What is the secret to organizing successful events?


Iulia Porneala, Product Manager @Product Management Festival

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When you enter the offices of SwissQ you will notice that our walls are decorated with framed posters from some of our first events, dating back to 2006. The first one was Swiss Testing Day. Honestly, looking back at them almost 10 years later they seem so up to date and relevant. I dare to say we were avant-garde!

Product Management Festival

Over the last 3 years we have organized, in Zurich, the Product Management Festival, a conference for product managers from around the world. We developed this meeting because a common symptom product managers experience is the lack of a support structure around their profession. As a product manager you are often left alone to act as the driving force for the development department, sales department and many other functional areas. So what inspires you? Sharing and learning from other product managers.

What have we learned from other events?

There are not a lot of these events, one is ‘Mind the Product’. I recently attended this conference in London. Was it a successful event? Well, in my opinion, I would say it was.

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One track or more, that is a critical question for many events. They had one central stage in a large theatre, which meant a lot of pressure on those giving talks. Some were very well received, such as: Ken Norton (Google), Nilan Peiris (Transferwise) and Shiva Rajaraman (Spotify), though others less so. One-stage events are definitely easier to organize, but we decided for the Product Management Festival to support parallel tracks. Why? We feel this gives attendees more opportunities to choose what they want to see and hear. Not everybody has the same interests and as the product manager’s job is so varied, I would say it is hard to accommodate all interests in only one day and one stage.

Organizing an event for hundreds of people requires some serious juggling skills! You need to be able to consider (and switch quickly) from managing the basics such as food, signage and lighting to higher level activity involving the concepts presented in the talks, their novelty, relevance and learning content.

How do we organize events?

Maybe it is the Swiss culture, but we strive for perfection. We want to offer the best experience you can have. Some think when it comes to details like food, these are not so important, because your goal in attending is to meet peers and find out the latest developments in product management. But food definitely is important, judging by the strong reactions during Mind the Product, where there was quite a lot of disappointment expressed. Long queues, just a salad for hungry people who have been moving around all day, talking to their peers, and have used all their energy to concentrate on the talks. The organizers handled it in an exemplary fashion: they apologized and offered a lunch voucher for the attendees from London, so in the end most people were OK.

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So going back to the secret. Talking to people attending Mind the Product, they often said that while parts of the programm were not mind blowing and there were some logistic problems, the benefits of attending are mainly therapeutic – you meet people like you, you talk about your problems and you feel understood. Our goal is to bring together people who are working with products, offer them a place to share and learn from each other, while supporting them in having an extraordinary experience.

What is the secret?

After nearly 10 years of organizing events, have we found out what the secret to successful events is?

You might think it is the presentations, some might say it is the social events but we strongly believe it is the people. Which people? Everyone: from those on stage presenting to those simply attending.

Our next event

If you want to be part of our product management conference, our doors are open to receive you in Zurich between 18-19 November for the Product Management Festival  and 16-17 November for the Product Management Workshops.

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