This article was published on February 13, 2019

How to improve “the best technology festival on the planet”

How to improve “the best technology festival on the planet”
Patrick de Laive
Story by

Patrick de Laive

CPO and co-founder, TNW

Patrick de Laive is an experienced entrepreneur and daddy of Bo and Denne. He is co-founder of TNW and sporadicly invests in startups. He is Patrick de Laive is an experienced entrepreneur and daddy of Bo and Denne. He is co-founder of TNW and sporadicly invests in startups. He is a frequently asked speaker at (tech) events across the globe. Check his LinkedIn profile and @Patrick on Twitter for more information.

Here’s a challenge: you’ve won awards for the best conference in Europe, CNBC named you “the best technology festival on the planet”, and now you have to organize another edition that’s even better. Good luck.

Let’s start with some background. Our very first event was in a church in Amsterdam back in 2006. It was a successful event, it drew in an international crowd of 280 delegates, had a catchy name (The Next Web) and everybody was excited (or at least that’s how I remember it). Thirteen years later, we’re one of the most experienced parties in the industry as we managed to grow the event bigger and better with each edition. From 280 delegates in 2006 to 15,000 delegates in 2018 – it has been quite a ride.

Over the years, a lot of new tech conferences sprung up. Almost every country has a big tech event now (often heavily supported by the local government) and in times like these you have to improve, reinvent yourself, stay relevant, and thrive. The competition is fierce, but on the other hand, the appetite for digital technologies is bigger than ever. We improved and grew our event thirteen years in a row, so the pressure to deliver a better version is high — but we’re dedicated and energized.

Here’s our plan to make the 14th edition of TNW the best one yet. And here’s to the next decade of TNW.

TNW is moving to NDSM, the Amsterdam waterfront!

Change of scenery: Every now and then, it’s good to change venues and start with a blank canvas. This allows us to do things differently, rethink delegate flows, stage sizes, etc. This year, we moved to Amsterdam’s waterfront NDSM, a raw but beautiful space where we can go totally crazy when it comes to building the venue, the business floors, meeting rooms, the stages, the scenery, and the experience. This alone is so exiting, that it would already be enough to improve on our previous edition.

Repositioning the business floor: Doing business and finding new technologies and tools to improve your business is the most important reason our delegates come from over 100 countries to TNW. With our new venue, we grabbed the chance to make the business floors bigger and better positioned. This way, we’re creating more interaction between our exhibitors, partners, and delegates in a very natural way.

Meet your current and future clients at #TNW2019

Increase meeting space: What’s the best way to do business? The best way to talk to current clients? To find new partnerships and prospects? To get feedback? To raise funding? In-person meetings. The number one reason for our exhibitors and partners to be at TNW is so they can organize tons of meetings with current clients, prospects, and partners at one location (saving a lot of flights and travel time).

So this edition, we’re doubling the amount of space dedicated to face-to-face meetings.

The new and improved tracks: We know a two-day schedule packed with content can be overwhelming when you’re trying to decide what to focus on and how to best manage your time. That’s why we divide our content into tracks. We categorise a range of different formats (keynotes, fire side chats, panels, workshops, round table settings) by overarching topics to ensure you can easily follow what’s most valuable to you. We have everything from marketing and product design to AI, Blockchain, sustainability and company growth.

Our 11 tracks mean there’s literally something for everyone, which is why so many companies choose to bring entire teams to TNW Conference. Where else would you get this many learning and networking opportunities in one place? It’s basically an investment in the knowledge of your team and in the future of your business.

Where’s Waldo? 17,500 delegates are attending #TNW2019. The TNW app will help you find Waldo

Find the right people: When events grow bigger, it gets harder to connect with the people you want to meet. TNW hosts 17,500 bright minds with decision power — way too many to leave encounters to luck. The obvious answer here is to offer a networking app. But having an app is not enough. The adoption rate (the percentage of delegates that sign up for the networking app) is crucial for success, as well as the functionality.

In my experience, the biggest problem with most networking apps at events is the adoption rate. Especially now that the stricter privacy laws in Europe (GDPR) are in place and enforced, it gets harder to get delegates to sign up for several ‘tools’ besides the ticketing tool they already used. Every platform has to ask for consent and the organizer can’t just send over your data to an app beforehand to populate it (that is unless the organizer doesn’t care about compliance and your privacy).

