Staggeringly, just short of 5,000 delegates have registered to attend next week’s Buy Yorkshire Conference, to be held at the Royal Armouries in Leeds on 24 and 25 April. Bdaily talks to the man behind the event, Geoff Shepherd, founder of the North’s leading business networking group, The Yorkshire Mafia.
How did the original idea for the conference come about and what was the motivation for its creation?
The Yorkshire Mafia facilitates better business relationships by bringing people together. Ultimately it aims to improve the trading position of businesses in Yorkshire. The conference was a natural extension and marriage of both of those aims.
To organise an event on this scale is a huge undertaking, what lessons were learned from the staging of the first two events, in 2011 and 2012?
The main lesson from the first event was to be more ambitious, don’t be dull or ‘same but different’. There is no shortage of regional or sub-regional events out there that are all very similar.
We outsourced the operation of the first conference to a third party as we’d never done one ourselves before. It was a good event; it was busy, it sold out early and there are elements of it that we retained for future events. But it wasn’t a great event. We received really encouraging feedback but it was quite safe and far too similar to other events out there. In the aftermath we decided we’d like to take control and do it ourselves.
The second conference taught us about good organisation, the importance of nailing the detail and the value of having end-to-end control over everything. The feedback was overwhelmingly good, the few criticisms that we did receive were mostly about things outside of our control – as far we can, we’ve taken control over those things this year.
How have you sought to improve the offering of the event this year?
We’re step changing again. We’ve built an app that went to number 28 in the App Store charts. It really game changes the dynamic of conferences and exhibitions by allowing anyone with a smart mobile device to scan and connect with anyone else. Usually it is just exhibitors that get to do that. We’ve made the event much more social and really built LinkedIn into the conference. It’s a little larger too, we’re utilising the outside space more and we’ve had our own bar built for the two days.
How many delegates are expected at the event?
Always hard to tell for sure…the weather plays a part. We have just under 5000 delegates registered.
What kind of positive financial impact do you expect the conference to have on the local economy?
Substantial! Directly there should be a few million pounds of genuine trading generated. It’s difficult to track as deal-cycles vary according to exhibitor.
What’s the value of bringing together so many people who operate in the regional business community? It’s huge. We bring together over 10,000 business people over each calendar year through a variety of events. I wouldn’t like to reverse engineer the value of that out of the economy.
How have you used technology and social media in making this year's event bigger and better?
The delegate registration system is slick and uses LinkedIn effectively. We’re putting “one-click” registrations to good use and the app we had built by Got Focus Solutions is genuinely groundbreaking. It allows delegates to explore the conference pre and post show, set their diaries and during the event they can use the app to scan each other’s badges and connect via LinkedIn. It replaces the business card at large events. We’ve built our own end-to-end badge system too. We’ve gone a little geeky this time round but we love it. We’re light years ahead of others in this regard.
You've put together a seriously impressive line-up of speakers, which ones are you personally looking forward to hearing?
Thanks! It’s the kind of line up you’d see a big ticket price for at other events, but unlike those events, we don’t charge. We don’t think there’s been a better business line up in Yorkshire for many years. I tend to spend my time at the conference dealing with issues, bug-fixing and doing interviews and so on, so I don’t get to see too much of what happens on stage. However, I’m hoping to sneak into Alastair Campbell’s seminar and the Billion Pound Panel which is always ego-free, insightful and fun.
Once the conference is over, on what criteria will you judge its success?
When you sit in an active business community, like we do, you let them be the judge. We send out feedback surveys to exhibitors and delegates and ask for 1-10 ratings on all aspects of the event. We take criticism on the chin. Feedback is a gift and we’re always looking for ways to re-invent and improve what we can. We’ve already got big plans for 2014!
For full details of the event, visit www.BuyYorkshire.com
For more on The Yorkshire Mafia, visit www.theyorkshiremafia.com