Written by Cat Johnson
Hosting an event in a coworking space can be a great way to connect with your community, let people know about your business and services, and practice your presentation skills. But there are definitely do’s and don’t’s when presenting to an audience of coworkers.
I chatted with Maya Delano former Senior Community Manager at NextSpace Santa Cruz about hosting events in coworking spaces. Delano teaches creative process workshops to entrepreneurs and business owners and she has a wealth of information to share about hosting events. Here are the highpoints of our conversation.
Cat Johnson: Why should someone consider hosting an event in a coworking space?
Maya Delano: Hosting an event or being a presenter can help market your business and help you polish those speaking skills. If you have fears about speaking publicly, a coworking space is going to be the best place to start because it’s a supportive audience of fellow entrepreneurs. It’s a great place to get this arm of your business going. Remember, TEDx people had to start somewhere.
Coworking locations are very community oriented, so you’ve probably gotten to know some of your fellow coworkers by now. Presenting to familiar faces is a safe way to start. Part of your business, especially in the coworking world is speaking about what it is that you do. When you host events, you become the go-to person and a resource for others.
Coworking locations are going to help you (or they should) in marketing your event. It’s a win-win because they get to promote your event as part of their location’s offerings and your event gets promoted through their established networks.
What type of events work well in a coworking space?
This is really important. When I first came to NextSpace in 2013, there was an event a week. We wanted our coworking space to be a platform for the community at large and let anybody come in and speak to our members. What that meant, though, is that I had veterinarians trying to raise money for nonprofits with just one or two people showing up and then I had a marketing guru speak to a full house. I wanted our speakers to really succeed, so I realized we needed to tailor our events to our members’ interests.
I started working on having a few less events with a higher attendance. A coworking space has a specific audience, and it’s different in each location. For example, the San Francisco NextSpace locations have a lot of international business people landing in the city for the first time; in the Potrero Hill space, the majority of members were parents. These are two very different audiences who are going to being interested in different topics.
I highly suggest taking your idea for an event and simply asking fellow members if they have any interest in it. Good ol’ face-to-face communication will really help you vet the process. Ask a variety of people: engineers, programmers, and lawyers to see if there’s interest. People love to give feedback.
If you’re a nonmember, listen to the feedback from a community member or manager when you present your idea. Ask them if they think it would be of interest to their community. You can also put a quick question out on your Facebook page to gauge initial interest.
What you're doing is beginning your marketing just by talking about your event idea, by saying, "Hey, what do you guys think?" People seem to take more interest in my events when I engage them in the process of creating the event versus just asking them to show up. Also, think of your event as part of your business plan. How does it fit in with your business? That will help determine the material you want to share.
What days and times work best?
It’s different for every coworking location. For NextSpace Santa Cruz, 12 - 1pm works well. We would do 20 minutes of presentation and 20 minutes of Q&A. At the San Francisco locations, there are a lot of people working for larger companies and cannot take the time to attend during the day, so most of the events are in the evening. In San Jose, events on Fridays don’t work because everyone’s commuting home. You need to know the nature of your location.
What length and format do you suggest for events in a coworking space?
Unless you’re just a rad presenter, you should deliver your message in 20 minutes. Then do a Q&A because that’s where things get interesting. That’s where the real conversations happen.
Book the room for half an hour before your event and half an hour after. You’ll need setup time and the time after your event is where business cards get exchanged and you’re able to offer your services. Those one-on-one conversations are where you are going to get most of your business leads.
How do you suggest people frame, and name, their event?
Make it clear what the audience will get from your event. I’ve seen audience members drive from far away and, because it wasn’t clear what the event was going to be, they left saying it was a waste of time.
You are doing your audience a favor by being clear about the top three or five things they’ll get out of it. That also makes you, the presenter, really think about what it is you're presenting and how to tie it back to your offerings. I don’t start promoting an event until I get the top three things the presenter will be delivering. It’s good for everyone that way.
Any tips you can offer on how to promote an event in a coworking space?
Give yourself plenty of time. You’ll need two weeks minimum and a month and a half, ideally, to get the word out.
Social media is important. You should also find out who is looking at what in your town. Is it the weekly paper? The daily paper? For most publications, you’ll need to submit your event information to them at least 10 days in advance. If you wait until the last minute you won’t have many people show up.
After your event, continue to post on social media how great it was and thank people who showed up. Just because it’s over doesn’t mean your marketing is over. You still have a couple of days to talk about how great the event was.
What do you recommend for event registration or RSVP?
Something that works well is this: Use Eventbrite for all the RSVPs, but use Facebook and Meetup to direct people to the RSVP page. By using all these platforms, you advertise to a whole other crew of people on Facebook or those who are searching for local events on Eventbrite and Meetup. Let these awesome sites do the work for you
Find out what websites are popular in your town. In Santa Cruz, Meetup.com is popular but in other locations, no one uses Meetup.
