The Exchange- A wine marketing conference October 30, 2012
I recently had the pleasure of creating and organizing a high-level event for the wine marketing industry. It was a chance to bring together industry professionals, top-notch speakers and to create an environment for a great exchange of ideas. The plan is to do 3 events per year so our inaugural event was important to get right.

I thought I would share a few lessons I have learned over the years to making an event like this successful for all stakeholders. 

WRITE DOWN YOUR GOALS: Be clear why you are investing the money and time to do this. Understand your purpose and intention and put it into a succinct document for your colleagues to read. It helps when you write it down because it forces you to understand what you are trying to accomplish.

CREATE A NAME AND AN IMAGE: We came up with the name The Exchange (and a nifty logo) to help communicate the essence of our event. The event is an exchange of ideas, insights and information. Note the word CHANGE is underlined to emphasize a goal- to help change the industry. The red N in the logo was from our corporate logo (Nomacorc) and subtly reminded our guests who sponsored the event without being too commercial but subtly implying that we want to be part of the change. 

BRING IN OUTSIDE HELPERS: In this case, I solicited help from about 10 wine marketing professionals to advise and guide our approach. We developed a steering committee of people who were willing to give a little time (mostly by phone or email) to make the event relevant, fun and engaging. This group was successful in steering me in the right direction. 

MAKE IT DIFFERENT: I don’t want to attend a marketing event that is the same as everyone else's event. We found a few innovative ideas that made it selective, special and very human. One of these ideas was creating a PowerPoint free zone where only images could be projected- no detailed graphs, charts or slides overfilled with words. We also took a page out of the TED conferences and kept the speakers to about 20 minutes so that they could get to the essence of their comments. 

MAKE IT SELECTIVE: Invitations were limited and you had to be invited by a steering committee member. This helped to keep it at the right level and to make sure we didn’t over fill the room. It is important to determine how many people you really want to attend. It is easy to fill a space- we wanted to fill it with the right people as well as the right number.

Panel discussion at the Exchange. Pat Kelley,
Paul Mabray, Ray Elias and Dave Rosenberg
MODERATE IT WITH CONVERSATION IN MIND- NOT PRESENTATION: We titled our event, The Exchange because we wanted it to be just that- an exchange of ideas. I don’t like formal presentations and I worked hard at posing questions to the panel, guest speakers and audience members. The feedback I received indicated that I achieved just the right tone and balance  in bringing both the speakers and the audience into the conversation. 

RIGHT ENVIRONMENT: I enjoy conferences in cool places so we worked hard to find a beautiful and comfortable space that was elegant but not stuffy. The atmosphere felt exactly in keeping with the essence of the event’s brand image. Our event was held at Bardesonno which is a leed certificate hotel/spa in Yountville, California and within a hour of where most of the attendees work. 

SETTING THE ROOM:  A few colleagues and I spent several hours figuring out how to lay out the space. We ended up without tables and just chairs to encourage conversation and engagement. It seems trivial but it reminds me of a lesson from grad school about communications and furniture. How you set up a space significantly influences how people share, talk and exchange information. (Side note: I once had a class at Annenberg at University of Pennsylvania where we examined how different furniture layouts affected both verbal and non-verbal communications)

TIMING: We thought a lot about how long the panel discussion should be and the length of our guest speakers. You want it to be long enough to exchange plenty of ideas but you don’t want to expend all the energy of the group too quickly. I think of this like a timing valve where you have to let in just the right amount of energy to keep things captivating. At some point, when you sense distraction or a decline in energy…you have to stop and regroup. In our first event, I think I managed this well but had help from colleagues in the audience who gave me signals about speeding up, winding down, stopping or moving on.

TYING THINGS TOGETHER: As the host, I opened up our program with a frame of reference for the topic. (It happens to be a topic I am very interested in: DIFFERENTIATION in the wine industry). In previous blogs, I have reviewed DIFFERENT by Youngme Moon and some of her ideas helped shape the discussions. By framing the conversation, I could extract threads from the panelists and guest speakers to make sure we stayed focused on the topic at hand. It is important to have someone responsible for weaving things together. It is important to be good at reading a room so you sense how things are progressing as the event unfolds. 

FEEDBACK LOOP: At the end of the event, we ask the participants to share any observations about the day. What worked what could we do better and where was the most value. We also followed up with a quick email survey to get opinions that may be best delivered privately. This loop allowed us to make sure we are always improving our offering. I heard some very helpful ideas which will guide our next event in 2013.
Guests relax after the event

PEOPLE LIKE TO NETWORK: Some of the best advice I ever got about running a conference like this was that it is important to give people time to process, digest and connect. At the end of our event, we held a wine tasting and almost everyone stayed for two hours. This is a sign that we were on to something. I heard from several attendees that there was a lot of value in talking with colleagues over a glass of wine about the day’s conversation.
Thirsty? Which water would you choose?
HAVE FUN: Sound obvious but if you are going to go to all the trouble to create an event, make sure it is enjoyable. If you have fun your guests will sense that from how you host the event. We did a fun exercise asking everyone to identify why they grab which bottle of water. Was it packaging, taste, image or some other reason? My favorite comment was the person who chose the sparkling water on the far left because it looked like Hellman's mayonnaise. 

Smile. Breathe. Relax. Another piece of wisdom I once received was to create an event that you would have liked to attend. Make sure your guests have a good time, learn something and want to come back for more.

If you are curious about this event, you can learn more about it here. It is not open to the public and is by invitation only. The web site hub is a helpful way to anchor registration, information on upcoming events, blog posts about the event and the mission of the group. 

Make your events distinctive, different and informative. Nothing like necessity to help you create the mother of all events. 

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