Our solution is simple (although it took us years to build!). The idea is to have one ticket and one account for everything. We’ve built our proprietary ticketing system and app in-house, so all functionality, whether it is networking, creating a personal schedule, wayfinding, or chat is in one ecosystem. We call our tool Earlybird, and we’ve been developing Earlybird since 2015. After last year’s event, we’ve been doubling down on functionality to improve finding the right people, making connections, creating your personal schedule of meetings, talks, and fun activities, and improving every delegate’s event experience while not compromising on privacy.

Any event organizer who would like to mimic the stuff that we do with third party software vendors, would need four to six different vendors, that all need to have your data (if you gave consent) and you need to create an account with (annoying!). I don’t have to explain you why 1) that this is not a great user experience and 2) that it hurts the adoption rate of these third party tools.

I’ll just jump on stage to get a selfie with Gary Vee at TNW. Why not..?

All killer, no filler, without exception: TNW has always been known for its content. We’ve hosted thousands of amazing speakers over the past 13 years and we don’t foresee a future in which we would compromise on quality. That said, I’m critical and I think that if we can do better, we must do better.

Each and every speaker at TNW has to be able to deliver a great performance, independent of the size of the stage and format, and bring their A-game to the event. From inspiring keynotes and insightful fireside chats for an audience of thousands, to practical presentations for a few hundred, and in-depth round table sessions with a handful of participants, it’s all quality.

We’ve revamped our processes and speaker guidelines and I’m very happy and impressed with the fresh minds that joined our program team and their dedication to raise the bar even higher. It’s not just about big names (who are often not allowed to say anything that hasn’t been revealed earlier), it’s also very much about experts, people who actually do the stuff, create the products, come up with creative campaigns and growth strategies, who have gone through the experience your company is about to go through. They are the people that can inspire you, move you, and give you actionable insights to improve your work, your business and yourself. Well, we announced the first 58 speakers two weeks ago and adding new people to the line up every day (have a look).

No more rush hour at #TNW2019

Fixing the queues: Last year we ran into a problem. Some of the stages were completely packed and people had to wait in line before they could get into a talk they wanted to attend. This sucks, big time.

People tend to stay seated for more sessions than they planned to, especially if they had trouble finding a seat in the first place and this is what happened last year. Although I think we can never fully solve this, I believe the efforts we’re making go a long way.

  1. Bigger stages (remember the new venue I talked about?)
  2. Better alignment of the content to the size of the stage (this is a technical thing, but it boils down to taking measurements so that we make the most effective use of the capacity of the stages)
  3. Introduce ‘the personal agenda’. Before TNW, all delegates will be able to create their own personal agenda in-app. All the talks you want to see, all the roundtable sessions you’re participating in, and all the meetings you’ve scheduled are part of your personal agenda. This is not only convenient and improves the overall experience it also allows us to predict where we’ll have capacity issues and act on that accordingly (e.g. send a push notification if we’re expecting a full house or add outside screens for hyper-popular sessions). Nice bonus — we can send you a custom video playlist of all the presentations you attended after the event.

We’re super excited about the new features in the TNW app and this personal agenda is a big reason why we believe we can get app adoption up to 80-85% of all delegates, which improves the networking and business possibilities even further.

Get in the spotlight

Make ROE/ROI measurable: Everybody knows that exhibiting at events and going to events works, but how do you compare the effectiveness, the return on investment between events or even measure it for a single event? I don’t have all the answers yet, but we’ve put a lot of thought and effort into building tools and ways to measure the success of your or your company’s presence at TNW.

We’re introducing a new product for our exhibitors that takes the hassle out of scheduling meetings and demos at events and nicely ties in to existing workflows. This sounds a bit vague, I agree, but it hasn’t launched yet and I don’t want to spoil the surprise. What you need to know is that it will be easier and more efficient than ever to schedule the right type of meeting with one of our exhibitors before the event starts. I’m personally super excited about this and if your company exhibits at events and you want to get access to the beta, please let me know (DM me on Linkedin).

The TNW after party feat Kriss Kross Amsterdam and MC @Patrick

Don’t forget the fun: TNW is a conference with a festival taste. Apart from blending in entertainment and parties at the venue and in the official program, we stimulate local Amsterdam startups, companies and communities to host their own ‘decentralized’ events throughout the week of TNW Conference. There is no reason to be bored during TNW, your time is well spent, and on top of that you’ll make new long-lasting friends and catch up with old ones.

There are a lot more things we’re improving, but I highlighted some of the most exciting ones here. I hope to see you with your colleagues and best customers in Amsterdam in May! Cheers

If you liked this post, give it a like on Linkedin and while you’re at it, feel free to add me to your network. Happy to connect.

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