What presentation formats work the best in coworking spaces?
Even though it’s nice to have visuals, the majority of presentations have moved away from PowerPoint. Use a maximum of 10 slides, if you’re going to use them. Use video sparingly. Unless you’re promoting a film, any supporting video should have been included beforehand. We came to see you speak, we don’t want to spend five minutes in the dark watching a video.
One nice thing about PowerPoint is you can send it to people as a follow-up. If you don’t do this, you can offer a one-pager of notes as a follow-up, if people are interested
What tech things should you plan for and consider? What prep steps should you take?
This is super key. You don’t have to be a techy person to do a great presentation. Visit the space beforehand so you know what kind of room you're going to present in. Know what kind of tech they have in the room. In coworking spaces, one room might have AppleTV and another might have a traditional projector.
Make sure they have the right connector for your computer. Do they have speakers? A sound system? Do you need to bring your own? Contact the person in charge of the facilities and do a test run, if you can. Be half an hour early to make sure everything works and be ready to set your computer right when you arrive. You want to be all set and ready to greet guests who arrive early.
Is your event going to be recorded? Don’t depend on the community manager to record it for you. If you want it done, have someone else do it for you.
What’s the best way to introduce yourself at your event?
When people start walking in the room, introduce yourself. That’s an opportunity to network and it breaks the ice. Welcome individuals, introduce yourself, and have casual conversations.
What are some common mistakes you see people making during presentations?
You really just have to be yourself. Whether it’s your first time, or your fifth time, or your 20th time presenting, you are presenting yourself as a leader in that topic. Even if it is your first time, do not admit that this is your first time. Let the audience have that authentic experience and confidence that you know what you know. Just go in and be that person that you want to be.
If it’s your first time, do have some notes for yourself because you might go blank. Don’t admit that you’re going blank. Try to hold off on the umms and just go with it—it’s going to come to you. Really focus on the content that you want to deliver and be OK with the silent pauses. If you go blank, engage the audience by asking, "What kind of questions do you have?"
If you are in unique, liberal towns, be ready for the weird, inappropriate questions. If you have a larger group, collect questions on a piece of paper and have someone read them. If it’s a smaller group and someone asks an inappropriate question, just say, "Hey, we need to stay focused on the topic. I’d love to continue this conversation with you after the presentation."
If someone is asking question after question, or trying to takeover, just nicely say, "Hey, I really love what you have to say. Let’s pick this conversation up after so we can get through this in a timely manner." The audience is depending on you to time manage.
You don’t have to answer every question. If you don’t know, say, "That’s a great question, let’s look that up." If you’re a host, and your presenter is up there on the hotseat overwhelmed, you may need to step in. It’s your event, you own it, not the audience.
That’s why it’s so great to start doing events: The more you do, the more confidence you’ll gain and the better skillset you’ll have. You’ll know how to handle the audience.
What’s the best way to end your event?
The half hour following the event should be you in the room, with no breaking down or moving tables. Include that half hour as part of your presentation and be available for those one-on-one conversations. You just put all that energy into creating this event, so don’t rush off to your next appointment.
Also, if you’re going to promise something, be really clear about delivery. Are you really going to send that presentation out to those who requested it? Can you have them go to your website instead? Don’t over promise and, if you do promise something, deliver it within 24 hours.
Anything you’d like to add?
Don’t ever do a hard offer afterwards. In the coworking world, we’re dealing with entrepreneurs, business owners—these are savvy people who do not want to be told what to do or buy.
You can say, If you want to check out my workshops, go to my website, but if you say, "If you sign up today, I’ll give you a discount," everything you just said is lost. You’re dealing with authentic, cool, maverick-type people who don’t want to be sold. Stay away from that.
People will come up to you afterward to ask about your business. That’s why that half hour after is so important. Your last slide should have your website and contact info. Leave that up but don’t do a hard sell. Coworkers are the coolest people. They’re the trendsetters. They’re going to see right through you.
- There are other events besides presentations, including happy hours, focus groups, show and tells. Choose the best one for you.
- If you're asking something from people, bring food.
- Stick to the scheduled time. People want to start and finish on-time.
- Ask five of your friends to come, no matter what.
- Talk about your event. Don’t be annoying, but tell people you’re doing the event and you’d love if they were there.
- If it’s a free event, a lot of times your local radio station will do a PSA for you or, get a radio interview to promote your event.
- Know the results you’d like to get from your event, whether it’s six new email signups or two leads to follow-up with.
- Have a way to capture the information of those people who are interested, whether a piece of paper for emails or a tech tool.