Planning An Amplified Event

by | Sep 1, 2010

As my emerging role as an Event Amplifier takes shape, I want to reflect on the approach I take to planning an amplified event. This approach is constantly evolving and gets adapted depending on the circumstances of the event, but I think this is what it boils down to at the moment…

Ask: “What are you trying to achieve?”

This sounds fairly obvious, but often it is the most difficult thing to express in clear, measurable objectives so that a conference organiser can see what success looks like. “Amplifying the event” sounds like it should do what it says on the tin, i.e. help the event reach a wider audience. However, there can be more subtle aims within this, including the degree to which you want your online audience to actively participate in or talk about your event, whether you want to build a longer term online community to follow on from your conference or whether your priority is creating a digital record so the event reaches a wider audience over time instead of across space. Factors like these affect the range of tools and approaches that can be taken, so it is important to be really clear about what the outcome is supposed to be.

Ask: “How is the remote audience going to be interacting?”

Whilst everyone is different, it is possible to make some generalised assumptions about the ways that your remote audience will be interacting with the programme by thinking about who they are, where they are and how they could be tuning in to the range of resources you provide. This informs how you prepare the online audience before the event and how you structure interactive elements to be as convenient and easy accessible as possible.

Unlike a physical conference, where the basic logistical experience is the same for everyone, you have to expect a remote audience to be dipping in and out not just of the event as a whole, but between the different channels at different times. They may not be able to watch a live stream at certain points, but they may continue to follow the discussions on Twitter. Whilst you can give guidance to your remote audience about how to make the most out of attending the full event, you have to assume that the experience for most (including those you pick up on the way) will be more fragmented. Part of the amplification plan needs to consider how to creatively manage this problem in order to usefully involve the online audience in the live proceedings – remembering that what seems like a fragmented conference experience to the conference organiser may actually be a matter of convenience for the audience!

It is also important to think about the types of people in your remote audience, their level of technical literacy, the ways they might prefer to interact and how many of them there are likely to be. If you know you will have a large audience of confident Twitterers, then the bulk of your effort will go into reaching and catering to that type of audience, and to considering how best to manage that size of audience. That doesn’t mean you forget about making the conversation accessible to the non-Twitterers, but it does mean you think carefully about the benefit:effort balance of managing engagement in across multiple spaces and look for simple solutions to deliver accessibility.

I may have to return to the issue of assessing your audience, as I could probably go on. Hopefully that gives you a flavour of the considerations that go on in that stage of the process. For now though I will move on to the more practical aspect of the planning process…

Do: Construct an event amplification plan

When I am writing an event amplification plan, I have found that I go through two phases:

1. The Concept Phase

This is the initial plan outlining what types of activity will meet the amplification aims. I usually lay this out in parallel to the physical conference programme so that I can clearly see any gaps. I would then discuss this with the conference organiser to help inform…

2. The Detailed Phase

This involves allocating specific tasks and adding all of the details I will need to work at the event itself, including links to resources, suggested subjects and questions for interviews, account logins and timed tasks. Again, I lay this out in relation to the physical conference programme, taking care to include pre- and post-event items, so that both the conference organiser and I can clearly see who will be doing what and when to help care for the online audience. Having everything I could possibly need in one document helps me to stay organised on the day so that I don’t have to hassle the conference organiser.

In my final communications with the event organiser, I try to ensure that we have identified any absolute priorities within the amplification plans and any features that “would be nice, but not essential”. This allows me space to improvise if necessary to meet the needs of the audience, and to prioritise effectively on the day. In particular, I often find that conference organisers identify lots of people who it “would be good” for me to interview, but it is not always possible to get to all of them. Knowing who they key people are, and who to talk to about what topic helps me to choose who to interview when time is tight.

I do worry that this makes the whole process sound incredibly strictly managed, which may concern some people who view conference discussion via tools like Twitter as a backchannel where freedom should be the priority. I would stress, however, that it is possible to have a carefully considered event amplification plan with a “light touch” approach. There still needs to be a plan to aid to logistical coordination of resources, updates and live interaction opportunities for the remote audience, but the conversation space is theirs.
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