them remember your brand, whether it's we gave the example earlier. You might be an author or a podcaster who want them to buy that $5,000 consulting package and that involves multiple touch points to build the trust you, as an event planner or conference organizer, you want to build up. Oh, that conference, that's high value. I learned so much, I remembered so much, I got so much out of it. You want to build up the brand trust. So the way the app works it's like a cross between a flash card app and a daily affirmation app. So it has the key points as little tips as little tip cards. It can be used by the app user in a just in time way. So, for example, I have the networking tips from my book how to Network is in the app. It's great for people when they go to a conference and they say what were those networking tips I read about three months ago. You open the app. Everything is tagged. It's like hashtags. Everything's tagged by topic. So you pull up the networking tips two minutes before you walk in the room. Now it's all top of mind. Here are some questions to ask other people. Here's how to approach a stranger, here's how to exit a conversation All the things I need to know right here and now. But then there's also a passive learning mode. We know people remember things through spaced repetition, by seeing it multiple times. We also know people that comes to flash card apps very quickly stopped using them. Who has time to open apps every day? So this works like a daily affirmation. It does a push notification at a time chosen by the app user. So we don't spam them, we don't send things they didn't request. But each day, as soon as they're done with your conference, for example, each day at 9 am as they go into work, they get a low reminder of one of the things they learned from your event Go yep, that's great. Swipe two seconds a day. It helps them retain the content, it helps your brand stay top of mind and build brand equity. So it's a win for both sides.Adelaine Ng:
Wow. So I'm trying to figure out how this happens, because I know with at least with podcasts you're just kind of connecting a particular episode that's picked up, or you're selecting a particular episode inside the app and it'll do that work. But if you're at a conference and you're listening to a speaker, are you using, I guess, your voice memo app to record it and then it extracts? I mean, I'm just wondering and curious how that part works.Mark Herschberg:
There's two ways this works. We actually encourage the content creators to put their content on the server so it's available to people, because the content creator, they're the ones who control the brand and the brand messaging, so that's usually a path that works best. It also means less work for the app user and, again, we assume people are busy. They don't have time. So often it is the podcaster, the conference organizer, the author who puts their content on our server. The content once they create. Here are the key tips. By the way, the great thing about it is these are the same things you're going to also tweet out or put into an email. So when you create those nuggets of learning, it's not just for our app. You can repurpose them. That's how we started earlier in the conversation. You can repurpose them in all sorts of different ways to generate value, and Brain Bump is just one way to do that. Now we're recording in the summer of 2023. We have a release coming out, 2.0 version of Brain Bump at the end of the summer and that is going to allow the app user to also enter their own content. If your favorite podcaster, author, conference organizer didn't give you their content, you can edit yourself and you can put in your own tips, or even because a lot of people use Kindles and do highlights from Kindles, you can incorporate your Kindle highlights. So we're going to have this functionality in the 2.0 version coming out end of summer 2023. But often we see the conference organizers and the podcasters put the content in there.Adelaine Ng:
That's amazing, and I'll just note to our listeners that Mark is based in New York, so it's summer where he is, but it's winter where I am.Mark Herschberg:
Good point, I forgot about that.Adelaine Ng:
If you're thinking summer, do I have to wait for six months? No, not at the time of this recording. It is coming up very, very soon, and that sounds like an amazing service, and for you to make this free as well is something that I'm sure a lot of people are going to love. So that was a big detour but a very valuable one, from the six points. What is the six point?Mark Herschberg:
