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Whenever we run a live event we ask people for feedback. You can’t read the label from inside the bottle, as they say. Here’s a round-up of the feedback from our most recent event.

In May 2022 we ran our Agency Hackers Live event at Techspace in Shoreditch. It was the first test of our new format, which is entirely based around audience participation.

Previously, we’ve experimented with different formats:

  • In 2019, we had a simple format where pre-selected speakers would stand up and give talks. The audience sat in rows (‘theatre style’) and listened. We felt that this didn’t provide enough audience interaction. You get bored quickly if all you’re doing is heading other people talk.

So we changed it up.

  • In 2020 we started giving the audience time to discusses the talk on their tables. This meant we had to use round tables, which cost us money because it massively limits capacity at the venue. But we did it because overall it’s much better. You get to meet other people and have your say.
  • But now the problem was the talks themselves! There was always one or two talks that didn’t really hit the spot – they were a bit ‘obvious’ or went on a bit too long. Once somebody has started speaking, it’s very hard to get them to stop! It’s toe curling to feel you’re wasting 20 to 30 minutes of people’s time. Wah.

So we switched to our new format:

  • We don’t advertise any speakers at all!
  • Instead, we capture relevant stories, lessons and anecdotes from attendees, right after they buy a ticket. We build the program around that.
  • We pick the most interesting attendees, and an interviewer stands on stage with them â€“ “teasing” the story out of them as necessary.
  • Every so often, we pause and throw a foam microphone into the room – so you get to hear from as many people as possible.
  • In between talks you talk to people on your table about what you’ve just heard.
  • You keep switching tables in between speakers, so you meet a lot of different people.

We like this approach, even though it does have a few drawbacks for us as an organiser.

For example, even though we think it makes for a better experience on the day, it’s harder to sell tickets because you don’t have an impressive line up of speakers. You’re saying: trust us! It will be great.

Feedback from the event

What did people think?

After the event on May 24th 2022, we asked people for feedback and 21 people responded.

We asked people to tell us how satisfied they were, out of 5.

⭐️ = nobody
⭐️⭐️ = 1 person
⭐️⭐️⭐️ = 1 person
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ = 5 people
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ = 11 people

Generally, feedback was very positive. People said they liked the relaxed tone, and the opportunity to speak with new people:

  • “It was well curated, the themes were spoken about in a way that incorporated lots of different angles and perspectives.”
  • “The collaborative story-based approach. IT’s good to hear from a cross-section of people.”
  • “Round tables and the opportunity to discuss with peers.”
  • Plenty of insights, I learn lots and have laughs along with way.

We had lots of comments like this, which was very nice.

What can we improve?

Obviously, this is the part we pay careful attention to. We asked people how we could improve future events that follow this format, and here’s some of what people told us:

CommentOur thoughts
“Maybe prep the sessions more, with key takeaways or question guides for the breakouts. Or bring experts to get deeper into them. Sometimes feels like we could have gone deeper or less rambly? That overall made for an enjoyable time but density could be higher”Getting the balance right is hard. We want to tease out people’s real stories, rather than prepared presentations.

We do actually know the main ‘beats’ of the stories beforehand, because we pre-interview the people – we don’t just drag them up on stage sight unseen. So maybe signposting the journey better and pulling out ‘key takeaways’ would work.

We are going to work on a format where we visibly “walk through” people’s stories
“Could you consciously make the balance of speakers 50 : 50 men women and ensure people of different ethnicities are given a platform? Appreciate this is tricky but you asked :)”Possibly. We had one women and three men “officially” speak at this event. But because we throw the microphone around constantly, the actual people you hear from throughout the day is probably 50/50 male to female.

In terms of ethnicity, we’re picking speakers from the pool of people who have decided to attend for themselves and we don’t really have control over who is in the room. Maybe there’s an argument we need to proactively influence that a bit – I’m not sure. It’s something we’ll give more thought to.
“Would be great to have a way of easily connecting with other attendees as it was hard to read the name badges.”We’ll circulate a LinkedIn connections list after future events.
“The welcome on arrival / badging process could be better. I was loitering for ages and started to feel a bit uncomfortable (not a biggy but thought I’d mention it).”
Agree. We’ll have more team members on this next time.
“Shut down people who are negative/accusatory more quickly. The chap who had a dig at the first speaker was out of order and it didn’t set a very good tone.”We had a good discussion about this in the Guild group. This particular interjection did have a “chilling effect” on the rest of the day, because a few people then didn’t share stories that they had been planning going to share. (“I don’t want anybody jumping down my throat!”)

We’re going to address this at future events by reminding people that the whole point of our events is that it’s somewhere you can speak openly and honestly without being ultra-PC.

Obviously some language is out of bounds, but we know it when we hear it.
“Not a dislike but a panel discussion might have been interesting / multiple people in the spotlight at the same time.
And drinks / chatter at the end if poss?!”
We actually haven’t found that panel discussions work very well in the past. When you get several people up who don’t know each other, the conversations tend to be quite surface level and superficial. Never say never though.

Lowest feedback ⭐️⭐️

The lowest feedback we got was from two attendees who rated the event 2/5 and 3/5 respectively.

“The session was pitched as focused on growth – but wasn’t growth-orientated in terms of either content or agenda. For example, recruitment / retention / pricing are all valuable topics in their own right and are very much part of running an agency but they aren’t specific strategies to scaling your business.”

This attendee was hoping for more specific advice on growth from the event. The problem I guess was that the event covered the things you experience as you grow an agency, rather than specifically how you grow an agency.

We should have positioned this more clearly.

On reflection, the type of ‘experience-sharing’ format is quite squarely pitched at founders and owners, and one of the things we noticed about these two low-score-givers was that they were both members of the SLT team, rather than being founder-level.

Understandably, non-founders may find that “founder talk” doesn’t resonate with them. We probably do need to position this a bit more clearly – and be more explicit in terms of who the event is aimed at, and what exactly you’ll get from it.

Thanks to everyone who came and made the day what it was, and thanks to everyone who gave us feedback to help us improve.