Archive for the ‘Event Advice’ Category

I’ve finally gotten at least the blog portion together at my new home, Webwallflower.com

I’m not sure how best to move readers over there, how to get SEO up, how to redirect links around the web, etc.  If anyone has any ideas, PLEASE let me know.

But if you came here looking for my weekly tech event updates, startup advice, event advice, or entrepreneurial stories, do please head over to http://webwallflower.com and check out the Upcoming Events and Blog sections there.

The rest of the site is still under repair, so bare with me.  🙂

Thanks Everyone!


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(Please note, this was written for V-Day LAST year on an old blog.  But I am trying to collect all my writings in one place.  You can see the original and comments here.)

I’ve talked about how to get and prepare for your first Investor Meeting. With Valentine’s Day coming up, I figured some tips on getting and preparing for a first romantic date would be more helpful for the season. (This post will be very hetero-normative, and aimed primarily at geeky/start-up men. Here are some neat articles for those this will annoy, like it normally would me.)


Through my attendance at SF Beta, I’ve come to notice that there are a lot of single, intelligent, and interested tech boys out there, as well as women who are interested in finding them (yes men, they do exist). Yet somehow, the meeting happens, and its all down hill from there…

So for the start-up men out there that I have come to know and love, here is some advice for chatting up that potential Valentine:


  1. Approach. Before working on how to approach, you must first start the approach. If you don’t have the confidence to come to me, I’m not going to waste my time going to you. Yes, I noticed you staring at me from the door; I’m just choosing to ignore you till you get some balls.
  2. Have confidence, not ego. Approach with a smile, head held high, and a willing hand shake. But do not approach with all of your successes and greatness on your lips.


  1. Have a conversation ready. Do not come up to me, introduce yourself, and then expect me to fall head over heels that instant. Be ready to talk and not stand with an awkward grin.
  2. A conversation takes two. Do not come up to me and leap into your newest start-up idea, a great technology you developed, or the tech gossip of the minute. If my responses are fewer than 4 words, I either don’t care or you aren’t letting me speak. I might as well just read your blog and leave you talking to the wall.
  3. Have a question ready. This falls in line with #1 and 2. (“How are you?” doesn’t count). We have Facebook now; do some stalking, and at least pretend you have an interest in my life and want to engage in more than physical intercourse with me.
  4. Don’t push too hard. Make me want more. If you hang around me for more than 20 minutes at a mixer, our conversation better be damned good. Otherwise, end it BEFORE it winds down and gets dull. “Oh, I’m sorry. My friend just got here. Let’s catch up later (hand me your card).” If, up until this point, things were going well, I will get back to you.
  5. A Card is not a Call To Action. I take back the “(hand me your card)”, above. Think back to design school: have a Call to Action. As you are leaving, let me know “It’s been great talking to you. Do you have a card? I’d love to catch up more later, ideally somewhere quieter.” If she says no, give her yours, but make it clear you are honestly interested in talking. On the same note, if I just hand you my card, thank you, and walk away, it does not always mean I am interested. Don’t give up, but don’t get your hopes too high.


  1. Email first. Some girls will disagree with me here, but I hate when a guy calls me out of the blue. I may not remember who you are, where I know you, or why you are calling; and your phone call just makes it uncomfortable. I prefer getting an email or gchat first, and then taking it to the phone.
  2. A date is NOT a business meeting. Don’t trick me; be clear so I know what I am getting into. I HATE when men ask if we can get dinner to discuss business. Occasionally, people DO want to meet with me to talk business (surprise, surprise). It’s one thing to say “I’d like to take you out to dinner. I’m interested in learning more about what you do.” – That’s clearly a pick-up, thank you. It’s another to say “I’d love to chat with you about a business venture I have. Free for dinner next week?” – Ambiguity sucks.
  3. Dinner is a date. Lunch is a meeting*. Weekends are always dates. This is good to know whenever you are asking to take a woman out. Be honest about what you want and pick an appropriate time. (*If you have made it clear this is NOT a meeting, than know that Lunch is casual)
  4. Don’t get let down. You will get rejected, politely turned down, snubbed, ignored, etc. But if you stay positive, hopeful, and strong while you are single, you will get dates as well. The worst thing is the smell of desperation, so just relax and have a good time. 🙂

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I am often surprised at just how rarely I am asked “When should we sponsor an event? Why? and How?”  These all seem like pretty pertinent questions to me, especially when you’re considering investing anywhere from $1,000 – $50,000 at an event.  With advertising, social media, and even customer engagement getting their ROI measured under a microscope, shouldn’t these issues at least be addressed?