Six point is professional development and other services. One of the best things I got at conference is they had a photographer standing there doing free headshots. All of us all of us who go to business conferences we need headshots because that's going to appear on our LinkedIn, on our website, and most people just don't have them. But now you're at the conference, you're dressed professionally and there is a professional photographer who's got everything set up and you stand there and you smile and he'll take two or three shots. You type in your email, you get it. This has marginal cost. You can hire these photographers two days $2,000, probably less. They're happy to get the money because they're usually just doing events. You can amortize this cost over all your attendees. So it's a very small marginal cost and now everyone has something valuable they got from your conference and, by the way, if this becomes your LinkedIn photo, every time they looked at their LinkedIn, they think it was your conference that gave this to me. Now, headshots are one example you might do, for example, resume reviews. In fact, you can find companies that say, oh, we do resume reviews, but you know what we do for anyone at the conference. You give us a booth and we will be set up and we will do a 15-minute resume review for anyone who comes by, completely free, no charge. They're probably going to try and upsell and they'll give you real value for 15 minutes. And then they'll say, by the way, if you want a 401, here's what it is, they'd be happy to do that. Or maybe it's a website review, if your audience are small business owners, for example. So think about little services where someone can get something now, something quick, something valuable. Now, probably the service provider. You're either paying them, as in the case of a photographer, or they see this as a great lead gen opportunity for their website review people, or SEO people or resume people, and this adds additional value for someone who says well, I don't see this at every conference. This is a cool little extra because, let's face it, I don't need another water cup thing with your logo on it. My cabinets are full of those already.Adelaine Ng:
So is mine. I was going to ask conference swag in or out, but it's definitely out. I mean, can conference swag be done right?Mark Herschberg:
To be fair, I live in a New York City one bedroom apartment. I have limited storage space already. I might be a little more sensitive than everyone else, but I have just been to so many conferences. I have so many, so many of those water carriers. I have so many mugs used to be mouse pads. T-shirts are okay because that I use in the gym, but I think a lot of things like realistically and look at your field. If you're in a field where you don't have a lot of people going to a lot of conferences, then maybe. But I began my career in tech and tech. We're always going to conferences and they always have the same stuff. So do something that isn't done by everyone else, because we probably have it already.Adelaine Ng:
I visited a church recently and usually there's this point in a service where they say who here is new? We'd love to just give you something, and usually it's a little cloth bag or maybe a little paper bag or something, and inside is a pen and maybe some cards that have information about the services or who you can contact, and maybe a couple of chocolates, things like that. But this particular church that I was at gave newcomers a plant, like a small little potted plant, and their message was look, if you're new here and you're looking for a home church and you don't have one, we hope that you'll consider growing with us. So that was the whole tie-in and I thought that was so beautiful. That just took the message deeper. It was something useful that people could bring home and grow in. Every time they're going to be looking at that plant, they're going to be thinking of that experience when they visited the church, and so I thought that was a really good idea. Now I mean, we've been talking about conferences that have history with people, as in the CESs or things like funnel hacking live. These are events that have even the positioning and notoriety that people will just go to say that they were there. But if you were a new company doing an event for the first time, it's really hard now to get people to come to something that isn't already in their routine. Everyone's got excuses why they don't want to go to something they're too busy. How would you market that event and get buy-in?Mark Herschberg:
Good question. This is a little off the cuff. I would definitely focus more on the experiential, the content. Again, probably I can find it elsewhere. You might be able to get a big-name speaker to come in and, oh, that would be cool to see this person, but that's expensive. I think the experiential part of it, which is either some type of location where you're really going to do something off the beaten path not, oh, vegas, yep, one of hundreds of conferences I can choose to go to in Vegas, but something that's a little different you do have to balance the remoteness and accessibility with the pedestrianess of it. I'll tell you one conference I did years ago. I did this as before I was keynote speaking. I came in as one of the people presenting, as very technical conferences, a VC conference. This was down in Mexico and literally the conference was on the beach we're standing. It's an open-air type of event. The beach is right over there. I'm looking at the ocean as I'm talking. Beautiful venue and they had as part of the conference they called it active networking, which was one afternoon you could either do yoga down by the beach or you could go to the golf course and they were putting people together in little groups and you just play golf together. And that was very appealing, because going to Mexico, honestly, in February which for me, being in New