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Elena Terenteva

SEMrush PRO Talks with Mark Scully: Memorable Experiences of Learn Inbound

Elena Terenteva
SEMrush PRO Talks with Mark Scully: Memorable Experiences of Learn Inbound

Learn Inbound is one of the most insightful and fun SEO events on the planet! Learning without getting bored in a huge SEO party atmosphere with drinks and rock-and-roll is never a bad thing. The SEMrush team had a lot of fun at Learn Inbound last year and supported this year’s events, because we just can’t miss it!

We were lucky enough to talk with Mark Scully, Co-Founder and Director of Learn Inbound, about Learn Inbound swag, community building and tips for event-planning beginners.

Find out all the secret ingredients of a tasty SEO Learn Inbound cocktail!

Hello, Mark! Thanks for finding time for us. First of all, let’s start from the beginning – tell us about the history of Learn Inbound

Learn Inbound was born out of passion for inbound marketing back in 2014, when I, Siobhan McGinty and Paul Cawley identified a need for an actionable (and affordable) inbound marketing event in Dublin. We were already big fans of international events like INBOUND in Boston, BrightonSEO, MozCon and SearchLove, but we found that there wasn’t anything of a similar nature to attend in Dublin.

After six months of planning, we kicked off with our first event in January 2015, and we’ve been running quarterly evening events ever since. We will be doing something a little bit differently this October, where we will be running a one-day conference. Keep an eye on our Twitter account for more details soon!

Learn Inbound

What is the main idea behind Learn Inbound events?

It’s simple. We want marketers to have the opportunity to learn actionable inbound marketing tactics at a fun, relaxed and affordable event.

Speaking in general, what are three main components of a successful event?

Speakers and presentations - Choosing speakers that will share actionable tips and insights that are useful to your audience is an essential component of any successful event. It’s important to remember that attendees are giving up time and money to attend the event – even at events where tickets are free – so organizers need to hand pick the best speakers who will add value to the attendees’ daily working lives.  I strongly believe it’s best to avoid any paid speaking slots if you want to maintain the integrity of your event; and you shouldn’t be afraid to say no to speakers if you believe a presentation topic they pitch is the wrong fit for your audience.

People - Finding the right speakers for an event is important, but so is finding attendees that will match the core values of your event. If you want to create an environment where people feel comfortable enough to learn, network and share knowledge with one another, you need to ensure the messaging around your event speaks to the people you would like to attend. It’s also important to have a great team that can help to ensure your event runs smoothly, as successfully executing events is all about managing the fine details.

Venue - As exciting as a marketing event held in a shed may sound, an event organizer needs to ensure that the venue has the necessary technical equipment and setup to host an amazing event. The venue goes a long way towards ensuring the event creates the right type of atmosphere, which is hugely important to the experience, so time spent selecting the right venue and setting it up with your attendees in mind is essential.

So how do you choose speakers for your conference?

At Learn Inbound we typically start our selection process six months before an event by thinking about what type of speakers will add genuine value to our audience. I think it’s important to think of the stage as being owned by the attendees of the event. As an event organizer, it’s ultimately our role to ensure that each speaker educates, entertains and delights the people that pay for tickets and give up their free time to attend the event. We closely watch other events from around the world to identify what speakers have established themselves as experts within their respective fields and then we add them to our “wish list.”

As we begin to select speakers from our wish list, we look to the event schedule as a jigsaw puzzle that needs to be fitted together to provide the optimal learning opportunity for our attendees. We take this a step further by actively sharing each of the talks at our events in order to help spread the fantastic information our amazing speakers share to a wider audience.

Learn Inbound

A small tip for beginners: how can you get the best speakers if you’re organizing a brand new event?

I don’t think a new event should ever be looked upon as an obstacle that prevents organizers from landing the best speakers in the industry. It’s often the case that industry speakers get genuinely excited about the possibility of speaking at a brand new event in a location they previously haven’t travelled to. It’s important to remember that the best speakers are typically booked at least six months in advance of any event. You need to take note of the dates of other industry events and make a conscious effort not to overlap with them if there are particular speakers you want to attend your event.