And I’ll be blunt.  By not asking them, you are setting yourself up to lose money with almost any sponsorship or event support you do.  Hell, you should be asking them even as an attendee: “When should I attend an event?  Why?  How?” (I do address this somewhat in my post “4 Reasons to Pay to Network“)  You need to know how to best prepare, what to invest, and what type of response to expect from attendees (scrutiny, curiosity, a level 1 understanding of your company, or a level 10? etc.)

So despite not being asked these questions enough by sponsors, I’ve decided to answer them nevertheless:


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From SFbeta to SF NewTech, MusicTech demo rooms to my own, I have seen a LOT of demos.  I’ve seen demo presentations and demo stations, pitches and slide shows.  And it is maybe 1 in 15 that actually makes me say “Wow, that was a good demo.”

Now I’m not a VC, or one of those experienced entrepreneurs with a half dozen companies under my belt.  But I am your audience in each of those rooms; I am your average user;  I am your virality;  I am your first step.  So, take it or leave it, here’s the 5 tips I’d pass on to you that everyone seems to get wrong.

5)  Know your audience. Are you pitching to a bunch of marketers, or to developers?  Are they going to be users, investors, or partners?  For example, a demo for investors should show how you are getting users fast and making money.  To users, it should show practicality to THEM.  You wouldn’t show your comic book collection to someone hiring you to work on their car.  Don’t show your metric software at a medical convention. Regardless of audience, however, one thing is ALWAYS true:

4)  You’ve got 30 seconds. Go. One of the biggest problems I’ve seen in demos is the time it takes them to get to the point.  I want to know, in 30 seconds, what it is and why it is important to ME!  I don’t want a snazzy drum roll, and 2 minute anecdote.  Not at the start, at least.  If, in 30 seconds, you can convince me it’s worth listening to you, then you can tell me the ins and outs, the hows and whys.  When it takes a demo company more than 30 seconds to get to the point, I generally assume even they don’t know what it is, themselves.

3)  Show and Tell.  If you have to sell your product to me, argue why it is good, explain it in more than a dozen words, it probably isn’t developed enough to be demoing.  Take it back to alpha testing and start again.  You should be able to say “Xyjizio makes measuring your brand’s social media influence in real-time easy” (only with a GOOD company name and less buzz words) and then type in a few words, click a few buttons, and I watch while the numbers roll in.  I understand you may not have enough reach or users to do this yet when you demo, but find SOMETHING visual that makes me go WOW, and isn’t you trying to convince me it would, hypothetically, be cool.  Because yeah, so would teleportation abilities.

2) Be Energized! I cannot believe I am writing this here, but easily half of the demos I have seen have people talking like Ben Stein, being too quiet, staring at a screen rather than me, etc.  If you can’t even be excited about your product, why should I be?

1)  Practice. Again, this should be common sense.  But I see too many demos where people stutter, lose their place in a slide, seem unsure how to answer a question or proceed.  First, stand in an empty room and demo to yourself, then ask your self questions and answer them.  All out loud.  Speaking out loud changes the dynamic, they way you think, and gets you better prepared.  Then ask friends to listen and ask questions.  Then colleagues.  This will not only make you get to the point faster and more efficiently (I promise, the first few times you do this, your audience will fall asleep), but it will make your answers sound intelligent and relevant, and convince me you know your shit.  This one step will pretty much make the other 4 come naturally.

AN ANECDOTE: Well if you’ve gotten this far, if I’ve won you in 30 seconds, I can now tell a helpful, relevant anecdote that illutrates these points well.

I sat in an SF NewTech this last year, listening to a bunch of site and app demos.  For the first time in awhile, I saw a product I would actually use.  It made my travels online easier, it organized my information.  But the demo itself was dull.  The presenter was too quiet and couldn’t take his eyes from his computer screen.  He’d complete a bunch of tasks, but never seem to be excited about any of them.  He used an example totally irrelevant to most of us there (organizing apartment search information.  Why not organize job search information?  Resume review information?  App metric information?) and never once summed it all up for me in a nice memorable blurb.  Notice in #3 that I do say you must Show AND Tell.  Dont JUST illustrate, make sure you tell me exactly what problem you solve and why I need it, concisely!