York, is a pretty cold time of year it's oh well, this is different. So, doing something that's more interactive that way and, let's face it, playing golf you might think, ah, that sounds like you're copping out. It's fun. But I did some good networking, talked to some people and we talked about our industry, we had professional conversations, we had social conversations and that's why I go to the conference. It doesn't have to be a resort in Mexico, but if you can find some area where it's going to be something, where people can actively do things together. There are hiking trails, for example, and in the middle of the afternoon you're going to have a break in the conference and people go hiking before they go off to dinner. Physical activities are great. I say this this comes from my experience dating. When you go on a date and you sit across the table from someone, you say, oh well, where'd you grow up, where'd you go to school? What do you do for work? It gets very boring when you have a date that's doing something, whether it's playing mini golf or even one of the best dates I went on. We were running errands you had to run errands that afternoon but we're physically moving and there's natural conversation that came out of it oh, why do you have to return this item? Or the stress you're picking up from the dry cleaner? So yeah, I wore the stress. I was at this event the other week as a gala. It leads to conversations in different ways and we're staring across the table from each other, and the same thing is true in our corporate events. This gets to be a different type of conversation. We let our guards down a little. I think that really facilitates some of the engagement and they remember your brand with that unique experience.Adelaine Ng:
Yeah, it's also so interesting because when I speak to incentive planners, they're really trying to take into consideration the fact that people have different preferences. So I mean, if you talked about the ghost tour, I would not sign up for that because I'm scared of ghosts. So I treasure my good night's sleep. I do not want to stay up at 3am thinking about I don't know things that I arrived not be thinking about. But if there was a Zumba class or something like that, I would go to that, even if it was at night after the conference. So I'm just seeing now a lot more personalization and just options for people. So it can be a particular location, but then, hey, those who want to golf can do that, those who want to do exercise on the beach can do that. I'm actually loving that. That sounds really appealing. But I guess, if you're a first time event creator, I guess that's the piece that I'm not quite sure about. Like, how do you make that promise? Because if you say we're going to go on a hike, well, I can do that anywhere or anytime with another group. It's selling the reason why this is really worth your time and effort and the expense that you're going to pay to get there. Did you have any thoughts on that?Mark Herschberg:
The hike, for example. I want to say there's a hike and again, some people they're going to be excited by a hike, some not just like the ghost tour or Zumba or anything else. So you want to do a hike First. You want to make these things probably more accessible. The hike is one of the big things. You say well, there will be some easy trails and then hard trails for those who are more into it. But we're going to break into groups by topic, by industry, or it's going to be small groups. You're going to be a group of six people, so all six of you are going to spend the next hour together. Guess what? You're going to talk to all six people. It's going to be very clear the hike or the activity. And here I'd say the one downside to Zumba is it's not as talkative as a hike might be, or ghost tour or wine tasting or something else. But you do so in ways where it's particularly smaller groups. If I'm with six people for an hour, by the end of the hour I will have spoken to all of them, and so that's the key, and the activity is really just to get you physically moving, but it's about the people you're with.Adelaine Ng:
Yeah, excellent Mark. We have covered so much ground. There's a good chance we'll be talking on this podcast again. I do so appreciate you, thank you, thank you. Thanks for listening. I do appreciate it and I hope you got some tangible tips, or at least some ideas that might send you into your own rabbit holes to add more nuances that will make your next event even more memorable. Do check out the show notes, where I've put links to Mark's website, which is loaded with resources and links to his book, the Career Toolkit, the Brain Bump app, as well as ways you can reach Mark directly or find out more about his work through his social channels. If you found value in today's show, please click the follow button if you'd like to be notified when a new episode drops. And, by the way, have you ever considered launching a podcast with a strategy to land in Apple's top 200 charts in the very first week? If so, feel free to send me an email at uponarrivalpodcast@gmail. com and we'll explore how we can make that happen. Catch you next week for another great interview to uncover more stories and strategies for a successful future. Till then, cheers.