How to make the most of Campaigning Forum events
The 'Returner' participant
The returning participant needs to approach the event different than they did the first time. To get strategic value out of the event, there are a few approaches:
- Identify the topics you wish to explore (either get more insight into something you already know/do or get to know a new topic). As a past ECF event participant, prepare a bit with familiarising yourself with it (= google it!) so you know the aspects you want/need to explore more - then come to the ECF Leadership Briefing on the night before ECF formally starts to raise the topic, see what others propose and learn how to lead an open space session.
- Identify from the participant list who you want to talk to and arrange to meet at ECF about topics of mutual interest. With 100-ish people there, this is a hot-bed of experienced people and if you organise yourself it can be valuable.
- Present your work/experiments. This allows you to test the ideas with a friendly but knowledgable group and get feedback - as well and sharing the knowledge and building your reputation in the sector.
- Pre-plan expert open space topics with peers. These can be invite-only or open to all, but by planning it with a few others you want to be there, you know key people will be present.
- Allocate your time in a 30:30:40 proportion: 30% sharing what you know, 30% going to areas you have little experience with to be surprised/expand your knowledge and 40% focusing on what you need. Change the ratios as you wish, but if you juggle these three types of engagement you will learn, develop your sector reputation and expand your knowledge.
For any of these strategies, you should give some thought to what you wish tog et from the event and what you can give - and prepare for it!
Any other strategies you may have used as a returning participant (or think you could use)?
The 'Newbie' participant
A 'newbie' at ECF events isn't inexperienced (since everyone must have 3 years of some sort of experience to join!), they just are unfamiliar with the ECF event format and atmosphere. As a newbie, you should also think about what you want/need from the event and what that means in terms of topics you would like to talk about and people/organisations you would like to talk to.
While you can use any of the 'returner' strategies, you can also just go with the flow - but even if you go with the flow, make sure you are steering yourself based on what you want and need. This isn't a conference for spoon feeding you content - it is one we all make work and that includes you. You get out of it what you prepare for and put into it - so be sure you are clear!
The 'Consultant/Freelancer' participant
As a consultant/freelancer, ECF events can feel like an awkward balance between sharing your expertise and not wanting to sound salsey. I've found people hire consultants and freelancers because they know you and like you, so relax and be yourself :-)
Similar to returners, split your time between sharing, learning something new and meeting new people. Ask questions, offer advice, connect them to others, etc. If you can, encourage some clients to come along so that they can also talk about their work with you as they are sharing.
Speed Pitching on the first evening is a place provided specifically for direct sales talk over drinks - so if there is space (it is already almost full for 2017) take advantage of this (there is a cost to cover the drinks).
The 'Agency/Platform Provider' participant
As an agency/platform provider, you try and balance the same split as consultant between sharing experience/knowledge and sounding too salsey. The advice is similar to the consultant approach, but as you may be a larger organisation, consider sponsoring. This gives you a bit more visibility and a little leeway to tell everyone what you do.
Engaging Networks, Care2, Torchbox and more onion are good examples here where each has both a service offering but also immense expertise and knowledge to offer. Engaging Networks offers their aggregated data trends each year which are incredibly useful. Care2 runs the UK Impact Awards which is also a great way to give back. Torchbox last year ran a teach-in on Google Grants while more onion shares some of their strategies for strategic digital campaigning.
Any other suggestions?
Those are just my thoughts for how to make the most of the event. They were partly promoted by a few potential 'returners' saying they weren't sure what they could get out of the event a 2nd/3rd time round. Often this was because they approached it the same way as other events and/or their first year.
Be strategic each time
But each time you return, you need to approach it strategically and think what you need and what you can do to get the most out of the event based on the participants. You can even invite a group of people you wish to be there as a convenient place for you all to connect and share within the larger activity of the ECF event.
Do you have any further suggestions for how to make the most of an ECF event?