That same night there was a product I thought was completely useless.  It had dozens of competitors and nothing made it stand out from them.  I would personally never use it, and couldn’t see even an active user needing it more than a half dozen times.  What a waste of internet space.  But the presenter was SO excited.  He was convinced this was THE answer to THIS problem.  He gave an example from his personal use of the product – and as a fellow entrepreneur, this was relevant to me – and then showed how his use generated immediate revenue for the company.   His slides were colorful, his message simple and clear, his examples relevant, and he even wrapped up 30 seconds early.  If the product itself has just been a LiTTLE stronger, he would’ve had ME investing.

But thus far, neither has made it.  Yes, you need a good product.  We all know that.  But despite what I know dozens of people say, a good product alone doesn’t sell.  You need the character, skills, and tools to sell it.  And a good demo presentation is right at the top.

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As a regular event producer, I’ve been through quite a number of methods of conference production: bootleg and giant team, corporate and casual, etc. But I was pleasantly surprised to see the way the SF MusicTech Summit is produced. Rather than create a strict agenda of panel topics and times, Brian lines up an AMAZING list of all-star musicians, founders, and leaders in the music and technology industries, and determines the topics from there.

What does this mean for the panelists?

Now this can, at times, be slightly more stressful for the panelists, as we cannot immediately tell them what they will be speaking on. However, it is always Brian’s drive to talk with them and develop panels ideal for their level of expertise, so this does work out in the end. While panelists may have less time than usual to prepare, we do still facilitate an introduction between the moderator and panelists early enough for ideas to be thrown around, topics chosen, questions asked, and a great panel to form.

So what does this mean for the agenda?

It means the agenda covers actual existing topics that panelists are experts in; topics we also think will be interesting. It means we can discuss with our panelists what they – the leaders in the industry – think the important subjects are, rather than make guesses and take time trying to force people to fit. It means we develop an eclectic agenda – sometimes a bit discombobulated at first – with a huge variety of talking points that we, as a team of 3, could never have developed on our own. It makes the agenda a collaborative project, rather than a dictatorial document.

What does this mean for the attendees?

True, it can be stressful for attendees as well, since they are unable to plan their day until a few days prior to the event. However, it also means you are truly seeing THE leaders in the field of music and technology, talking on the subjects THEY want to discuss. It means we have not A) tried to force a subject down a panelist’s throat or B) found a not-so-qualified individual just because we need a topic we think is important covered.

And finally, what does it mean for the organizers?

Well okay. As the production manager, it stresses me out a bit. I like knowing what my schedule will be, having panelists finalized in nice little spreadsheet boxes and times, and it’s a bit unnerving to have all these unknowns. But it’s also a challenge, and I wouldnt be a freelance contractor or entrepreneur if I didn’t like having that in my life now and then, eh?

Originally posted to sfmusictech.wordpress.com – the SF MusicTech Summit blog.

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So you want to host an evening event.  This could be a launch party, a networking event, a job fair, an informative panel discussion.  Regardless of the purpose, you want to get a great group of at least 100 people together and you’ve got just $1k to do it.  Remember, people come for primarily two reasons: there is going to be relevant content and/or there are going to be attendees they want to meet.   These two things can be provided by you for no cost.  All the frills you pay for are just that: frills.

So a confortable successful event for under $1k is not impossible.  In fact, it’s entirely reasonable, so long as your needs are reasonable as well.  Which takes us to step one.

1)  Be realistic.
And make sure your boss/client is, too.  Know your needs, your limits, and the bare costs of everything you want.  I am telling you right now, for $1k you can get a small space for a panel or speaker, some basic A/V depending on your venue, and appetizers.  You cannot get drinks for 100 people.  You cannot get mics AND a projector AND a video camera.  You cannot provide  everyone with dinner.  You cannot rent space in a hotel.

2)  NOT on a weekend.
Venues on weekends are either closed or incredibly expensive.  You will not find a free office open on a weekend, and you will not find a bar or club for under $3k.

3)  Find a Free Venue.
If you have over 200 drinkers coming, ask a bar if you can use their space for free with a bar minimum guaranteed.  On a slow Mon, Tues, or Weds many bars will close the space for you if you promise them $2k in profits at the bar.  With 200 people, this is 1-2 drinks/person, so not too bad.  For fewer people, there are a number of offices that offer free space in exchange for letting them pimp their business for 5mins at the start.  This is especially great for panels or speakers.  In San Francisco, sfCube, Pivotal Labs, Sandbox Suites , MySpace, and more offer this to events related to small business development and startups.  Churches, YMCAs, and community centers frequently offer this to nonprofit events open to the community, too.

