Conference Planning for Geeks: Tips for Engaging a Nerdy Audience

Conference Planning for Geeks: Tips for Engaging a Nerdy Audience

What flies at run-of-the-mill events doesn’t translate to the geek conference sphere. Here are four tips to help you stay away from the most common pitfalls.

Be Egalitarian

If event managers take a lesson from Eric Shmidt, CEO of Novell and a man with a lifetime of experience managing geeks:

“Perhaps the least-becoming aspect of the geek community is its institutional arrogance. Remember, just because geeks have underdeveloped social skills doesn’t mean that they don’t have egos. Tech people are uppity by definition: A lot of them would like to have been astronauts. They enjoy the limelight. In a power relationship with management, they have more in common with pro basketball players than they do with average workers. Think of your techies as free agents in a highly specialized sports draft. And the more specialized they are, the more you need to be concerned about what each of them needs as an individual.”

Of course, Mr. Shmidt is talking about corporate management rather than event management, but the principle still applies. Don’t treat your geek attendees as cattle to be herded around or pandered to. Approach them instead like the highly-skilled, intellectually-keen individuals they are, and you’ll get better results.


Ideas are Everything

Most events offer content that targets the lowest common denominator in order to capture the widest possible audience, but geeks are fascinated with high-quality ideas. While targeting the majority is always good practice, when your audience is full of technically-minded folks, the “lowest common denominator” isn’t very low. Spend time ensuring that your speakers are addressing more specialized topics that are interesting to a niche audience.

Ditch the Dress Code

This a target market that doesn’t place a ton of stock in social conventions, and may actually be put off by settings that encourage attendees to suit up. Don’t make a big deal about adhering to a dress code, and definitely don’t create an environment where geeks will feel out place wearing jeans and t-shirts.

Fakers Won’t Make It

Geeks can smell disingenuous gimmicks from a mile away, and being branded a “poser” is poison for your event brand. If your event content or promo material sounds like it was created by marketing interns pretending to be experts in javascript, your event is looking down the barrel of some bad reviews on social media. The solution for non-geek organizers planning a geek-friendly event? One, be humble and honest about who you are. And two, surround yourself with geeks that can give you feedback on your tone and approach.

David Sonntag
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