One of the things I’m pretty certain every LBS student puts on their application is that they will participate in organising one of the many conferences we host each year. There is, afterall, a conference for every taste. It sounds like such a great idea at the time and it’s an easy thing to put on an application. Especially when you can point to similar events you’ve organised in the past.
And then school starts. You do decide to follow through with that statement in your application. Albeit, for a conference in a completely different industry. At first you have grand plans for where it will be and who will attend. Do my notes deceive me? Was I really thinking we would be hosting Mark Zuckerberg, Eric Schmidt, and Rupert Murdoch at the Royal Albert Hall? Well, someone did say you should aim for the stars…
And it was with these grand aspirations that we embarked on preparing the LBS Technology & Media Summit. This planning stage was perhaps the most fun – dreaming up the format, the location, the people we wanted. And it’s probably no surprise that it did not take long for us to get a reality check. Or rather, a series of continuous slap downs like some sort of Stonecutters initiation ceremony.
Over the following months you are greeted by what seems to be more setbacks than steps forward. When you think you’ve found that perfect venue, you realise it’s not available on the date you want, or it’s outside of your budget. And then the same applies for backup options 2 through 10 on your list. You wonder if it’s too late to pull out as organiser. And then when you do have your venue, you realise that you’re now only a couple of months away from hosting it and you must now scramble to find speakers.
The aspirational targets quickly fall away, but you realise if you scratch the surface just a little to get below the rockstars, there is an amazing array of talent right on London’s doorstep. At first it’s like a smorgasband of who to choose from. Where to begin? They all look so good! Inevitably, though some say no, others take an age to respond. And then other suggestions arise later down the road. You do wonder if it’s worth all this effort as the initiation slaps turn into a more of a long grind. But slowly and surely you build up your panels and lock in your keynote speakers.
And then you take a moment to breathe. You look at what you have achieved so far. An excellent venue, an amazing lineup of speakers. You are confident that this will be an exceptional event. There is but one thing missing: the attendees.
With a lineup like this, it should sell itself. There is an early flurry from students. But then it slows. You blitz alumni and students with emails; that helps, but you know you can do better. You become inventive; who else can we target, how can we reach them? It’s like an applied class mashing together strategy and marketing concepts. And strangely enough, after all your hardwork, they do come. And from all walks of life; they fly in from Spain specifically for it, they come from other MBA schools, their visit happens to coincide with their London visit from San Fran, they come from companies I have not heard of.
And you take another moment to breathe. By this stage you have taken the Boy Scout’s motto to heart: Be Prepared. You run through the event in your mind at all hours of the day; sometimes even in your sleep. You wonder what could go wrong, how you would recover. The conference day arrives; it goes by in a blur. You are half aware of what the speakers are saying; you’re furiously trying to tweet their insights (afterall, again, this is a technology and media event). You wait for something to falter; it doesn’t happen.
And it becomes a natural high.
Those times you wondered if it was worth the hours, the stress, the lost hair; you realise that it is. For so many reasons: the knowledge that you’re contributing back to the LBS community; the positive feedback and compliments that you receive from attendees; the opportunity to listen and learn, and sometimes hear heated debate; the fact that perseverance has paid off; the chance to work with your amazing and talented classmates; the ability to push yourself and grow (and potentially fail too).