4)  Order Grocery Store Food.
If you are REALLY cheap, get Safeway to deliver some bread, cheese, meat, and fruit platters.  For 150 people, this will run you a few hundred plus delivery costs.  I’d estimate about $650 for this.  You can reduce that by picking it up yourself, but when planning an event, I dont think it’s worth my time.

5)  Negotiate A/V.
Only use A/V if you really need it.  If you have a panel or speaker, I suggest finding an office or community center to play host, and they usually have AV they are happy to lend for cheap or free.  Think about the space and if it needs mics – a space for under 50 people shouldn’t, any larger and it will.  Ask if the venue has some to supply.  If they don’t, you will need to rent.  Projectors should run you about $75 to rent, $150 with set-up.  Mics are going to be about $30-$50 each, much more for wireless.  But get a quote and then negotiate.  I promise you can get them down at least 30%.   Take the number they give you, reduce it by 30% and tell them your A/V budget is just below that.  They will find a way to make it work.  They want your business.

6) Get Volunteers.
If this is a paid event, get some volunteers to run the door for a few hours, if you really dont want to spend money.  Now, volunteers are flakey, untrustworthy, and untested, so use with care.  Set about 30% more volunteer hours than you think you need (have 3 each hour rather than 3, have a back up on call the whole night, etc.)  Every event I get volunteers for I have had atleast one flake or come incredibly late.  I’ve also had unprofessional people Ive had to suffer through using.   For me, I cough up about $100 – $200 to hire some help at $20/hr from Krystyl.  Again, it costs me more, but for my events which people are paying for, it is generally worth it.

7)  Promote It.
Don’t ever pay for promotion.  I have gotten the best responses from Facebook, Twitter, Mashable, and GigaOm.  I also post it to going.com, sfist.com, zvents.com, upcoming.org, and eventful.com.  I ask relevant groups to promote it to their members, like Girls in Tech, Women 2.0, HackerDojo, and Startup Weekend.  I also personally invite the most recent incubator grads and TC50 companies.  This takes time, but it doesnt cost a penny.  For an event NOT in the tech sphere, you will need to do some research.  But once you have that research, you can use the contacts over and over again.

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5 Tips to Get Speaking Gigs

So, you want to start speaking.  But no one is inviting you, and your submissions keep getting turned down? Bummer.  But don’t give up.  Here are some quick and dirty tips to help get off the ground.  Because once you get a few speaking gigs under your belt; more should start dripping, and then pouring!, in.

1)  Start a Vlog. Not a blog, a vlog (Video Blog, for those out there not in the Web 2.0 lingo).  Talk to your audience on the topics that interest you, that you consider yourself to be an “expert” on.  This shows that you:
* Conduct yourself well when speaking.
* Construct clear, concise statements.
* Have good, unique information to share.

2)  Interview others. While less important, this shows you are well connected, understand the field you are in and who the influencers are, know what the audience wants to hear, and can get the answers to questions you can’t answer yourself.  Interviews on your Vlog will also get you great moderator gigs.

3)  Know the Conferences. People still won’t come to you, you have to go to them.  This means learning what conferences and meetups exist in your field, and sending out a LOT of speaking requests.  BEFORE sending the speaking submissions, review the site: know who else is speaking, on what topics, and what the basic theme of the conference is.  You wouldn’t believe how many talks on “successful cloud computing” and “hosting solutions” I received for FailCon…

4)  Write a unique submission. This is a whole section by itself.  I may write a post on this alone later, but here are some quick and dirty pointers.  These pointers are also only for events without a submission process.  If they have a form or instructions, read them and follow them.  Otherwise, here’s my advice:

* Keep it Short. 1 – 3 lines.  If it interests me, I will ask for more information.
* Have a Title. This tells me you have a goal in mind for this talk, a clear and relevant point to make.
* Be Unique. I have seen 100+ talks on “benefits of social media” and “growing your brand.”  I have NOT seen “What social media can learn from ant colonies.” or “Web 2.0 Startups: The New Auto Industry”
* Be Relevant. Like my note above: know what my conference is on and who else I have speaking.  Let me know what you will add to the agenda that isn’t already there.  Answer my questions before I even ask them.

5)  Play the numbers. Even if you follow this advice to a tee, I promise you will get 20+ rejections for every 1 hit.  But this also means that, if you send 21 submissions, Im betting you’ll get one.  And after that one gets up on your vlog and you can send others to it, the odds will be more like 17:1.  Then 15:1.  And so on.  The more you speak, the more invitations you’ll get.

(Now of course, all of this advice rides on the fact you can be a GOOD speaker.  So practice, ask friends for advice, and read up on tips and tricks.)

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