How We Put Together a Summit for 150 People in 10 Days and What I Learned From It

It’s been a crazy couple of days here in Chiang Mai. Why? Because we prepared and ran the NOMAD SUMMIT, an event for 150 people, which we put together in not more than 10 days. Yes, 10 days from “This would be cool!” to “Thank you all so much for coming!”. It’s been quite a ride, but also one of the most inspiring and fun projects, I’ve ever had the pleasure to work on.

But let’s start from the beginning.

First up: The WHY

Many of you may be familiar with Nomad List, a platform built by Pieter Levels, that has lots of information on the costs of (nomadic) living for various destinations worldwide. Chiang Mai, consistently tops the list and has earned itself a reputation as a good entry point for those interested in location-independent living. It is thus not surprising that a rather big expat community has been starting to develop here in the past couple of months and years. Nomad List also runs #nomad, a chat group for digital nomads.

It was on January 22, when Nomadlist hosted a meetup in Chiang Mai. Expectation was, that it would be a nice cosy get-together of 20–30 people. The actual turn-out however was pretty overwhelming. Over 150 people took time out of their busy scheduled to drop by Bla Bla Bar (Yes, great name!) on a Wednesday night for drinks and fun. It was a great evening and I had a superb time hanging with friends and making new connections.

While I was mostly enjoying the party, my friend Johnny actually took a bit of a different perspective. He’d been around Chiang Mai for a bit and was impressed, how many people actually attended, that he’d never met. Chiang Mai can feel like a small place sometimes (which is why many people, me included, adore it), so suddenly realising, that it’s actually bigger, than you’d think, kinda rocks. Seeing all those people, he got curious what they actually do all day, how many great and inspiring stories and knowledge they might have to share. And out of that curiosity the idea of the NOMAD SUMMIT was born that night.

The HOW

Fast forward. Lunch the next day. We were having chicken at the best ever chicken place near Punspace and the idea of putting an event together came up again. I liked it from the very start and got pretty excited as I’d been involved in running community meet-ups and events back in Austria. Being involved in the NOMAD SUMMIT kinda gave me the opportunity wo work on something “offline” again and bring people together — a welcome change from all the online work I focus on these days.

The rest is history. It all started with a facebook event page that Johnny had put up in like 2 minutes. It didn’t have a very detailed description nor a cover image, but as soon as it was out there, people actually started to join. We were up to 50 people within one hour of publishing the event and started to realise: “Wow, people actually really wanna go.”. The “Yes, I will attend list” started to grow and we figured: It’s time to book a venue and look for some sponsors. I’d volunteered to look into sponsorship, while Johnny was busy focusing on confirming the speakers. Pejman had stepped up to put together a website for us, we set up a proper registration system using Eventbrite and registrations started to fill the inbox at record speed.

It was clear for us from the very beginning that we wanted this event to be free of charge for the attendees, so we were aiming for a break-even in terms of the costs. The good news is: We managed. ☺

While local co-working spaces and companies generously shared give-aways, Buffer, namely Leo Widrich, was quick to step up and offer support, which was extremely encouraging for the whole team. At this point we didn’t have a sponsor document yet. I immediately started working on this, so we would actually have something in place to send those, interested in supporting us. The website was still work in progress, some details were not yet confirmed and I tried to be very transparent with potential sponsors, telling them exactly what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and how much money we’d need to make it happen. And it worked. We managed to get out first sponsor, Buffer, on board.

A lot of our attendees also decided to support us by purchasing “donation tickets”, which helped us upgrade to a bigger room, host more people and have coffee waiting for everyone during the actual event.

We even managed to get stickers, wristbands and banners printed, which here in Thailand is a matter of a couple of hours, which is amazing, if you’re used to European processing times of orders like that for events.

Everything was coming together without too much hassle. People were starting to get excited and we actually sold out in less than 2 days. 120 free tickets gone. 170 people registered. I was (and still am) amazed by that.

From the moment we started to work on the NOMAD SUMMIT, it just felt like it was the right thing to do and with all the positive feedback encouraging us and people volunteering for recording, photography, editing, etc., I really started to believe that this was gonna rock. And it did. But read on.

THE WOW

Event day. I was tired, but superexcited. We arrived at the location early and quickly arranged the room, put up the banners, set up a registration desk and figured out the tech stuff (presentations, recording, microphones, etc.). People eventually started to arrive and things started to take off. I’d been busy helping with registration in the morning, so when the talks started and I entered the room for the opening speech, I was wow-ed. I knew we were sold out. But seeing all those people in the room, excited about what was to come, was just really an uplifting feeling. The first of many WOW-moments of the day for me.

Johnny had done such an amazing job with the speakers. There was not one talk, I didn’t like. My favourite one may have been the one by Mark of WOD Nation, though. If you wanna check out the presenters and their lines of work, you can do it here. We’re also currently busy editing the videos, so if you’re interested, check back on our website in a couple of days.

I had so many people come up to me during the day, that thanked us for putting this event together, ensuring me, how much they were enjoying themselves and how inspired they felt. Even now after the summit, people are still posting to our event page. It’s the greatest feeling to know that we actually made a difference and whenever I think about last weekend, it still makes me smile.

I don’t wanna promise anything, but given the great feedback, I think there might just be a second version somewhere down the road.

THE AHA’s

Whenever you work on a project (at least if you’re lucky), you manage to learn and/or realise a thing or two. Organizing the NOMAD SUMMIT was no different for me and I’d like to share with you, what my learnings were.

Trust your gut.

Ever heard the saying “When you really want something, the whole universe conspires to help you achieve it”? I kinda think this is what happened with this event. I somehow just knew it was the right thing to do and all doubts, especially those forced upon us by others (which to be fair were very few), really did not change how I felt about our efforts. I somehow just knew this was gonna be great and I’m so happy to know now, that I was right trusting my gut.

Build a team with a diverse skillset.

I don’t think we would have been able to pull this off, hadn’t we been able to put such a great and motivated team of “do-ers” together. The people, who worked on the the project also had a pretty diverse skillset, which made it easy to share the different tasks. Everybody took care of what they were good at, which ensured a smooth process.

Build the MVP. Then take it from there.

As I outlined above, we started with nothing but an idea and a Facebook Event Page (The so-called MVP according to Lean Startup). This enabled us to actually judge interest in our idea, without taking any risks. Once we saw the basic version of the summit resonated with people, we started to add on to it from there.

Keep your eye on the price. Focus.

Don’t be distracted by doubts. Once we had decided to do this, I didn’t allow myself negative thoughts. I made a very conscious effort to focus on what we set out to achieve and ignore or very quickly deal with all potential obstacles.

Keep calm. And ask for help.

So many people were involved in making this happen and we wouldn’t have been able to pull this off without all the volunteers. How did we get them on board? We just asked. Turns out, people are actually willing to help out if they support your cause and I am still so grateful for this.

Making a difference feels awesome.

I still smile, when I think back and I guess (hope!) this feeling of happiness and accomplishment will stay with me for a while. Not only did we manage to put on the event. We managed to make it great and inspire people. I am so excited to hear about all the connections made, things learned and business ideas people had afterer the NOMAD SUMMIT and I am sure we can bring many of the attendees back as speakers for the next version to share their stories of success and transformation. I for one, can’t wait to hear them!

Last, but not least I would like to thank Johnny, who invited me to be part of this amazing project in the first place. It’s been a blast working on this together and I am so proud of what we have been able to achieve.

See you at the next NOMAD SUMMIT & rock on!

Picture by Lee Webb


Originally published at kathrinto.be.

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