Before our very first event, we started reaching out to potential speakers six months in advance with a clear breakdown of the type of event we wanted to host and who we expected to attend. We tried to project a very clear picture of the type of event we were building and the environment around them, even though it had never been done before. I believe if you’re genuine, can demonstrate a passion for the industry, and can clearly convey that to the speakers you approach, you won’t have any issues attracting big name speakers to your first event.

Also, as tempting as it may be to offer speaking slots in exchange for sponsorship, you should avoid it at all costs. You will lose any potential credibility by selling the stage and your audience’s attention to the highest -paying sponsor. It’s just not worth it.

Organizers often want to surprise guests and speakers and make their event memorable. Please share the most extraordinary thing you ever saw at a conference

Two years ago, I attended MozCon, an annual three-day inbound marketing conference hosted by Moz in Seattle. It was the first time I attended the event, but I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from the presentations due to the videos that were available from previous events.

I was still pleasantly surprised when I arrived at the venue on the first day to be greeted by the really friendly Moz team, cool swag, amazing food and the excellent setup of the venue. The organizers, Charlene Ditch and Erica McGillivray, crafted MozCon into an experience to be remembered, rather than simply following the box-ticking exercise of creating an inbound marketing conference to benefit the Moz brand. Personally, I found the most extraordinary thing to be how closely MozCon aligned with Moz’s core values (TAGFEE) and how genuinely excited people were to share their knowledge and experiences with one another.  As we try to build our Learn Inbound events, I look back upon my experiences at MozCon and remember fondly what makes it one of the best digital marketing conferences in the world.

What made you remember this conference?

To me, MozCon wasn’t an inbound marketing conference - it was an inbound marketing experience that promoted knowledge sharing among attendees and speakers.

The friendliness of the staff, the willingness of attendees to share their knowledge and experiences, and the evening activities were unlike anything I’ve ever experienced at any other event. I’m really looking forward to attending MozCon again later this year.

Learn Inbound

So, summing up – how do you know if your conference was successful?

The short answer here is, by reaching out and talking with the attendees.

One of the fantastic things about the Learn Inbound community is that they are vocal and give terrific feedback. They’re also incredibly honest, so we know they’ll give us genuine feedback and not just what they think is polite or what we might want to hear.

Following each event, we send out surveys to get the views of attendees, see how happy they were and allow lots of flexibility to give suggestions or requests for future events. We consider everything from the speakers to the venue, right down to the ticket prices and the lighting. During our events, we spend as much time as we can chatting with attendees, keeping a finger on their pulse. And following events, we try to get as much one-on-one feedback as we possibly can.

By chatting with the community like this, it’s a great way to see if the information that was presented was at the right level and added real value, and that the event’s atmosphere was enjoyable and entertaining and that none of the small details had fallen through cracks.

When college students send thank you emails saying they learned more at a single event than they had during years of academic study, or a business sends an email saying they’re expecting to see a large-percentage increase in revenue or performance based on a single piece of advice they picked up, it makes all our hard work more than worth it.

Learn Inbound

What would be your tips for beginners who are organizing events from scratch? What mistakes did you face in the beginning and how can one avoid them?

Expect the unexpected, start planning as early as possible and be humble about your event!

No matter how well-prepared you are for an event, there will always be something that doesn’t go as planned on the day. We’ve learned the hard way that technical problems can only be overcome by bringing in professional companies to manage your AV and Wi-Fi setup. No matter how cheap the tickets are to your event, there’s an expectation from attendees to provide a professional, well-run event that justifies their giving up their free time to attend.

A lot of potential problems can be mitigated if you start the planning process early, and your audience will be more forgiving of any shortcomings if you’re humble in how you market your event.

You should try to avoid pitching yourself as the “biggest,” “largest” or “best” industry event, as you will be setting unrealistic expectations that you may struggle to live up to. Problems will happen on the day, and attendees will point out faults if you set yourself up for failure by claiming to be the most important event they can attend.

Remember, you’re one event of many for attendees to choose from. Focus on the strengths of what you’re offering for your attendees and let them be your brand advocates by ensuring they have a memorable experience.

Thank you, Mark! 

Elena Terenteva, Product Marketing Manager at SEMrush.

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