by Yeoh Siew Hoon | October 15, 2015

As I write this, I am three weeks away from running our own conference, WIT (Web In Travel), in Singapore. My team and I have just wrapped up a half-day meeting going through everything that has to be done.

You can imagine it's quite a list. The adrenaline's starting to kick in.

Before I decided to run my own travel technology, distribution and marketing conference, I had only experienced events as a journalist. I'd sit there, listen, ask questions, and observe (and comment) with the critical eye of a customer.

When I became an event owner and organiser in 2006, I realised how hard and complex it is to run a successful conference - one that is profitable and, at the same time, delights your audience.

That's why I salute every event organiser out there - you have one of the most challenging jobs in the world. There are so many moving parts to a conference that anything can go wrong - many things that are often out of your control. I'd often laugh at my event organiser friends when I saw how stressed they got before an event. "Chill. Let go. You're such a control freak," I'd tease them.

Now I find myself being a bigger control freak than they ever were - though truth of it is, over the 11 years I've run WIT, I've realised that it's actually the right thing to let go and trust yourself and your team to rise to the challenge if and when things go wrong, as they invariably will. You also need to know the right time to let go - roughly a week or so before the start of the event, I reckon - the moment when you should stop obsessing about the details and instead focus on the outcome. I find it really helps to visualise the outcome - and I picture everything in my head.

Over the years, I've learnt a couple of lessons.

1. No vendors, only partners

At first, I didn't understand why hotels were more obsessed with proposing menus than wanting to understand your objectives and aspirations.

I realised that often hotels saw themselves as vendors, not as partners. And so the first thing I did was to strike a partnership with hotel group, Millennium & Copthorne, and made sure they were involved in every aspect of our event - from the theming, to the staging, to the marketing, and finally, to the themed breaks - which is when they became most enthusiastic and creative. This partnership lasted three years and gave us a solid foundation to grow the event in a consistent fashion.

2. What's the one thing you want people to remember?

It helps to ask that question and when you have the answer, thread it through everything you do. For us, we wanted people to associate WIT with attitude. So we put attitude into almost everything we did - from theming, content and style of delivery to communication and staging.

Each year teaches me new lessons. We make mistakes every year and we learn from them. Trying to do too much is probably our biggest fault. A conference is a live, dynamic being. It cannot be delivered through a SOP manual. That only gives you the base. When it comes to a "live" event, intuition and faith in the team play a big role.

I've also learnt that often it's when things go wrong that the most unforgettable moments are create - such as when there was a 10-minute blackout one year and my speaker and I walked off the stage to the middle of the ballroom and continued our conversation, with the audience huddled around us and lit only by the glow of smartphones.

 The session, fittingly enough, was about letting go and discovering yourself through nature. I find that you learn about yourself a lot too when you organise conferences.

 

Siew Hoon is a traveller who loves to write and a writer who loves to travel. She's combined her two loves into a career in travel journalism that has seen her launch several travel industry titles and conferences, including WIT. She loves the change and discovery that comes with travel and the business.