Panel Planning: 8 Tips From Our Etsy Evening / by Julie Schumacher

crowd copy We'd been kicking around the idea of a panel for some time and on July 8 Forth we hosted our first public event. A sold out crowd of current and someday Etsy store owners gathered to learn from five Forth alum who are veterans in the world of Etsy and/or ecommerce.

Here are some panel planning things we kept in mind as we got our Etsy on.

signageChoose a topic that matters.

A conversation between some Forth alum in a Facebook group about some challenges of Etsy had us thinking that if they could have an exchange that dynamic over the internet there'd be some sparks and magic in person, and some very valuable information for interested parties. I've never had an Etsy store but even I was curious about what they were talking about. That, my friends, means people who are invested would be interested.

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Find people who know their stuff and have opinions and questions.

Our panels are opportunities for the women of Forth to showcase their talents. Each brought a unique voice and area of expertise. Before the event, we asked each to share some tips and from those gave each a topic to ruminate on more in depth. Being a panelist can be nerve wracking so letting them get their public speaking sea legs with a topic they were prepared to talk about made sense. Picking people who know their stuff and are curious about how other's are doing it means a natural flow to the conversation instead of an back-and-forth between the moderator and a panelist.

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Ask people what they want to know.

Because the panel was open to anyone, whether they owned an Etsy store or not, we wanted to be sure the evening had value for everyone who attended. Eventbrite allows you to contact people who've purchased tickets. By writing each of them and saying "Hi! What are you curious about?" we were able to generate some broad topics for us to talk about and let attendees know they were in for a good evening.

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Pick a space that inspires.

Finding a space is hard. You need it to be big enough but not too big. You need it to have a layout that makes sense for the evening's flow. We talk about spaces all the dang time when we're planning the private salons. Our space host, Design Cloud, had up (as they always do) an engaging and beautiful show. We couldn't have picked a better venue. (And if you are looking for a space to cowork from, they do that too!)

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Reach out.

I don't like to ask for rides to the airport, so asking people to pitch in or donate or support is hard. I was nervous asking the panelists because, heck, they are all busy and fabulous. Bolstered by their enthusiastic yeses we wrote Penrose, a new brewery in Geneva to see if they were interested in being a part of the night. And you know what? They were enthusiastic and excited and so ridiculously helpful, too. And the beer! We were lucky to sample some of the first bottles of Penrose's Proto Gradus and P2. The worst a business or organization might say is no. And, we found, they often say yes. If you can present your event's WHY clearly and articulately, share why it might be of value to sponsor, and be as accommodating as possible you too might have delicious beer a-flowing.

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Make it feel special.

This is kind of the key thing we do at Forth. Women sitting around a table talking is great and all...but what makes the salons different is that we plan for a beautiful evening from start to finish. Here was no different and here that mean some tasty snacks to pair with the beers. Chocolate and cheese go well with Belgian beers. It was a low effort, high yummy way to make the evening special.

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Get butts in seats.

A panel without an audience is wildly depressing. We tried a few things to help get the word out, and some of it involved the "just ask" approach. We had the support of the 50+ women who've attended a salon. Many of them shared the event with their communities. It was another instance of asking. We asked the panelists to share in their networks and asked everyone we could think of to point us to potentially attendees. We wrote to local design and events blogs and asked to be added to the calendar. We drafted press releases and contacted people who sold at local art fairs and popup shops who also had an Etsy presence. It was a ton of work but the result mattered.

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Get out of the way.

I like being in front of an audience. A lot. But even I know there are limits to my charm. After a Q&A we gave people time to talk. To talk to one another or to seek . Building connections and community is what we're all about. So while I would have liked another 20 minutes of rapt attention, dedicating time to organic conversation is a very good thing too.

 

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Give folks something to take away.

We took the top three tips from each expert and Lisa prepared a nifty takeaway for guests. Efforts like that make a difference.

We're working on getting audio up and available, so stay tuned!

Curious about something? Have a panel you think our community could rock? Let us know.