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15 ways to make your next tech conference cooler Written by Marguerite Imbert on 10. May 2012

With Berlin Web Week coming to an end, we’re reflecting back on the highs and lows. From re:publica to NEXT to Heureka! and Informare! (rounding up the week with its last day today), here are our reflections on the simple things, for the benefit of that all so glorious next time. Don’t get us wrong, we enjoyed it every bit as much as you did. Here are just a couple things we learned from our process, heard on the food line, and thought we’d share with you. Let the evolution and diversity of tech conferences continue! Until next year…

1. Ditch the Lufthansa salmon

It’s cool when LeWeb hires a master pastry chef. But it’s also cool to open up the grill, pop open some beers (and champagne, for the better half of us), and let people nosh on comfortable Ernst & Young chairs. At Heureka, we chose to bring everyone out back to the Spree for sauerkraut and muttonchops. For lower than bouffet-like budgets, the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from the EyeEm/Soundcloud photo hack come to mind as a solid solution. But please, skip the fancy little (barely business class-grade) tuna tartar and give people something they won’t laugh about on the serving line.

2. Reconsider the audience-speaker paradigm

So you have all these great minds in a single room with tons of food and coffee and then what? You make them listen to speeches, give them random thimbles of pudding, and ask them to ‘mingle.’ Wrong. These people are full of ideas and more over full of problems. Whether they need to find a new developer or take the stain off their tie- consider what could happen if you asked people to find breakout solutions together. Whether it’s 300 people standing around in a circle, or standing back to back, find a new way to arrange your guests. At least for some of it.

3. If you have Wifi, make sure it’s working

Slow Wifi is a Twitter nightmare and an audience whisperfest. If you want people to make use of that #reallycuteconferencehashtag you made, you need to give them steady internet connection, otherwise dispense with it entirely. It’s not a bad idea to make people focus on the present.

4. Don’t make the tickets prohibitively expensive.

This is a big one, and often what’s hindering conferences from being truly disruptive. The truth is that most of our favorite startup people are not willing or able to pay 1000 euros to go to your conference. Or 130 euros for that matter (re:publica’s price, for 200 hours of events over the course of three days). In fact, few of them are willing to pay much more than the price of the pizza and Club Mates you give them. Consider lowering prices for diligence or contribution, raising money elsewhere (the upcoming Open Air Conference is raising money on Kickstarter), or lowering the cost of the event so you can include some of them. (We hid mugs around the city to let the super diligent get in for free.) Sure, you might not have a snazzy venue with a photo booth. But you can be sure you’ll have a few fewer 45-year-olds in business suits asking you what Loopcam is.

5. Spend time on the programme

The program is a person’s first introduction to who you are and what you’re doing. Spend time on naming your panels and color-coding the talks. Also pay attention to the design scheme. This makes a difference, particularly for the press looking at the event ahead of time and trying to decide whether to go.

6. Find a new way for people to display their names

There’s nothing worse than the ocular temptation when someone says hi to you and you don’t remember their name. I’d rather just not have the name anywhere. The traditional mainstay of lanyards and name tags force people to look down at your chest and either judge you, attack you, or violently pitch to you. Yes, there has to be a way to let people know that you’re the VP of Spotify (I guesss), but the whole concept is really in need of a refresh. Maybe ask people to display their names via stickers on their bums? You decide. Just please don’t hand us another laminated QR code with our name misspelled.

7. Consider asking people to ditch their shoes, or at least their cell phones

Maybe this would create a smell. Maybe we’re crazy. But we think a conference, confestival, hackathon, workshop or whatever you’re calling your 200-1000 person nerdfest next year should feel different from every other day of the year. One easy way to do this is to shake people up a bit. Ask them to ditch their cell phones at the door and be present for what’s right there. Possible? We don’t know until we try it.

8. Reimagine the tradition of ‘the press room’

Right now, press rooms are totally depressing places. There’s artificial light. There aren’t extra USB ports. You’re fighting over outlets. The couches (if there are any) are covered in your competitor’s sweat, and all the bloggers are wearing headphones, chugging Monsters and Red Bulls, and avoiding everyone outside. Sure, we like having a space devoted just to us so we can quickly get articles out and touch base with the team back at home base, but can’t a mojito or two? Maybe just drawers of whisky?


9. Pick a sunny day

Alright, so this one’s hard to plan. But some of our favorite conference moments this year included sunshine. Any time you can get us outside (other than for the few enraged cigarettes), it’s much appreciated. Acknowledge the light (the Ecosummit this year did this very well) and try to book for it.

10. Ask your audience to introduce themselves

Mike Butcher did this yesterday at NEXT. It’s a small thing, and a good thing. It makes the whole place feel like a church or an AA meeting, and sometimes you actually end up following up with the people you’re next to, or sharing a small laugh at something ridiculous and absurd that Butcher says. We like it.

11. Consider the +1 option

The Berlin Pub Summit did this really well, requesting you invite two others with every invite you got. While it’s fun to run into people at these conferences, it’d be even better to have to scratch your head for a second and decide which of your friends could really add something new to it. Again- If the cost allows, consider it.

12. Make sure you have enough chairs.

This is a simple one, but important. If people aren’t comfortable, they’re sure as hell not going to listen to that guy from Badoo talk about his wireless childhood in the Black Mountains. Put it on your checklist. And have extras as back-up. People are always putting their bags down on chairs when they really shouldn’t, but they do.

13. For that matter, keep pens on hand for journalists who forget them.

This one came from our staff. It helps if the pens can co-function as straws or musical accompaniment, or if you want to sharpen some pencils ahead of time (always a good thing), but really, a few Bics will do just fine. So keep them around.

14. Give people goody bags. Even if it’s just bouncy balls.

Last but not least, goody bags. Goody bags aren’t just for your cousin’s Disney-themed pool party. If you want us to leave with a smile, hand us something. A subscription to that Twitter toilet paper gig would be nice. Hand-signed notes telling us what to expect for next year and how to get in touch would also be cool. Just something out of the ordinary. Or, like, an actually redeemable coupon. Just please don’t give us a pamphlet from Microsoft with a pin attached.

15. Don’t underestimate the after-after party.

Enough said. Especially in Berlin. Make it late. Make it dirty. And please don’t be the last one to leave.
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What Rocket, Team Europe, and Project A really think of each other